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Alternative Homework Ideas for Elementary Students

Do you struggle to get students to complete traditional homework assignments? Do you think that students might need a break after a long day at school? Are you looking for alternative homework ideas that don't involve pencil and paper? Well look no further because I know how you feel.

It's been a few years since my own kids were in elementary school, but I have clear memories of the nightly homework fight with my son. He HATED doing homework, especially anything that involved any type of writing. We spent so much time erasing and complaining and arguing and crying. It's not a pleasant memory.

Now, as a teacher, I have a real love-hate relationship with homework. No, make that a hate-hate relationship.

  • I HATE trying to come up with meaningful assignments.

  • I HATE that the students who need extra practice are the same ones who never do their homework.

  • I HATE knowing my students are tired at the end of the day and will have to do more when they get home.

  • I HATE that some students have family members that can help with difficult assignments and others don't.

  • I absolutely HATE checking homework.

It's just one more source of stress for everyone and one more thing contributing to teacher burnout. Plus, research totally doesn't support the concept of homework for younger students: A 2006 meta-analysis by Harris Cooper at Duke University looked at what effect, if any, homework has on student success at various ages. It found that homework can be beneficial for improving study habits, self-discipline, and independent problem solving. But these effects were mostly limited to older students in high school. There was a very weak correlation for primary grades.

The study also showed that homework can "cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning, and limit leisure time for children.”

boy frustrated doing traditional homework

In a more recent 2013 study at Stanford University, researchers found that spending too much time on homework negatively impacted students' developmental and social needs. They were less likely to participate in extracurricular activities, spend time with friends or family, participate in hobbies, and develop important life skills. Interestingly, children in Finland - considered to have one of the best education systems in the world - do not have homework at all.

So what's a teacher to do? I thought about scrapping homework altogether, but I'm part of a big grade level and all of the other team members assign homework. Plus, there are always those few parents who would never accept a straight no-homework policy. And personally, I don't feel like digging up nightly homework for a few individuals.

Alternative Homework Ideas for Elementary Students

After a lot of consideration, I decided to start assigning un-homework. Yeah, you heard me... UN-homework. It's just a fancy name for creative assignments that don't take a lot of time and or take away from a student's home life. In fact, most of them are designed to fit right into their busy schedules and increase quality time with family. Here's how this alternative homework idea works...

My students still have some assignments, but they come from a choice sheet - and they are things students actually want to do. These activities involve very little paperwork and no checking on my part. In fact, many of my assignments are fun. Students really like this new approach to homework...

students happy and celebrating

Here are some of the homework tasks on my choice board. I'm sure you can think of more...

  • Act out your favorite story for a parent or sibling

  • Play a board game with a parent or grandparent

  • Play a game on Spelling City

  • Create a map of your neighborhood

  • Write a letter or an email to a relative

  • Help cook dinner - Read the recipe and help measure

  • Help your family by doing an extra chore

  • Visit the public library

  • Play a game of charades using this week's vocabulary words

  • Make a list of books you like on the GetEpic website

  • Spend 20 minutes exercising with your family (walk, run, bike, swim)

  • Research a country you would like to visit and plan a pretend vacation

  • Learn to say HELLO and GOODBYE in a foreign language, then teach someone else

  • Practice telling time or counting money with an adult

  • Count all of the money in your piggy bank

  • Look up the history of your town - Find out when it was founded and by whom

  • Read your favorite book to someone else

  • Make a card for your mom or dad. Write a nice note inside.

  • Help an older neighbor with something - bring in the newspaper or mail, rake their yard, bring up their trash can, etc.

  • Create a timeline showing 5 important events in your life

  • Measure 10 objects in your bedroom

  • Put a puzzle together with a family member

  • Take a nature walk with someone. Collect 5 different kinds of leaves

  • Create a family tree (ask an older relative to help)

  • Make a pillow fort, climb inside and read a book for 20 minutes

  • Spend 15 minutes exploring the Wonderopolis website

Some of these stay the same every week, but I add a few new ones here and there. Sometimes I turn it into a weekly homework bingo game (instead of a checklist) where they try to complete a full row on the board. One fun activity that I like to include on my list is "Visit Sugar Mill Gardens". This is a very cool public garden in my town of Port Orange that features sugar mill ruins from the days of Florida plantations. They were burned down during the Seminole Indian War but you can still see what's left of them.

visit the battle of dunlawton battle site an alternative homework assignment

Wouldn't this be a worthwhile family outing? It's free, easy to get to, and so much more meaningful than a doing a worksheet. They would learn so much in just half an hour walking through the gardens!

I know some of my students' parents won't take the time to do this one, but I add it to the list at least a couple of times throughout the year. You probably have something similar in your town that you can add to your own list of alternative homework ideas!

will parents BE on board with this ALTERNATIVE HOMEWORK idea?

Most of mine were thrilled with no persuading from me. But for the few that did not totally agree, I came up with this little letter...

unhomework letter to send home to parents

You can get an editable copy of my alternative homework letter at the end of this blog post.

I am so happy about my decision to switch to un-homework in my classroom and so are my students! It has certainly made morning arrival less stressful - no more excuses about missing homework, or crying about forgetting it at home, or scrambling to copy someone else's to avoid getting in trouble. The kids are much more relaxed and so am I.

Best of all, I know that my new type of homework assignments are giving the families a break and a great reason to do things together. That's a win-win if you ask me!


Want to try alternative homework assignments with your class? These editable versions of my parent letter and choice sheets will help you get started. Just click on the image to download:

alternative homework ideas letter for parents

Still not convinced alternative homework is for you? Brain breaks can help students during traditional homework time and I have a parent letter for that too! You can download it from the Free Resource Library: Homework Brain Break Ideas for Parents


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