Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Childhood Matters - Homework Headaches

On October 30 check out the Childhood Matters radio talk show program on 98.1 KISS FM from 7:00-8:00am. The topic for Sunday, October 30 is Reducing Homework Headaches. Here is a blurb for the show:

Reducing Homework Headaches
October 30, 2011

98.1 KISS FM

7:00-8:00 am

Our children face great pressure to exceed and excel each year, starting at a very young age. One example is that the amount of homework students are assigned is increasing steadily. Join Nurse Rona and guest host Beth Samuelson, MA, of Student Organizational Services, as they discuss how to help students balance their workload and work smarter, not harder! What do you think about how much homework your child has? Do you think it helps them learn?

I thought I'd give some advice on the topic here since I won't be able to listen in that day because I'll be out of town (coincidentally) helping my son tour a school that will hopefully be less stressful for him and a better fit than the school he currently attends.

1. How do we help students balance their workload and work smarter, not harder?

Balance is key. Sign up for fewer extra curricular activities so that children are not stressed out after a day at school. Give your child the gift of unscheduled time every afternoon after school. Then, don't fill that time with hours of homework, but with other unstructured activities - hanging out with siblings, cooking, dog walking, bike riding, chilling with friends, park play time, drawing, coloring, street roller hockey, naps, etc. Once they are rejuvenated or rested from those after school activities they may have a better mindset to do a little homework.

2. What do you think about how much homework your child has?

We always focus on the amount of homework our children get. And, for good reason, because it can tend to dictate our family evenings and weekends. So, for younger children, parents need to stick to a realistic amount of time for doing homework. Even though there's no basis in research to support this, a generally accepted rule of thumb is 10 minutes per grade level per school night. So, a first grader should do only 10 minutes of homework per night and a 6th grader, 60 minutes.

And, we need to focus on the quality of the homework, too. So, if your third grader is doing 30 minutes of homework that is too difficult or too easy for him, you may write a note to the teacher at the top of the page explaining, and hopefully the teacher will adjust the work for your child. Many teachers will be receptive to making individual changes. It's perfectly acceptable to write, "My child worked on this for 30 minutes and was completely lost so I asked her to stop."

When your children get older (middle school) I find the parents can still be involved, but less so than in elementary school as far as giving their input into the homework load/quality. And in high school, your child needs to advocate for himself. The parents should be completely hands off of homework at this stage. By this point the student needs to take complete ownership of his work, grades, successes and failures.

3. Do you think homework helps your children learn?

We learn everyday in life in many ways. So yes, of course, sometimes students will learn something beneficial from a homework assignment. But, I would ask, does it get them excited about learning? Does it prompt them to ask questions and try to find answers themselves? Does it make them curious, creative, capable, cooperative learners? Often it doesn't. Often it kills the joy in learning. Often it is meaningless to them at that specific time in their lives.

If it feels meaningless, feel empowered to ask the teacher why she/he assigned a certain assignment. Or, encourage your child to ask the teacher. If the teacher is open, she will listen to feedback from parents and students. If not, just encourage your child and know that it is ok to agree with your child when they moan about a boring assignment. I usually look at the assignment and agree with my boys, "Yes, that seems pretty ridiculous. Is it helping you learn more about the subject?" And leave it at that. Don't add, "But you have to suck it up and do it because that's life and life isn't fair. Deal with it." That type of attitude just adds fuel to the fire. Just agree with your child when he is frustrated at the amount of time spent on a homework assignment or irritated with the type of assignment. You are not disrespecting the teacher, you are agreeing with an unfortunate situation. You might also add, "Well, is there anyway you can make this assignment better? What if you talked to the teacher, what would he say?" And let it go. You will be amazed at how much ownership they will take if you don't nag them to do their homework.

Also, remember the homework is your child's, it is not YOURS. Don't say, "We have to do homework now." Let her own it. As your children get older, it can prompt a lot of good discussions about boring, routine tasks and other typs of jobs that are meaningful in life.

And, one last thing. Read. Reading is the best "homework" your child can have. If your child is young, read to them and with them. Children relish uninterrupted reading time with anyone who will be there for them - siblings, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. If your child is older, talk to her about the reading she is doing. Model reading. Encourage reading. Read.

Any other thoughts? What are your comments about these questions?


  1. This is my first post and I appreciate this blog so much. I completely agree with everything you have said.

    I think of myself as a confident, educated advocate for my child, but I still find it hard to tell my son's teacher that the homework is too much for him. I will force myself to do it, but it will take courage on my part which makes me see why so many parents don't speak up. The teacher won't know unless parents tell them.

    On another note: I am very curious what school you are looking at. We live in the same area and I am curious about what the alternatives are.

  2. On the right side of this blog, scroll down the blue bar to "Noteworthy Schools/Programs" for a list of some schools I think are worth checking out.

  3. according to my experience, homework likely to cause headaches to our