Do Your Kids Have Too Much Homework? 5 Tips on How to Tell and What to Do

Oct 3 2013

I hate homework more than my children hate homework, and I hope you understand I’m not maligning my kids’ Homework-Hating Potential by telling you so.

I mean, sure, not all my kids are consistent about hating homework, especially my deliriously enthusiastic, trend-bucking 1st graders who seem for now to actually enjoy it, but I like to think even they carry some sort of latent homework-hating potential, if only from my side of the gene pool.

I tell you all of this to expose my bias before we begin lest you think I’m trying to give homework a fair shake, which I’m, well, not. But perhaps it’s best if I tell you why I hate homework so you don’t think I completely reject all forms of standard education. Because I actually love our local education district, and particularly the fact that my children are subjected to it. I LOVE SCHOOL is what I’m saying, and especially that MY CHILDREN GO THERE to sit at the feet of RAD TEACHERS who – get this – TEACH THEM THINGS. These people and their systems are not perfect, nor do they magically have the answer to every educational dilemma our family faces (damn it), but they still make me unreasonably happy because they work with us and are dedicated to their craft and make a difference in our world; I’m grateful for them every day.

Homework, though?

Well, not to be dramatic, but I support the death penalty for homework and, after it’s executed, I will volunteer to drag its carcass from the building, dig its unmarked grave, and bury it so I can be the first to spit on it.

The reason I hate homework is this: homework seems to benefit only one type of child from one type of family; a type that becomes more and more rare as time goes on. Homework is designed for families with a maximum of 2 children from a 2-parent home wherein one parent is a full-time, stay-at-home caregiver and also has some kind of formal training in education. For example, my high schooler, who I would argue needs some homework so she can learn college study skills and time management, also needs a parent who can teach effective study techniques; something her father and I patently fail at doing, not because we don’t have study techniques, but because we are truly terrible at imparting our knowledge in a way that makes sense to our children. In other words, we just suck at helping with homework.

Also, for homework to be effective, the children shouldn’t have any learning disabilities and should be at least somewhat self-directed and intrinsically motivated to learn.

Also-also, the children shouldn’t have more than one extracurricular activity or siblings with any.

Also-also-also, the children shouldn’t have any medical disabilities or other issues that require after-school care or treatment.

Also-also-also-also… well, you get the idea.

Last week, I lost my homework poo in a great, big homework poo explosion.

We were three weeks into school, and I just completely lost it because Greg came home in the early evening, assessed the volume of homework facing us and casually mentioned that Aden, our 6th grader, had several hours ahead of her.

“Hey, Beth,” Greg said, holding a stack of teacher blog printouts and poor test scores and science worksheets and math problems, “Aden has hours of homework tonight.”

And I said, “No.”

And Greg the Rule Follower said, “What?”

And I felt my eyes go wide and crazy as I said, “No.”

And Greg said, “What?” which meant I don’t think you can just say No here, Beth.

And I said, “No. No. Just NO. I can’t… We’re not… It’s just… NO.”

And Greg looked at me like I’d lost my mind, so I took a deep breath and explained, “She went to school from 7:45-2:20 today. She went to homework club after school from 2:20-3:45. She rode the bus from 3:45-4:30. She just got home 45 minutes ago. She does that every day. That’s 39 hours of school she’s already doing every week. She’s 11, and school is her full time job. She has diagnosed developmental delays and communication disorders. She loves school right now, Greg. She loves reading. She’s progressing and learning in all subjects, even though it’s slower than the charts say she should be. She sneaks books into bed at night. She’s amazing. I just can’t make her do more. No matter what common core dictates about retaking all these tests, I can’t do it in good conscience. I can’t kill her love of learning by giving her more school work after she’s put in a full day. So no. NO. No, no, no. No homework tonight. Homework can’t help her right now.” 

And Greg held the stack out to me and said, “Then what do we do?”

Which is the question, isn’t it?

If homework’s not working, then what do we do?

How do we know? What do we do? What can we do? And how do we do it?

ID-10067330Because, of course, as I was hyperventilating about Aden’s homework, I had other things running through my mind, too. Like 4 other kids’ homework, and dinner to get on the table, and a kid to run to dance class, and allergy shots to schedule, and a kid with a fever, and youth group permission slips to complete, and picture day forms, and 1st grade sharing to find, and a grocery list to create, and dear God, I’ve had to pee for 4 hours now.

