Homework: How is it going in your house?
It’s January. Holidays are a memory and winter is settling in. Chances are that the optimism associated with empty, new notebooks and shiny school supplies has worn off a bit. Maybe you are one of those families in which homework presents a nightly routine of nagging and resisting. If so, please read on.
Let’s start here – there isn’t much research out there that confirms the relationship between homework and school achievement. On top of that, your impression that kids are getting more homework than ever is correct. Consider data shared by Jane Bluestein of Instructional Support Services:
- From 1992 to 2002, six to eight year old children more than doubled their weekly study time although there was no evidence of any improvement on test score achievement.
- There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary school students.
- Family meals are the single strongest predictor of better achievement and fewer behavior problems for children three to twelve years old. It is a better predictor than the amount of time spent studying.
- One survey found that 50% of parents say they have had serious arguments with their children over homework and 34% say it is a source of struggle and stress for them and their children.
So don’t think that you are alone with your homework struggles and don’t ignore your instinct that it may be a problem for your child and your family.
SO what can you do?
- Resign from your position as the Homework Police, even when others suggest you stay on the job.
- Help your child plan how to do homework most effectively for him or her. Invite your child to talk with you about best time and place to do homework. Listen to her think about other things that will help get it done efficiently. For some children it might mean doing it 10 minutes at a time and then taking regular breaks.
- Make a plan that includes your child’s preferences and stick to it. If homework is done right after dinner for 20 minutes, then plan household quiet time for those 20 minutes each evening. Refrain from hassling your child during that time.
- Show interest in your child’s homework. Which parts does he find useful? Which parts might she actually like? Which parts are challenging? Look at what he is doing and talk about it without giving advice or nagging.
- Invite your child to think about ways to get support with the challenging parts. Ask her what would help her take action on some of those ideas.
- Use effective praise and encourage your child at least once or twice while homework is getting done. You can comment on simple tasks – “Hey, great to see you getting your homework started!” “Looks like you’re working hard on that science project.” “I know math can be difficult, glad to see you putting in the effort.” I know one parent who struggled with her 7 year son, who had been diagnosed with ADHD, to read with mom for 20 minutes each night. When mom stopped nagging and simply encouraged him for small accomplishments (bringing home his book, finding his assignment, getting started reading, etc.) she found that he became much more willing to read. Within a few weeks of refraining from all negative comments, he started coming to her on his own to get their reading started. Within a semester, he was easily engaging in their reading time and his reading score improved significantly.
- Homework doesn’t have to be perfect. Refrain from going over every piece of your child’s homework unless she has indicated that it would be helpful.
- If homework is a chronic problem, plan a meeting with both your child and your child’s teacher to discuss the problem. In that meeting
- Support your child to express his challenges with homework.
- Ask the teacher what are some ways you can support your child with their homework. Consider if you are able or willing to help your child in these ways and talk with the teacher about your considerations.
- Ask the teacher what are some ways he/she can help your child be more successful with homework.
- Be sure to understand exactly what is the purpose of homework in your child’s case. If this method isn’t working, ask if the teacher might consider another way of accomplishing those purposes.
Homework should never be a source of family conflict. Never. My first principle for parents is to strive to think about how your behavior is affecting your child’s self-worth. In fact, some research suggests that parents talking about their aspirations for children to achieve in school is more important than hours of study and we can be sure it is more effective than fighting about it.
It is important to respect your child’s perspective on homework and to understand it from her point of view. The chances that teachers can give the same homework to 20 or more children and expect it to be relevant or, more importantly, manageable for all seems remote. Listen carefully to what your child is trying to tell you about homework. There are no lazy children, but there are plenty of discouraged ones.
There are many reasons to understand your child’s challenge with homework. It may be too much too easy or too difficult. Some kids need more physical activity in the course of the day. They spend a good part of the day sitting in class and coming home to sit down again may be an enormous challenge and not useful for their positive development. Some children may need positive family time more than spelling words. Look back at that data on family dinners as a stronger indicator of school achievement than study time. And, finally, some kids tend to be worriers and too much focus on homework can just increase their concerns.
In terms of the big picture, you may want to work with some other parents to learn about homework in your child’s school. Ask some questions –
- Does your school have a written homework policy? Take a look at it and see if it makes sense to you as a parent. Most school homework policies include a maximum number of minutes children in each grade should be spending on homework. Consider if your child’s teacher is following the policy. If your school doesn’t have a policy, consider putting together a teacher-parent committee to learn more about homework and develop a policy based on what is known about best practice.
- In what ways are your school’s teachers prepared to design effective homework? Do they have training in best practices? Is there agreement about the purposes of homework? Does it need to be more individualized to be effective?
- What evidence does your school have that homework helps? Use Bluestein’s various comments on homework to help with your exploration with your child’s school. She offers guidelines for educators based on the research she has gathered.
This process of exploration with your school is meant to be a learning process for both you and the school, not one of conflict or blame. Working in collaboration with your child’s school faculty and administration is essential to really improve learning for your community’s children.
According to the American Educational Research Association: “Whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever it usurps time that should be devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents.” I would add to that list a more specific part of social experience – positive family time – of which there is sometimes too little in our everyday lives. Learn about homework and your child – understand the purpose of your child’s homework and your school’s approach. Become an active advocate to help create a system both at home and at school that will support your child’s school success and self-worth.
Let us know about how homework is going in your house – what are the challenges and what do you find helps?