education, Memoir, Princess, Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Homework vs. Laundry: One of these things will teach your child self-discipline, responsibility and time-management. The other involves worksheets.

writing114As an elementary school teacher, I rarely assign homework.

Of course I encourage my students to read. I also encourage them to follow the news, eat right, and be kind to their friends and family.

But nightly math sheets and fill-in-the-blank grammar exercises?


I’ve studied the research, read the books, watched the kids, and talked to the parents. I’ve raised two boys to teenagehood and I was in school for almost half my life. And I know, in my gut and in my brain, that regular, daily homework for homework’s sake is at best, unnecessary, and at worst, detrimental to children’s learning.

Go ahead.

You can start the shrieking and the hand-wringing now. I’ll wait. I’ve taken more flak for my decision to not (regularly) assign homework than I have for just about anything else in my career (except my smart mouth, but that gets me in trouble everywhere I go).

The myths that surround the benefits of homework have been around for so long, most of us just assume it’s a necessary evil.

But it’s not.

Now, I know what you’re saying.

Reader: OK, Heather, let’s say that I believe you (which I don’t) when you say the research shows that homework makes little or no difference in terms of academic success, especially at the elementary school level, but what about the non-academic benefits?

Me: Like what?

Reader: Well, you know, homework teaches kids responsibility and time management and self-discipline. That stuff is important!

Me: I agree. Those things are important. But does homework really teach those things? Can you show me a study that proves that to be true? How many 7-year-olds do you know who come home from school and pull out their homework and say, “Gee Mommy. I have to finish this math worksheet and colour in this photocopied picture of an apple without going outside the lines before school starts again tomorrow. Let me see, how much time will I need? I guess I’ll have my snack now and then I’ll go outside and play for 30 minutes. That will leave me with enough time to colour in the apple while you’re making dinner. Then I might watch a little TV for no more than 45 minutes because I need to leave myself lots of time to work on this math because I really don’t understand it.”

Washing the car - maybe the funnest chore, ever!
Washing the car – maybe the funnest chore, ever!

Let’s be honest here.

When homework comes home, the only person who has to cram more responsibility, time-management and self-discipline into their already crazy day is the parent or guardian of the youngster with the homework.

So, how DO we teach important things like those noted above?

One word: laundry.

Yup. Laundry.

Now, this means that the job of teaching responsibility, time-management, and self-discipline outside of school hours has to be taken out of the hands of teachers and placed into the hands of parents and guardians.

I know. Now I’m talking crazy talk.

“But you’re the teacher! It’s your job!” I can hear you screaming.

Yes, I’m the teacher. And when your child is in school, I will do everything I can to teach them all sorts of things, both academic and non. But, I can’t follow my students home.

And home is where these incredibly important lessons need to be taught.

Household chores (unlike homework) have been proven to instill in children all of those great non-academic life lessons that help nurture and grow our children into responsible adults.

“Using measures of an individual’s success such as completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, and not using drugs, and examining a child’s involvement in household tasks at all three earlier time, Rossmann determined that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less “successful.” The assumption is that responsibility learned via household tasks is best when learned young.”

Children who feel like they are contributing members of their community are more likely to feel like they belong.

I am not suggesting we send our children back down into the mines on the backs of old ponies to dig for coal. I am suggesting that they do age-appropriate tasks that allow them to feel like they are contributing to making life better.

Children are not pets or pieces of furniture or even guests. They are a valuable part of the family unit. They BELONG.

 I chose laundry as an example but any chore will do. (Don’t panic. You can ease into it. I’m not expecting your child to be running a laundromat out of your home at age 11.)

Children as young as 3 can be taught how to put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper instead of throwing them on their floor.

By the time that child reaches elementary school, he or she can sort the laundry into whites and colours and help mom or dad carry it to the washing machine. They can also put their clean clothes away in the drawers.

Then you can add folding or hanging up their own clothes. (This one is scary because children rarely fold their clothes in a way grown-ups consider acceptable. That’s OK. If they don’t like wearing wrinkle clothes, they will do it differently next time.)

You want to teach a teenager about time-management? Let them do their own laundry. They will soon discover that if they want to wear that dirty shirt and those jeans to the dance, they need to do their laundry at least the night before so everything will have a chance to dry.

You want to teach a child about self-discipline? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that instead of playing video games non-stop for 3 hours, they need to keep an eye on the washer, so they can move one load to the dryer and get another one in.

