Is Your Child Being Sent Home With Busywork?

Boy doing homework
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Many parents think the quality of their child’s homework is not up to par. It’s not the children's efforts parents are complaining about—it’s the homework being assigned. Parents wonder whether it's just busywork rather than assignments that are of value to their child's education.

If it's just busywork it might be taking up time better spent by your child in healthy physical activity and valuable free play, both of which are essential for physical and mental development. Families have only a limited time together in the afternoon and evening. If the child is doing busy work, they have less opportunity to participate in family life that is crucial for their emotional and social development. Children and teens also require a good night's sleep, and busy work might mean delaying bedtime to ensure that it gets done.

What Is Busywork?

Busywork is an assignment that may take a lot of time but doesn’t impart anything of educational value to a student. In other words, your child may look really busy, but they're actually just doing work to stay occupied and aren't really learning anything from it.

Busywork keeps the students occupied often by practicing skills they’ve already learned and not necessarily teaching anything new.

In the classroom, busywork sometimes has its merits. Lesson plans for substitute teachers often contain busywork, especially when a teacher had planned on introducing new concepts to the class and would rather wait until they return to do so.

What Is Homework?

Homework, on the other hand, serves a different purpose than busywork. Effective homework assignments supplement learning and practice and integrate newly learned skills. Homework gives students the chance to develop study habits and discern between the concepts they are having trouble with versus those which they have mastered.

Some skills are best learned by repetition. Twenty-five math problems using the same process can seem like busywork, but by the 20th problem, most students will find that knowing how to solve the problem has become automatic. Spelling homework can also be boring and repetitive, although there are some unique ways to practice spelling that can make it a little more exciting.

Sometimes homework can look like busywork, particularly in vocabulary and math.

Is It Busywork or Homework?

The question on many parents' minds is how to tell whether homework is really homework or whether it’s busywork. Sometimes the answer is obvious. Unless your child needs to improve their fine motor skills, homework asking them to cut, color, and glue doesn’t have a whole lot of educational value. An exception to this is when a project is assigned to be completed as a family. Family projects teach the value of teamwork and help kids understand that parents are an important part of their education.

Sometimes the answer depends on your child. When it comes to skill practice, what holds educational value for one child may be busy work for another. Some children need repetition to help them learn, while others are able to “get it” and move on.

What Can Parents Do?

If your child seems to be zipping through their homework without any challenges, it’s probably busywork. In that case, it’s a good time to talk to their teacher about how this can be handled.

Some teachers hold fast to the idea that every student needs to complete the same homework, while others are more willing to provide individualized homework. Advocating for no homework may not be a good approach, but speaking with the teacher about the difference between being “fair” and providing “equal” learning experiences is a good tactic.

3 Sources
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  2. Bzostek SH, Berger LM. Family Structure Experiences and Child Socioemotional Development During the First Nine Years of Life: Examining Heterogeneity by Family Structure at Birth. Demography. 2017;54(2):513-540. doi:10.1007/s13524-017-0563-5

  3. Taylor J. District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Supporting Your Children in School – A Teamwork Approach.