Childhood obesity is a major concern in many parts of the world. Finding ways to help prevent it requires a little creativity and a lot of reexamining the way we’ve always done things. I recently read a really interesting article about French President François Hollande banning homework in France. His reasons were for educational purposes rather than reasons related to childhood obesity, but it really made me do some thinking. Is homework interfering with our children’s free time? Could it, as an indirect result, contribute to childhood obesity? Take a look at my argument, then weigh in with your thoughts!
A Day in the life of the average school student
While the start and end times for the average school day vary depending on what time school starts, for most kids who go to school outside the home, their day is usually some variation of this:
- Wake up bright and early, get dressed, eat breakfast.
- Head to the school bus and off to school.
- School all day, with minimal recess.
- Back on the bus, home around 4pm.
- Homework for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more!
- Maybe 30 minutes of playtime, if they’re lucky.
- Eat dinner.
- Take a bath. After the bath, kids usually spend a little time doing quiet activities. They’re certainly not running around playing!
- Go to bed, typically between 8 and 9pm.
Where in that schedule are our children getting enough time for active play? While younger children typically have less homework, it still takes up a good chunk of their after school time. Older kids in middle school and high school are often bombarded with homework, giving them virtually no free time at all.
How much physical activity does your child really need to prevent childhood obesity?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity a day to help prevent childhood obesity. They also recommend working in some bone conditioning and strength training activities 3 times a week each as part of those 60+ minutes. Now, if your child has a great metabolism and eats healthy, he can likely get away with just those 60 minutes each day. If your child has a slower metabolism or is already dealing with childhood obesity issues, that may not be enough.
Take a look at your child’s schedule again. Working in the 60 minutes is a bit of a challenge, but perhaps doable. What if your child is one who needs more than that, though? It’s almost impossible to squeeze in the extra time, especially if your child is also among those who receive an hour or more worth of homework each night! Homework can also be stressful for children, especially when they’re feeling overwhelmed by it! Stress can lead to childhood obesity as well!
But isn’t homework important?
The importance of homework is debatable. Some children excel without homework, learning what they need to learn during school hours. These kids do great on tests whether they have homework or not. Others do need the extra practice at home to help in sink in more. Some kids simply learn better in their home environment. Perhaps banning all homework isn’t the solution. Something needs to give, though! Fortunately, I’ve already come up with a few solutions that help balance the need for homework and the need to prevent childhood obesity.
Proposed solutions to the homework versus childhood obesity issue
- Cut back on homework. If an outright ban is too extreme, teachers could cut back a bit. Perhaps do homework three nights a week, instead of five. Cut it down to one sheet of homework a night, alternating the different subjects. Add in special projects once a month to make it more fun and give a more hands-on learning experience.
- Give parents an alternative. There are so many ways to work learning material into active playtime. Spelling words can be taught to the rhythm of a jump rope. Math skills can be incorporated into hopscotch, and so on. Give parents a list of ideas, a checklist, and accountability for their child’s academic success. Yes, parents can lie and say their kids did the activities, but parents can also lie and do their child’s homework. Anything done at home is done on the honor system anyway.
- Bring back adequate recess. Did you know that in some schools, recess has been cut back to just 15 minutes a day? That’s starting right from Kindergarten! Just 15 minutes to work off a little pent-up energy and get active during the day. Sadly, even those 15 minutes can easily be taken from a child. In fact, if the child forgets to do their homework the night before or doesn’t do it right, they typically spend recess redoing it. Increasing recess time not only gives kids a chance to be more active, it may help them focus better during the school day.
These are just a few ideas on how to keep homework from contributing to childhood obesity. What do you think about homework? Does it interfere with your child’s free time after school? I am really excited to hear your thoughts on the subject. I know there are two sides to this, and welcome alternative views.