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Homework Help for Kids


By Joanna Metcalf

Though homework policies are often in the line of fire, many parents, teachers and administrators agree that homework establishes good habits and increases subject knowledge.

In Robert Marzano's book Classroom Instruction That Works, he counts homework and practice as the fourth of nine essential instructional strategies for the success of students at all levels. What happens, though, when your second grader seems to have more homework than your teenager, or you start to feel like it's homework for you, not for your child? Here are some things to consider when homework isn't working.

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How much is too much?

The standard for time spent on homework is 10 minutes per grade level. That means that a kindergarten or first grade student should spend about 10 minutes each night completing homework, a second grader 20 minutes, and so on.

Beginning at the middle school level, when the correlation between time spent on homework and academic success really kicks in, students should spend between one and two hours each night completing assignments. That guideline remains unchanged for high school.

Many teachers, particularly at the elementary level, ask that students spend time reading each night. Time spent reading alone or with an adult is usually in addition to the 10-minute rule and doesn't count as homework time.

Whose homework is it, anyway?

It's one thing to suggest that parent involvement should be minimal, but it takes an exceptional learner to do the work every night without at least some parental prodding.

The level of your involvement depends upon the student's abilities and work habits, but you should always be moving toward the child taking greater ownership and responsibility for assignments.

It's okay to remind your child, but homework completion, like other responsibilities, should be non-negotiable and subject to the same rewards and consequences as anything else you require your child to do.

It's okay to help by explaining assignments and providing examples, or you can be a sounding board for discussions. You can and should check for completion and correctness.

Parents, however, should never provide answers or tell the student what to write down. Resist the temptation to write anything down for him, even if your child tells you what the answer is. If it's not in his handwriting, it's not his work.

What should homework look like?

Homework assignments can vary widely even among teachers in the same school, but there are some guidelines that teachers should follow.

With the exception of pre-reading or read-ahead assignments, homework should never be used to introduce new skills or concepts, and should always relate directly to current classroom learning.

Practicing a skill is acceptable: For example, a first grader being assigned 10 minutes of simple addition problems, but homework should not be busy work.

Tips for homework success.

The most important way to help your child succeed with homework is to be available. Learning doesn't happen in a vacuum. Talking to your child about homework, even at the high school level, allows you to stay in touch with what he's learning, and it helps him process new ideas and information.

If your teenager insists on doing his homework in his room, check in frequently and ask specific questions about the work. Young children should complete homework in a quiet but more public space with you nearby. For example, the kitchen table makes a great homework spot, but you may need to turn off the TV or radio if they're a distraction.

Be aware of and encourage attention and focus. Students who take longer to complete homework are often frustrated because they genuinely don't know what to do, or they're not focused on the task.

You may need to break longer assignments down into more manageable pieces and remove toys or cell phones until homework is finished.

One size doesn't fit all!

A homework assignment that takes one child five minutes to finish will take another child much longer. Use the 10-minute rule described above.

If your child's homework routinely doesn't allow for completion in the amount of time that's appropriate for his grade level, make an appointment with the teacher and discuss the problem.

Teachers will often individualize assignments to meet the needs of the learner if they know about the problem. Most teachers would say that it's better to leave an assignment unfinished than to stay up past bedtime to complete it.

Remember, not all learners are created equal. It's okay to ask the teacher to modify homework assignments for your child if he routinely struggles.

Finally, don't fight the homework battle. Most teachers have a homework policy that includes consequences for missed assignments. If you've tried everything and your child still won't do the work, send the teacher an email explaining your struggles and let your child accept the consequences at school for his decision.