If you have children currently enjoying the bliss of summer vacation, you know that they are dreading those three dirty words – Back to School! They are emblazoned everywhere on buses, billboards, and store windows. While the kids may be upset over their impending doom, many parents also have reason to fear those school days because it means one horrible truth – back to school is the return to helping their kids with homework.
Having a child who has gone through grammar school and is now entering high school, I have endured nine years of varying degrees of homework horror; however, I also have a child going into first grade, so it’s another round of worrying about the nightly struggle to get the homework done before bedtime.
So what have we come to in this country that we are overloading our kids with homework? One report indicates that elementary school kids “are getting significantly more homework” than is recommended by National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association.
These organizations recommend the “10-minute rule” for homework, which means starting with ten minutes of homework in first grade and then adding ten minutes to each subsequent grade level. This translates to 20 minutes in second grade, 30 minutes in third grade, and so on. This would mean ending with 120 minutes of homework in the senior year of high school.
With no guidelines for homework in Kindergarten or Pre-K, those teachers are left to assign or not assign homework on their own. Having just gone through a year of Kindergarten homework with my son, I can attest to the fact that we spent many an evening going way beyond the recommended number of minutes for second grade. Two pages of math and two pages of ELA a night do tend translate into what amounts to a struggle of wills to get the work done with a five-year-old.
Now I have also been on the other side of the fence – spending years as a classroom teacher and a school principal. As an administrator I have worked with teachers and advised them that they were giving too much homework; however, I have also had parents storm into my office and complain about teachers not giving enough homework. One parent held up one page of math and said, “I’m not getting my money’s worth with so little homework!”
So while many parents may commiserate with the nightly struggle to do homework, there are those who mistakenly believe that “a lot of homework” is a good thing and signifies that schools are giving them “bang for the buck.” As an educator I can tell you that this is a pathetic fallacy and nothing could be further from the truth.
While there are many other examples of parents struggling to help kids with their homework, we have to look beyond that and ask ourselves a question – why are we parents doing so much to “help” kids with homework? When I was a kid, I did my homework and then my parents “checked” it, which usually translated into them looking to make sure all problems were done and signing it. I can remember getting some help in first grade, but after that I was basically on my own.
Today I know of parents in my own family and in other families who are basically helping/doing the homework as a form of damage control. Since many teachers count homework toward the final grade, parents consider this as a necessary evil in order for their children to do well. But this is the same attitude that accounts for science fair projects that look like Albert Einstein put them together – this is not just the parent going overboard to help but basically living vicariously through their children’s successes.
What parents need to do is to not be “helicopter” homework helpers. While I can see helping your Kindergarten child or even a first grader, by the time a child is in second grade it is a good idea to take a step back and only get involved when asked. When your child is finished, it is appropriate to go over the homework with your child, checking each answer. I would say this can go until both you and your child realize it is no longer necessary – somewhere between fourth and sixth grade.
I have always believed in homework as a reinforcement of classwork, but in some schools using blended learning models that is changing and that is welcome news for all parents. As education evolves into something that hopefully transcends issues with Common Core and rises to a level that serves children, teachers, and parents well – and not the interests of big testing companies and their partners in crime in state education departments – homework may be the focus of all class time and the instruction will take place virtually at home at each student’s level and at a pace right for him and her.
So as the Back to School Monster rears its ugly head, it is not necessary for parents to cringe in despair. Parents should be partners with teachers in the education equation, and that means parents speaking up and telling a teacher when the homework is too much. If he or she hears this from enough parents, then some changes are obviously in order; however, if certain parents keep asking for more homework, they are not part of the solution but a part of the ongoing problem.
My advice as an educator and a parent is to take a step back, see what your children can do on their own, offer support, and not worry about children making mistakes on their homework. Mistakes are part of life and the sooner kids realize that is a way of learning as well. Any teacher worth his or her weight will not penalize kids for making mistakes on homework and give them the credit for doing it.
Parents are supposed to be partners in education and as such they need to make their voices heard even as soon as Back to School or Meet the Teacher Night. Doing so will let the teacher know you are involved and vocal about your child’s education, and that should translate into less homework headaches for you and your child in the long run.
If you see that your child is getting too much homework (and additional study work), that is not the sign of a good teacher – that’s an indication of purposeless overload. If the teacher will not listen, talk to the school principal and, if that doesn’t work, the school board. In the end all of us should want the same thing – the best education for our children in school and by extension at home. Homework does not in and off itself guarantee that and it’s all parents’ duty to make sure that homework overload doesn’t burn their children (or them) out.
Photo credits: parenting.com, stylemagazine.com, telegraph.co.uk, psu.edu
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