You want to teach a pre-teen about responsibility? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that no one else is going to pick their dirty clothes up off the floor and wash them, so they better do it or else they’ll be wearing dirty clothes to school.

(Note to the OCD Moms out there. Back away from the mess. Seriously. Close your eyes, put your hands in your pockets, breathe into a paper bag. Better yet, shut the door, walk away, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit. Do whatever you have to do but do NOT go in there and ‘rescue’ your child. Think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain.)

Abolish homework. Mandate laundry.

He practically begged to vaccum when he was 3. He doesn't beg anymore but he still does it.
He practically begged to vacuum when he was 3. He doesn’t beg anymore but he still does it.


Disclosure: I have two teenage sons. Both have been doing their own laundry, along with numerous other chores, for years. One took to it like a duck to water, while the other kept forgetting to add the laundry soap.

The first time he realized what he had done, he called me into the laundry room in a panic, “Omygawd! Does this mean I have to do it all over again?!” (Like he had just scrubbed each item of clothing by hand on a rock in the middle of a river.)

“Well,” I said. “Smell your clothes. Do they smell clean?”

We both smelled a piece of wet clothing. Mine smelled like wet stinky teenage boy.

“Fine,” he said.

He added the soap and hit Start again.

Lesson learned.

38 thoughts on “Homework vs. Laundry: One of these things will teach your child self-discipline, responsibility and time-management. The other involves worksheets.”

  1. As a teacher and a mother, I wholeheartedly agree. I give no homework. I don’t. It serves no purpose. I had one parent INSIST on homework this last year, and so I made a zillion worksheet copies and started sending it home. It was a week before the handwriting suddenly changed, and it was clear that mom had started just doing the homework for him. Irony…it was HANDWRITING practice sheets. Seriously…really!?

    I agree…laundry. They’ve all been gathering, folding, and putting away since they were in Kinder. My daughter, who is entering 8th is starting to do it independently. The twins…those dirty monkeys will be starting sooner, I think….for my sanity.

    1. Priceless! Mom does the extra homework for her son. Yeah, that works. Years ago, when I was doing resource support, I had a Grade 5 student pass in a written assignment that was assigned by his classroom teacher as homework. It was obvious he didn’t write it but he kept insisting he had. So asked him to read it aloud to me. He couldn’t even read the words that his father had written. The poor child was distraught. He said his dad tried to help but got mad when he realized his son couldn’t write the way he expected. (The boy had a learning disability and never should have been given the assignment in the first place.) He said his dad finally kicked him out of the room and typed the story himself. I gave both dad and the classroom teacher hell for their part in that sad tale of woe.
      So glad your kids have joined the laundry revolution!

      1. I teach a self-contained class for children with a host of issues, but who all have behavioral/emotional issues of some sort. Many are also LD, and it makes me NUTS when reg ed teachers don’t take their learning issues into account. Granted…it rarely happens, and it never happens a second time. 🙂

      1. And shared again. My friend, a retired (because she was fed up with the way educators are not allowed to teach in Indiana) teacher, commented that “this may be the best thing I’ve ever read!” And I tend to agree.

  2. LOVE LOVE this!!!! Awesome job. I love the ending especially. Can you imagine if they did have to go down by the river and a do it on a rock? Very NICELY done!!!!

  3. How about Homework AND chores? Somehow I got through and I had both!…Moreover there isn’t enough time in the day to reinforce lessons and homework gives independent time for a student to master and review what was done during the day. You don’t have to give HOURS of homework but I disagree. I am a product of the 70’s and I had homework every night. Look at the statistics, too many of our children are DISMALLY failing and cannot even pass the benchmark for regular college admissions. Valedictorians are having to take remedial classes…New York allegedly ranks ‘high’ in terms of it’s Educational Curriculum…I cringe at the thought of what is happening in other states. Please don’t drink the progressive Kool-aid…our kids are FAILING! PS…I too was once an educator…

    1. If there was any solid proof that homework helped kids to be more successful both in school and out, I would be all for at least minimal homework. But there isn’t. The myth about homework is the kool-aid people have been sippin’ for years. I’m not saying our schools are perfect. Far from it. But the answer doesn’t lie in giving more of the same to be done at home.

