Photo credit: Greenwood-Lyndwood Public Library

Photo credit: Greenwood-Lyndwood Public Library (Flickr)

The Deal with Homework

Homework is a word that evokes a myriad of flashing images and emotions in our minds. Memories of endless worksheets, pencil eraser casualties, and missed cartoons flood our senses. Why does homework have such a negative connotation for so many people? What is it about that “extra practice” that causes anxiety, and how can you support your child(ren) as they tackle or breeze through those nightly assignments?

The debate surrounding homework’s usefulness wages on, and depending on the study you come across, you’ll read that homework does and does not have a positive effect on student achievement. Recently, Duke psychologist and researcher Harris Cooper concluded that an analysis of several research studies supports the assertion that homework does in fact have a positive effect on students’ achievement.

The 10-minute Rule for Homework

The “10-minute rule” for homework could be the most optimal choice. That rule suggests that students should receive no more than 10 minutes of homework for each grade level. This means 30 minutes for 3rd grade & 50 minutes for 5th grade. Interestingly enough, the limit for positive impact (according to the research) is 120 minutes for high school. That’s not per subject either, so it would be more realistic for teachers to stick with 10-15 minutes per subject.

It can be daunting to sit with your primary student and try to help, especially because children learn multiple ways to solve a single problem, and those ways are often different from the ways their parents learned. That’s not a bad thing though. It is a sign of the times and what society expects from the next generations. The world is changing, which means our methods have to adapt.

computer-1185569_640

Photo in the public domain

Children have to learn how to create solutions from (seemingly) nothing. They must learn the theory behind the math and science because the world and future jobs are moving in that direction. Simple rote memorization won’t suffice in a technological society that could come to expect a comfort and familiarity with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and creativity that older generations simply did not need.

Homework Advice for Parents

  1. Encourage your child to identify the relevance of the assignments. Why are they doing this? How will it contribute to your child’s everyday life? This is a good opportunity to make the content show up at home. For example, my son just brought home some math work that required him to find perimeters. I might take him into our backyard, walk the perimeter of our property, and ask him to explain why it’s important for our fence to line the land we own. I’d ask him to speculate on what might happen legally if we were to move our fence back a few inches into our neighbors’ spaces. That talk segues into civics, government, and citizenry. (I am a proponent of interdisciplinary learning, so I never segment his learning. All subjects work together to help us understand our world. That is how we should teach.)
  2. Allow your child to take breaks or start later. School is exhausting for many children. They’re constantly stimulated and being asked to use their brain. Mental work gets tiring. Consider how many adults need time to decompress after a workday. Lots of us don’t even want to speak to another human being for at least an hour or two. Give your child some downtime before homework begins. A nap, a snack, a show, or silence can go a long way and give your child the second-wind needed to tackle those activities. If you want to, think about creating a daily or weekly schedule that outlines when homework time starts. Having a good system in place is also helpful.
  3. Do some research and learn with your child. Yes, you likely learned things differently, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a new way now. Everyone’s talking about a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Well, here’s a chance to show that you do have a growth mindset. Learn a new way to do something and support your child along the way, or jog your memory. It’s been a while for some of us. There are resources like Khan Academy that offer video tutorials for students (and parents and educators). Don’t be afraid to Google a video to watch with your child. My son and I just watched a video a few weeks ago on regrouping. As soon as the video started, I said, “Oooooooh. I forgot that’s what it’s called!” He appreciated that mom watched a math video with him and helped with the homework, and I was able to not feel bad because I actually did know what he was talking about.
  4. Know the district/school policy on homework. This might sound like it’s unimportant, but if your child’s district has a strict policy regarding the kind of homework that can be sent home, you need to know that to advocate for your child. One no-no for many (if not most or all districts/schools) is sending homework that introduces a new concept unless it’s a flipped classroom. Teachers use homework for quick practice, comprehension checks, and/or developing automaticity in most cases. Other campuses restrict homework that requires students to use technology or assignments that are outside of the students’ ability to complete it independently.

There’s no telling how long homework will be around, but we can find ways to make it less stressful and more meaningful while the “powers that be” decide. Your willingness to take the steps for ensuring that are commendable, and it’s important to remember that it all takes time. Try one or two on for size and monitor your child’s response, and if you’re feeling pretty ambitious, shoot for all four.