Homework Trials and Tribulations (page 4)
Most days, Matthew arrives home from school at 4pm and relaxes for half an hour. He then gets out his homework book, reviews his assignments and begins his homework. Haley comes home ready to start her homework but can't remember what assignments she has to complete. Sometimes she does not have all of the materials she needs. Often her mom has had to take her back to school to get a book in order to complete the assignment. Nicholas can finish some assignments quickly but writing assignments take him a long time and he is often up late doing his homework.
As the above examples illustrate, some children seem to complete homework effortlessly, while others have difficulty managing the academic demands and organizational challenges that homework presents.
The purpose of homework is to review class material and practice skills. As children complete their assignments, they become more invested in and responsible for their learning. Homework places demands on children that help them develop mental skills. It demands that a child concentrates, follows directions, organizes materials, solves problems and works independently. Homework offers a way to show a growing sense of competence and independence. Additionally, homework helps forge a connection between school and home.
What do researchers tell us about homework?
Research has challenged the myth that America's students are overburdened with homework. According to recent national research children actually do not do enough homework. The Brookings Institute has found that on average, daily time spent on homework in the U.S. increased from 16 minutes in 1981 to slightly more than 19 minutes in 1997. However, the amount of homework assigned to children aged 6-9 has increased from about 44 minutes per week to more than two hours per week. Additionally, homework for kids aged 9-11 increased from about 2 hours and 50 minutes to more than 3 1⁄2 hours per week. A poll conducted in 2000 by the Public Agenda Foundation showed that most parents feel homework is about right. However, as both parents and children are busier than ever, it is no surprise that some parents perceive an increased homework load, in part because there are competing options for children including sports, music, part-time jobs, and family responsibilities. It is sometimes difficult to imagine where time for homework will fit in.
What do master teachers tell us about homework?
Homework should be geared towards the work of the classroom and, where possible, to the interest of the child. It should be reflective of the child's ability and be developmentally appropriate. Teachers should try to make homework stimulating rather than a repetition of the day's in-class work. Giving choices for how homework is to be completed, sending home a list to parents of expectations and goals, and using a reward and tracking system for homework completion are helpful ways to ensure participation. It is important that teachers monitor homework progress and communicate with the family regularly.
Teachers can prepare children for homework because it is a teachable skill. Children need to know that there are good reasons for homework. Some teachers don't assign any homework in the first several weeks of school. Instead, they spend that time teaching children how to do homework. Along with discussions about how to manage time, they teach, model and practice how to do each of the possible choice activities. They provide all the necessary materials, which the children take home, and the class talks about and practices how to use and care for the materials.
Developmentally, how much homework is appropriate per grade?
The amount of homework assigned increases as children grow older. In Grades K through 1, 10 to 20 minutes or less per day is usual. From Grades 2-3, 20 minutes per day plus 15 minutes of reading is expected. When children reach Grade 4-6, 20- 40 minutes per day plus 30 minutes of reading is the norm. In Grades 7-9, homework can span as long as 2 hours per day. Once children reach middle school, with each new school year, the complexity and quantity of assignments increase along with the assumption that students ought to know how to do homework.
How much help with homework is appropriate?
The most useful stance a parent can take is to be somewhat but not overly involved. The emphasis should be on helping your child, not on doing homework for them. Some useful strategies for becoming involved in your child's schoolwork include the following:
- Communicate: It is a good idea to get an understanding of what teachers expect of your child. Meet with the teacher early in the year to set a good precedent for facilitating communication later in the semester, if need be.
- Monitor: Talk about the assignment so your child can figure out what needs to be done. Reviewing a completed assignment is helpful. For younger children, it is appropriate to help them with their homework and closely monitor their progress. For children age 12 and over, you may want to leave it up to your child's discretion whether he/she wants help. If your older child does not ask for help with homework but you notice that he/she is having difficulty, you will want to intervene and help your child get outside supports (i.e., extra-help sessions with a teacher, after-school study sessions, individualized student homework contracts, or a tutor).
- Encourage: Regardless of your child's age, never underestimate the importance and impact of your praise and encouragement on your child's success. Talking about an assignment and showing your interest in your child's schoolwork may also help your child maintain his/her motivation and interest.
- Model behavior: Parent's beliefs and practices are very important influences on children's success. Show that you think homework is important by providing a consistent time and place for it. Try and help your child see homework as an opportunity, not a threat. Never use homework as a punishment and don't exempt kids from homework as a reward. Both actions imply that homework is not fun and not part of the routine and send a message that can backfire on students, teachers and parents.
How can I help my child be ready for homework?
By focusing on certain skill areas you can help your child complete his/her homework with less stress and frustration.
- Choose a specified space and time to do homework. Remove distractors. Help your child concentrate by turning off the television, by limiting personal telephone calls, and by setting a good example by reading and writing yourself.
- Make sure that your child has all the tools and supplies needed to complete work. It is a good idea to accompany your child to an office supply store at the start of each semester to purchase new school supplies as necessary.
- Help your child to set realistic goals regarding how long each assignment may take so that he or she knows that they will also have free time.
About the NYU Child Study Center
The NYU Child Study Center is dedicated to the research, prevention and treatment of child and adolescent mental health problems. The Center offers evaluation and treatment for children and teenagers with anxiety, depression, learning or attention difficulties, neuropsychiatric problems, and trauma and stress related symptoms.
We offer a limited number of clinical studies at no cost for specific disorders and age groups. To see if your child would be appropriate for one of these studies, please call (212)263-8916.
The NYU Child Study Center also offers workshops and lectures for parents, educators and mental health professionals on a variety of mental health and parenting topics. To learn more or to request a speaker, please call (212) 263-2479.
For further information, guidelines and practical suggestions on child mental health and parenting issues, please visit the NYU Child Study Center's website, AboutOurKids.org.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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