      1. When you break down the time in any given period and how ‘each student’ is to be given individualized attention it stands to reason class time is not enough. Not sure which state you are in, here in NY within a period there are certain components within the lesson which cuts into that ‘individualized’ attention even more. When homework is assigned, provided parents are invested (and we can’t assume ALL parents are disinterested) homework serves to reinforce your lesson as well as allow parents to also take part in their child’s education in terms of helping them in any areas of weakness. It is not always possible to ‘catch’ a problem, because children do not always assert themselves for fear of being ridiculed. If you gave a simple worksheet in review as homework, that at least also gives the parent an opportunity to step in to troubleshoot any areas of weakness. In this respect, parents are also able to be partners and proactive in their child’s education. I am not suggesting the five hour long assignments I used to have in Catholic School; however, I think it’s a tall order to assume in class when you are instructing that EVERY student who is having a challenge will raise their hand and ask for help, moreover, they need the reinforcement that class time does not always provide. I think balance can be found. There are pros and cons, I do see your point, for example holidays should be just that, holidays and a much needed break but given the demands and challenges today, I think that our students would benefit from as much reinforcement as possible. Globally our country is nowhere near the top in Education, that certainly needs to change and I’m not saying Homework is the answer but something is missing from our system…”But America’s average ranking doesn’t come as a surprise. A report recently published by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that students in Latvia, Chile and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate. Researchers estimate that gains made by students in those 11 countries equate to about two years of learning.”

      2. The United States assigns more homework than most nations. Historically this started to happen during the Cold War when the US gov’t became afraid that the Russians were getting ahead of them. Countries like Finland assign less homework that most nations and yet they are generally at the top of the list in world wide testing. In terms of South Korea, the families who can afford to do so, send their children for tutoring classes after school finishes. This is where they get the jump on other students. I have taught students who come to Canada (yes, I’m Canadian) on a learning exchange at age 12 (!). They always say that it is very easy here. But they learn and grow and as one child told me, “Now I can breathe. I have never felt so free.”
        So I guess that might be part of the choice. Do we want to train little obedient workers or do we want free thinking well-rounded citizens?

  4. I’m currently reading a book called “The Case Against Homework”, so I was surprised and delighted to see this on my facebook news feed tonight. My son just finished kindergarten so we haven’t begun with homework, well, other than home reading, but I don’t look forward to helping with/doing his homework for him. I’m surprised the school is okay with you not giving homework, but good for you for taking a stand! What grade so you teach?

    1. Thanks so much for your comments.
      I have taught grade 4 and 5 for the past 5-6 years but I’ve also taught middle school, high school and university.
      My school board recently came out with a policy saying homework was not mandatory, should be based on the 10 min per grade rule if it is given, and cannot be counted towards a child’s final grade. Oddly, this is the first year I have faced such a backlash against not giving it. Luckily, the administration at my school was able to back me up using this policy.
      An interesting side effect of “not” assigning homework is that kids would often beg to do work that interested them at home. When I would explain that it didn’t count against their grade, they would say, “I don’t care. I’m interested this.”

  5. I love this idea! I didn’t have to do my own laundry until university, and man, that was quite the eye opener! Well, no, I had to do it sometimes as a teenager, but it happened so rarely that it came off as a punishment. It took me a few years to realize that I actually enjoy doing laundry — it’s a great excuse to blare my music really loud and sing along as I fold my clothes. Sometimes that’s the most relaxing part of my day, lol.

    1. That’s funny. I think parents think they are doing their child a favour when they do every little for them when in reality, they are just telling their child that they don’t think he or she is capable.
      I got a new washer and dryer last year and now I love it. They sing to me when the load is done.

  6. You raise good points Suburban Princess; especially the one about indoctrination. If I understand you correctly, we teach in two different systems. For some reason the system here is failing and I don’t know the reason behind it because I feel the Teachers are exceptional the problem is the curriculum and it’s design. Perhaps too many with no background in Education making the rules. Nonetheless, it is my feeling there is enough time in the day to do both. I too am not big on mindless homework assignments. It should be planned and thought out and congruent with lessons, not fluff to feed one’s ego and it doesn’t have to be hours to be effective. If done properly I believe it helps to reinforce the lesson, again the system I am in does not provide enough time for any teacher to truly determine whether or not students actually ‘got’ the lesson and to measure that via a test a student is not prepared for I feel is unfair. When a child is sent home to do homework if the child has a challenge it is flagged immediately because one of a few things happen…the child does not do it (evidence of some problem) the parent helps the child understand it, or it’s done effortlessly and you can then note the child ‘got it’. Our ego may tell us we’re fantastic teachers but given the unique learning styles of students, our methods and approaches may not always reach every child every time. Some do well with ‘guided’ lessons but when left on their own they have difficulty. A class period of 45 minutes leaves very little time to address the needs of each individual child every day given the structure of lessons. I understand your point of view; however, in the system here, homework is something that helps bridge that gap but I strongly agree it must be something with purpose, not just filler, and it does not have to be pages, just something that allows the child to try it on their own to see if they can master it or not without help. That is what homework measures. Waiting for the test is too late and it damages the child’s record. Homework allows for timely intervention. Just my opinion…I don’t think either one of us will have all the answers…but I am thankful for the opportunity to share views and equally respect yours…

