5 Signs Your Kids are Doing Busywork, Not Useful Homework

Ever get frustrated at the amount of busy work your children are doing due to the curriculum they’re studying? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many parents feel frustrated at how much time their children waste on tasks. They can see these tasks don’t further their child’s education or have any perceptible positive input.

In this article, we’ll talk about what busywork is and how it’s different from helpful homework.

Rebbecca Devitt

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. If you want to do my course on how to homeschool, click here.

We’ll also identify the signs of busywork.

Then, we’ll identify useful work and time-wasting activities in class.

Finally, we’ll examine why some curriculum (or teachers) assign busywork.

Let’s dive in and get started!

Affiliate links are used in this post. 

What is Busywork

Busywork is material in a curriculum that might take much of your child’s attention and time but doesn’t give them any educational value.

Even though a child might look extremely busy, they’re not learning much from the work they’re doing.

The work is often given to keep students occupied.

Simultaneously, little thought is given to the educational content of the material.

Some teachers think busywork is useful if substitute teachers take a class and don’t want to introduce new material until the old teacher is back.

However, this is often only useful for the teachers and fails to use students’ precious time.

If busywork is given to reiterate a concept that’s already been learned, it’s arguable it’s not busywork but useful homework.

Signs Its Busywork, Not Useful Work

There are a few signs that your child’s work isn’t useful work they can learn from, but busywork.

Below, we look at five signs that could indicate your child is doing busywork.

1. It’s Been Done Before

One of the hallmarks of busywork is repetition.

If your child has done the work several times before, it could be a time-wasting activity.

While children sometimes need repetition to learn a concept (such as a difficult math problem or some reading words), work is often assigned far too often.

It’s like children do a lot of overkill homework.

It’s much better to let children go outside to run around and enjoy the air instead of embittering them toward education by making it mind-numbingly repetitious.

2.     Busywork Doesn’t Further Education

The purpose of education is often to further our knowledge in specific areas.

At the point where children are not furthering their education, we must question whether it’s educational, or just busywork.

Ask yourself if your child would gain more if they did something else like spending the time:

  • doing physical education
  • playing outdoors and enjoying nature or
  • with family.

If children attend school, much of their time is already eaten away by their schoolwork.

Busywork takes away valuable time with parents but doesn’t give children anything in return.

Unfortunately, busywork is a favorite of some teachers.

They have to keep kids busy while they are stuck inside a building.

‘They need something to do!’ says the teacher.

However, if children could follow their interests, they wouldn’t have to be assigned material that didn’t further their education.

To be clear, this is an inherent criticism of the setup of school classrooms and models.

(Often, students are given a video which some teachers pass off as ‘educational’.

Don’t be fooled into thinking videos are always – or even often – educational.

Many are just time-wasters where children learn nothing.)

3. It’s Irrelevant to the Subject

Sometimes children are given time-wasting work to do that’s irrelevant to the subject.

They might be handed sheets of work on things they’ve never studied or things that are too simple or hard for them.

While some might be useful, many are irrelevant busywork activities designed to fill up time at the end of the classroom period.

(I recently heard of a teacher who was himself studying a course at a tertiary institution and assigned his high school students busywork so they could research his homework for him!)

4. It’s Boring

Another way to identify busywork is when you see students doing something they’re not interested in.

They remain on a base level of functioning, trying to get through the monotonous work they’ve been given.

Surely, learning shouldn’t work like this!

Children – especially young children – learn best when they’re interested in a subject.

They learn best when they’re exploring the world around them.

This is because it activates more of the brain to help with the task.

Children integrate previous learning and add to their knowledge as they do this.

So, unless absolutely necessary, stay away from curricula that tend to bore children instead of engendering them with a love of learning.

5.     Your Child is Too Advanced for Their Class

Some children might find teacher handouts or activities busywork, while others might benefit from the work.

That is, it might not be busywork for some, but if you have a gifted child, they may already know the work.

A customized education like homeschooling is a great option if you have a child who’s particularly frustrated at the slow pace of work they’ve been given at school.

Homeschooling allows children to work at their own pace in every subject.

They can follow their interests and study what truly fascinates them.

Ever feel frustrated at the amount of work your children bring home from school that they don't need to do? This is called busywork and these are the signs your kids are doing it.

Why Teachers Assign Busywork

Teachers assign busywork for a few reasons.

Some of these are fair enough, while others indicate lazy teachers who don’t care about their students.

  • Sometimes substitute teachers assign busywork because they don’t know what the regular teacher is up to in the curriculum the children follow. Staff shortages mean teachers may be changed from time to time. The substitute teacher may not want to ‘mess up the curriculum’ by teaching something that hasn’t been taught before. So, they assign busywork.
  • Proper work takes preparation. This can be time-consuming for teachers, and the best teachers will do this work. However, the worst teachers won’t care about their class and will arrive unprepared. This is another hallmark of substitute teachers (and who can blame them) because who wants to put in hours of preparation for a class you’ll only be teaching for a day or two?
  • A teacher who doesn’t care if her class is interested in the work they’re doing won’t prepare for the day. If a student is unfortunate enough to have a teacher like this for a whole year, they can expect to emerge from that year having learned little of what they might have had if they had a teacher with more pizazz.
  • They’re exhausted. Sometimes, teachers are exhausted from a hard term, and they are hanging out for a break. We all have days when, even if we’re usually a good worker, we put in a bad day’s work on specific days. For teachers, their exhaustion days come at the end of the week, after an excursion, or towards the end of the term. For example, teachers tend to hand out more busywork the day before Christmas break than the first day of school.

