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Homework Should Be Banned Stress

Not long ago, it was enough to send children to school clean, well-fed and clothed. Teachers resented parents who asked too many questions.

School was for children – as was homework – but not today.

Nowadays both children and their parents may be getting stressed over homework, and depending on the child's age this can be from one hour a week to two-and-a half-hours per day.

In an attempt to improve standards of education, parents are being increasingly drawn in as unpaid 'teachers' to help.

Many kids enjoy the challenge. But for those struggling with the extra load, it can lead to strained parent-child relationships and stress all-round.

Homework has been banned in French primary schools since 1956, because it's thought to be tiring and to reinforce inequalities between children.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the UK would like an outright ban.

We talk to sociologist Frank Furedi, former Professor of Sociology from the University of Kent and Dr Beverly Donaldson from Imperial College Healthcare Paediatrics.

How much homework is ideal?

Government guidelines for primary school children's homework recommend one hour per week for Years 1 and 2; 1.5 hours a week for Years 3 and 4 and 30 minutes a day for Years 5 and 6.

'Young children nowadays are burdened by too much homework that stresses them. They shouldn't be spending all evening struggling with sums or spelling,' says Dr Beverly Donaldson.

'Getting out and playing with friends after school develops their communication skills and ensures they are fresh for school next morning.

'Children are naturally inquisitive, creative and hungry for knowledge – so reading is excellent because it allows them to explore the world.'

Should parents help?

'Parents can help by using homework to develop their child's organisational skills and sense of responsibility,' says Professor Furedi.

'Parents should refrain from completing homework and liaise with the school if they think that their child has been set too heavy a load to get the balance right.'

You can also praise and encourage your child to boost their confidence and gauge their needs by listening and discussing.

Set aside a regular time and a designated homework area and turn off distractions, like the television.

Encourage your child to use the library or internet to develop their research skills and offer small rewards for well-done homework.

Increased pressure

Children are more pressured to perform now than 20 years ago when fewer people went to university and there was less competition for places.

But finding a university spot is much harder now, with applications up by nearly 10 per cent, thought to be triggered by the recession and subsequent rise in youth unemployment.

'Spending too much time struggling with homework can harm your child's health, worrying about whether they can do it can make them nervous, anxious and lacking in confidence, and deprives them of a proper rest after school,' says Dr Donaldson.

Remember, not everyone is going to be academically gifted and some children who are being pressured, but not achieving good exam results, could be encouraged to think about interesting vocational qualifications and more practical careers.

Encourage your child to read

Getting kids reading is a great way for them to learn without the pressures of formalised homework.

'Encourage your children to read to develop their imaginations, transcend their experience and learn the subtleties of language,' advises Professor Furedi.

'Make sure that there are lots of books around. Homework is just a small part of a child's development and learning by memory is no help whatsoever.'

Creating exciting projects at home is another way to inspire kids' imaginations.

Limit time online

A recent Swedish survey of more than 4,100 men and women, aged 20 to 24, found that those spending too much time online, on mobiles, or playing video games were at greater risk of stress – important as the average teenager spends 31 hours a week 'surfing' the web.

This has created a significant link 'between computers and mental disorders,' says Sara Thomée, lead researcher on the year-long University of Gothenburg study.

Try to sway your child to do the following.

  • Avoid focusing on a screen for too long because this can cause headaches, depression, eye strain, dryness and damage.
  • Watch out for Facebook 'addiction'. The average user spends 75 minutes a day on the social networking site.
  • Beware of going online late at night because this may cause sleep loss and affect your performance at school or work the next day.
  • Stay active. People who overuse the internet tend to neglect exercise, letting their weight creep up. Get unplugged to interact with friends in person.

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Alarmed by indicators of student stress like cheating and substance abuse, a handful of San Francisco Bay Area schools are reducing an education staple: homework.

Oak Knoll Elementary in Menlo Park has mostly banned homework — except reading, special projects or catch-up work. Palo Alto's Addison Elementary and the Berryessa School District in San Jose are discussing the issue.

For two decades teachers have been under pressure to raise academic standards and test scores, but CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports that many are now questioning the value of burying students in homework.

The changes have come as a University of Missouri study found high school students benefit tremendously from homework. In middle school, the results were not as strong, but homework was still found to be beneficial. But on the elementary school level, the same study found homework had no effect on students.

The principal at Oak Knoll Elementary says first-graders spend about six hours a day doing school work, and they shouldn't have to do more work when they go home.

Not all homework at Oak Knoll has been eliminated — for example, third-graders will still practice their multiplication tables at home.

Critics say homework steals time that increasingly busy children need to play or spend with family. Homework proponents argue that it teaches students to be more responsible and manage their time.

At Duke University, Harris Cooper tells CBS News his research has shown that homework does help learning.

"All students can benefit from homework, but the amount and type that is done at each age level should be different," Cooper says.

Fueled by parent complaints, the too-much-homework issue has taken root primarily in wealthy communities with high-achieving schools. Struggling schools are still trying to involve parents in their children's education.

Some schools are trying to find a balance. Ohlone Elementary School in Palo Alto assigns homework to the parents.

Oak Knoll principal David Ackerman says the majority of parents have been supportive of the change. He says other districts have contacted him and are now rethinking their homework policies.

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