  7. Fantastic post, couldn’t agree with you more, especially with respect to homework being at worst detrimental to a kid’s education. If we parented more by instinct, most of us would know this in our gut anyway: a kid who is crying over a worksheet is not learning anything! (Except perhaps that they “suck” at math, spelling, etc). For years homework has been an absolute nightmare for us, a battle at home with my reluctant kid, and a battle at school with the teachers who send it home knowing how much trouble it causes (too many teachers, despite knowing homework is of little use, sadly do not share your courage to stand up either to the bullying over achieving parents who demand it, or the higher school policy that sets it – and in some cases, both.). Funnily enough, our eldest has suddenly become extremely self motivated At home, particularly with his time tables. At long last! I’m certainly not stopping him, in fact doing all I can to support and encourage him. so i guess I’m not opposed to “home work” in practice – but there’s a huge difference in attitude when kids are positively disposed to it and you can see it in the results. Anyway, Bravo to you!

    1. I feel so badly for families that are being torn apaprt by homework. A child who is having trouble with math at school is not going to improve in math by doing the exact same thing at home. The kids who are already good at math and can complete the homework independently have no reason to do more of it at home.
      What we need to do is rethink the entire system.
      If our teaching methods are not working, we need to figure out why. Screaming at a deaf person doesn’t make them hear what you’re saying any better. You need to find a different method…like sign language. If a child is literally beating their head against the wall at school because they don’t understand something, how can it possibly make sense to send them home with more of the same? If a kid doesn’t “get it”, we need to figure out how to teach him differently. Teachers say, “I don’t have time to do this.” Take homework out of the equation and see how much more time you have.
      I’m happy your son is become self-motivated. That is truly the key.

      1. Hi again! Phew, having trouble keeping up with blogs and comments lately… i must say, on that point you’ve done very well, responding here to the many different points of view with humour and clear arguments. You’ve obviously had some practice! I just wanted to share this video – perhaps you’ve seen it. Really made me re-think how I look at education. It’s not really the connection to ADHD that drew me in (don’t know anything about that subject) rather the challenge it makes to the education system as we currently know it. I’ve heard people talk about changing paradigms before, and even have a family member who went to an alternative education high school, but all the theory seemed quite pie in the sky before, while in practice alternative school approaches feel unnervingly foolhardy in a world that’s tough and only getting tougher. But this quirky little video helped me to understand and examine the evolution of the modern education system, historically speaking, as a means of highlighting the areas where it can (and ought to be) challenged, not only to meet the demands of the future, but also in light of everything science and research now shows us about, well, evertyhing.. So, for example, holidays (why 6-9 weeks off over summer when research shows the majority of kids fail to retain even half what they learnt in the previous 10 months?). Or the timetables (7.30am starts for teenagers whose bodies, science shows us, are physically half asleep until midday), not to mention testing kids in a manner that is not even reflective of how we actually operate as functioning human beings in the real world. Anyway, all fascinating stuff! here’s the link! ps sorry if i hijacked this blog entry

      2. Hijack away! I love all of the points you’ve made. I totally agree. As much as I love summers off, I would rather see that time spaced out over the year so teachers and students aren’t burnt out by June. And don’t get me started on high school kids. I think if we could schedule classes so that some kids went from 11-5, we might improve academic results and cut down on everything from youth crime to teen pregnancy (nothing like wasting away the afternoon while mom and dad are still at work)! And the testing…that’s just an easy way for governments to make it look like they are doing something when they actually don’t know what the hell to do.
        I think most of it comes down to money – buses have to be coordinated, schools would have to be retrofitted with air conditioning systems, etc. etc.
        You’re right. We need a complete overhaul. That means looking at everything with new eyes. Not taking anything for granted and definitely not continuing with the status quo in a world that is changing at light-speed.
        thanks for commenting, Nadine.