What You Can Do

If parents want to involve their children in education that will help them learn more, consider creating activities for your children yourself.

You don’t need a teacher to give your children educational experiences!

This is what a lot of homeschooling parents do.

They take their children’s education into their own hands, and they certainly haven’t seen any negative test scores as a result.

What you can do to stop the busywork

If you’ve identified that your child has too much busywork at school, you have two popular options:

  • Talk to their teacher about a more individualized homework plan
  • Homeschool your children

A good way to tackle too much busywork is to talk to your child’s teacher and ask them to reassess the amount of homework they’re assigning your child.

Maybe they’ll be willing to personalize your child’s homework or exempt them from it entirely.

Unfortunately, some teachers assign the same homework to all their students and want all their students to do the work, even if they know the material.

Over the years, this wastes a huge amount of time.

The Homeschool Option

This is when homeschooling could be a great option.

Many people homeschool their children because they get frustrated with the amount of time they spend doing busy work at school.

They see that their children will learn so much more if they can study at their own pace with an individualized, self-paced curriculum.

For this reason, gifted children make up a large proportion of homeschoolers, as home education allows them to put their busy minds to work with more of a challenge than most schools can give them.

(You can find out more about homeschooling at this link.)

I Was Homeschooled – A Great Experience

I’m a homeschool graduate myself, and I love homeschooling.

You can read about my experience here.

As I now look at homeschooling my own son, I wonder if it would be enjoyable and if our family could afford it.

I aired these concerns to my parents, and my mother said she loved homeschooling us.

My dad said the years he spent homeschooling were – by far –  the happiest years of his life.

They said that parents might have to give up some things in life to homeschool (having said this, they thrived financially on one income), but it’s so worth it!

And you get back so much in return.

Does More Homework Give Students Better Grades?

Many people believe there is a correlation between students’ time spent on books and their marks.

But this is a huge misconception.

This is what Alfie Kohn, an education author, said on the topic:

[N]o research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school.  In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement.  If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homework despite what the evidence says.

Furthermore, too much homework can actually lower test scores!

So, we must be careful when assigning work to our children.

We need to change the way we think about the work we give our students by realizing these things don’t always lead to learning in our students.

Ever feel frustrated at the amount of work your children bring home from school that they don't need to do? This is called busywork and these are the signs your kids are doing it.

What is Homework or Useful Work

Homework differs from busywork in that it continues a child’s learning from where it left off in the classroom.

In school, students can take work home, learn at their own pace, and discover concepts they must work on.

In a homeschool situation, useful work adds to a child’s learning.

So they don’t reach the end of the lesson and realize they’ve learned nothing new.

Of course, students may need to repeat concepts in different ways.

This happens in subjects like chemistry, mathematics, and vocabulary.

However, this repetition is normal in some subjects.

Indeed a lot of concepts are taught effectively when students repeat ideas multiple times.

(Like Latin curriculum programs. There’s lots of repetition in them.)

To better understand chemistry math problems, students benefit from tackling slightly different problem sets.

This lets them approach the same concept from various angles.

The concept they’re learning might be very difficult, but by the time they’ve done it 10 times, they’ll find they know how to solve it easily.

Note: Parent/family involvement may be for family bonding.

Busywork in Packaged Homeschool Curricula

Sometimes, there’s busywork included in a curriculum that you might buy to homeschool with.

This is because many of these curricula are designed for use in schools.

Parents can circumvent this by buying alternate-year packages if they have a gifted student.

I skip the review lessons in my curriculum BJU Press.

You can also quickly review your child’s work for the day and leave anything that looks like busywork.

If your child always gets 90 to 100 percent on tests, this could be a sign that the work is too easy for them.

Another way to avoid busywork is to choose an eclectic homeschooling method.

This lets you to be flexible about what your children learn.

It allows you to say, ‘We’re going to do this bookwork, leave this bookwork, and go outside and do some garden work later.’

Ever feel frustrated at the amount of work your children bring home from school that they don't need to do? This is called busywork and these are the signs your kids are doing it.


We too often make the mistake that for children to learn, they have to do an ‘educational’ activity. Like a workbook or assignment. But this isn’t true because learning happens all the time! Learning happens best when we incorporate interest-based learning in the subject. Don’t worry if you can’t quantify your children’s knowledge through testing or other grading methods. Chances are they’ll be taking a lot in. And maybe even understand more than they ever did when filling out a worksheet!

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Rebecca Devitt

Most adults don't particularly want to relive their schooling experience on a daily basis. They would gladly move on to a new life devoid of homework and teachers. Very, very few adults will passionately blog about their schooling some 15 years after graduating. This makes Rebecca Devitt somewhat unique. As it happens, she was homeschooled. And she loved it. Still does. And she wishes every kid could get a taste of homeschooling at its very best. Her website How Do I Homeschool, is a springboard for parents to see what a life of homeschooling could be for both them & their children. When she's not blogging Rebecca is still homeschooling her-adult-self by learning Latin, growing weird vegetables and most importantly looking after her two children Luke & Penny. She has a husband Tristan and is a participant at Wollongong Baptist Church. She's also written a book about why parents should homeschool called 'Why on Earth Homeschool'.

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