As a former elementary school teacher, a teacher of children with many different personalities and potentials, I am categorically against any homework for first and second graders, and am doubtful about its worth for third and fourth graders. I believe that homework for fifth and sixth graders should be given sparingly and only for a very good reason, and with a school or community support system.
Parents should only be involved in voluntary projects, and volunteer parents should always be available for children whose parents cannot or will not be able to help them.
First and second grades:
In these years children are learning and practicing skillsreading and writing skills and basic mathematical skills. A first grader has great difficulty writing out letters and words. He or she does not have any great proficiency or confidence in these new motor skills. Assigning homework that mandates the child sitting alone trying to write words or numbers is counterproductive.
The child could sit for an hour alone trying to do something that in a classroom situation, with a teacher or aide for help, with others doing the same thing, would only take a few minutes. A negative attitude towards all forms of homework will be the only result of this experience.
An organized teacher can provide enough practice, with his or her supportive presence right there in the classroom. Even projects that only involve cutting out words from magazines or newspapers are inappropriate for first graders, since the words may be too small for new readers, and mom or dad will end up doing the work. A child with a working parent, an illiterate or non-English speaking parent, a blind parent or caretaker will thus be penalized.
For most second graders it is still a chore to sit alone and read and write or do sums. These children are still mastering skills, still learning basic concepts. It is unnecessary and counterproductive to give them homework.
Third grade children are just beginning to feel at home in a school environment (assuming a functioning, caring situation at least). They have usually mastered basic reading, can at least write the printed alphabet with some confidence, and are usually learning the skills of cursive handwriting.
Intellectually, most of them are still not at the concrete stage of intellectual development (see Piaget) and are, in the U.S., usually only doing sums and problems of addition and subtraction.
Children who want to do something “extra” (the very curious, the very bright children, those with special skills or knowledge, i.e. farm children who help with the animals or the crops) can contribute by volunteering out-of-school projects (not done by parents!) which they can present in various ways, with the teacher’s or para’s help during school hours.
Fourth grade children suddenly are thinking about the world and asking questions. They often like projects, individual or group. But any project should be done during school hours or with lots of flexibility and help from the school staff. Deadline reports for this age are stupid and only lead to frustration and failure in most childrenand a lot of headache for Mom, Dad, or Grandma and Grandpa who have already graduated from elementary school.
Fifth and Sixth graders need to learn the skills of reading and evaluating what they read, of giving an oral or very short written review, of doing math problems alone and with confidence, of being open to science and technology and learning related skills. I still believe that for these grades homework should be limited to the maximum of one hour per night. There should be an option of doing the homework in the school during a homework hour or after-school session with help. (Sometimes children from sixth grade can be very good at explaining fifth grade work, and support could be partially from students themselves.)
As for elementary schools that still have seventh and eighth grades: they may have little choice in assigning homework, but all work should be done with a school or community support systemat least a telephone line if not a homework center, physical or virtual via the internet.
All reports should be done in sections, with immediate feedback and help from the teachers, or outside experts involved. If a teacher has a “prove to me you can do this” attitude about the homework or reports, they should find another line of work. They are called “teachers” and not “markers” because their profession is teaching, not umpiring or judging.
Competition for “excellence” or any such nonsense should not be part of the picture for twelve and thirteen year olds. Each child should be helped and encouraged to give his or her best try, without dread and fear of embarrassment from a possible failure.
Also, the “play-time” part of the day is equally important for all ages of children, and homework should not deprive them of this essential time.
If these above guidelines are followed, the school, the children themselves, the parents and eventually the high schools, will all benefit from the capability and the confidence of the children.