      3. p.s. I’ve seen this video before. I love, love, love Ken Robinson. I saw him speak at a conference. I sat in the front row, like some sort of groupie. He’s hilarious and brilliant.

  8. I completely agree with the chore thing; we do try with our kids. Now, regarding homework, I state here my opinion as a university professor, i.e. someone who gets to sample the school system’s “finished product”.

    I see again and again cases of students who come to university with good grades and good intentions, but a complete inability to sit and study. And I feel that homework is a tool that, well used, can develop along the years the student’s ability to work; starting from simple and short things in the early grades, and leading to real intellectual work by the end of highschool.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I agree that teaching study skills is something teachers should be doing throughout a student’s public school education. I work with my students on test-taking skills even in the early grades. We practice how to take a test in class (read the test over first, do the easy questions first, etc.) and then I send another practice test home with them a few days before the test so they can practice on their own or with their parents. I suppose you could consider that homework but I don’t mark it or collect it (although we do go over it later in class). In terms of preparing kids for the independent study habits necessary for university, I totally agree that teaching students how to work independently, through a variety of methods – both in-class and at home – is incredibly important.
      I have one heading off to university in the fall. He is a very independent worker thanks to both laundry and (some) homework.

  9. I am adding this post to this Learnist board. Love it.

    Must admit, I’m changing my mind on homework. I do give it (high school teacher) when I need students to prep something for the next day’s lesson. I also give project deadlines. I’m not very good at sticking to deadlines, and remain flexible within a certain amount. “Get it to me tomorrow? Sure. But I’m going to be impressed with it, right?” If I give something it’s never garbage. I do a lot with semi-flipping the classroom, and I’ve been using Learnist so that I can put my own material (I hate books) which includes multimedia stuff. Then I can say “Watch the two videos on the Malcolm X/MLK board” and they can really get a sense, by the time we talk, what was going on. A lot of times I give “If you want,” homework… “I’d love it if you could comment on the blog post by Friday. You’ll notice I put up some controversial ads and I want you to tell me what you think–we’ll be talking about the subject toward the end of the week.”

    That, I think , fosters intrinsic learning. I try to make the assignments catchy, so people who didn’t do the assignment will not have as much fun… I give enough time, so that people without computers (there aren’t that many) can come in during our morning advisory period or do it before/after their work is done in class. This has been a nice balance for me in getting extra stuff accomplished with them but also providing higher-level extras for them.

    Now, on the PARENT side, I hate when my just-finished-kindergarterner comes home with dittos that he must finish because he jumps around and doesn’t do them in school. “I don’t need to do this, Mom. I know it.” Sadly, it’s true. I don’t want to be the jerk who doesn’t comply with the teacher, but then I have to fight for an hour or give him an irresponsible parenting bribe, “Too bad you’re not done. We were GONNA have ice cream….”


  10. Thanks for your comments, Cafe Casey! I think high school is a bit of a different ball game and I love how you’re making your ‘homework’ more student-oriented and purposeful. I think it’s important, if kids are planning to transition into university or community college, that they know how to work independently. In that case, homework is serves a purpose. My eldest is off to university this fall and when he got his schedule he couldn’t believe how few hours he actually has to spend in class. We explained that he will have to work just as many hours…they will just have to be on his ‘own’ time.
    In terms of your kindergarten son being given homework as punishment? I gotta say, that doesn’t seem right to me. If it’s that important that they get done, they should be done in school during recess or lunchtime. Waiting until he gets home is like swatting a puppy for peeing on the floor six hours after he peed on the floor!

  11. I could not agree MORE with your comments. As a mom of 2 now university kids (18 and 20) who attended private school in Vancouver where homework was mandatory right from kindergarten (yeah really, and how ridiculous is that!), I believe that the majority of homework they were assigned up until about grade 6 or 7 was largely busy work that turned them off reading and school. My son figured out laundry at an early age, (largely because my husband ruined his clothes in the wash), but my daughter is still laundry-challenged. She will have an interesting first year at university! 🙂

    1. Homework for the sake of homework – it’s like making people work unpaid overtime just…because.
      Good luck to your daughter. My eldest is off to university in the fall. Hope he remembers the soap! 😉

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