Homework doesn’t happen in isolation, after all; it has to work for the whole family.

We’ve had kids in school for 30 cumulative years, though, and we’ve learned a thing or two in that time, mostly from teachers who pulled us aside as we were busy Powering Through and Not Giving Up and BLINDERS ON, KID! FULL SPEED AHEAD! They saw us flailing, tossed a figurative arm around our shoulders and said, “Psst… did you know it doesn’t have to be like this?” or “Psst… did you know there are other options?” or “Psst… why didn’t you tell us you were drowning sooner? We’re here to help you.

So I’ve polled a few of my favorite teachers about this conundrum – what do we do when homework is just too much? – and, just in case you’re at the end of your homework rope, too, here’s what the teachers had to say.

5 Tips on
How to Tell When Your Kid Has Too Much Homework

and What to Do About It

1. Know WHY Your Kid Has Homework: Teachers should be able to identify the purpose (learning target) for everything they assign. Homework should reinforce ideas and allow for the opportunity to finish odds and ends not completed in class. There is a ton of research that supports the fact the amount of homework given has no positive impact on student mastery of skills and could possibly have a detrimental effect. Homework should not be busy work or the time for new learning. If asked (and parents should ask if it’s unclear), a teacher should be able to articulate the purpose behind a homework assignment.

2. Know HOW MUCH Homework is Expected: “I’ve heard a formula of about 10 minutes per grade level per day. However, my early teaching years were in a working class neighborhood in Chicago. You could not count on the kids being able to do homework, and even now I’m not a fan. Some kids and families will obsess about it and others won’t or can’t.” Ask your child’s teachers how much homework is expected and when to call it quits even if they haven’t finished. For middle schoolers, for example, more than 60-90 minutes total is ridiculous, and 90 minutes every night is too much. Any more and it’s either busy work or they don’t get it.

3. Trust Your Gut and Honor Your Kid’s Experience: Homework isn’t always fun, and that’s OK. Some of the skills a child should learn from homework are time management, finishing projects, asking for help, working through frustration, and being responsible. Some learning comes from struggling through a process and triumphing over it, but perpetual struggle can crush your kid’s spirit; it’s your job to recognize when that’s happening and to guard against it. A teacher cannot and should not be responsible for knowing how it’s going at home. If a child is consistently frustrated or discouraged or angry, or if you’ve wondered for some time why homework isn’t working, trust your gut and honor your kid’s experience; ask for help. If the child gets stuck, including emotionally, it’s better to stop and send the teacher a quick note that the child plans to ask the teacher for help the next day.

4. Communicate Kindly and Clearly With Teachers: Teachers are friends, not food. (Name that movie.) No, but really. The vast majority of teachers are there because they want to be effective at helping your kid learn. They’re partners, not enemies, and should be treated as essential members of your team. Your goals are the same – growth and learning. Just like all growth, sometimes it’s painful. That’s OK; just be gentle with each other.

Don’t start a conversation with, ‘I don’t think my kid should have so much homework.’ Instead, ask about learning targets. Tell the teacher your kid is having a hard time. Tell the teacher how you feel. Ask what the teacher has noticed. Ask what the teacher recommends. Ask how the teacher has accommodated other students with challenges.

“As a teacher, I appreciate open honest conversation with parents. If a parent treats me as a partner in the kid’s learning process, I’ll bend over backwards to find what will work best. The best meeting I ever had, the parent scheduled in advance, brought me coffee and then grilled me to explain why their kid didn’t have an A+++. All teachers want to be respected. Good teachers welcome insight into their students. Who better than their parents to provide it?”

And if a teacher can’t help you, ask the administration who can.

5. Ask for Alternatives and Then Keep Communicating: There are often different ways a child can show mastery without epic amounts of homework. Ask the teacher if they have hours available during lunch or before or after school to assist kids who need extra help; schedule your child regularly with the teacher if necessary. If your child needs testing for learning disabilities or to be on an Individualized Education Plan, keep asking; check in weekly with your school to find out where your child is in that process. It takes longer than anyone likes to get kids special accommodations. That’s just part of it. Most importantly, don’t give up! Asking for alternatives and advocating for your child with a teacher are not one-time events or one-time fixes. A partnership with a teacher can and should continue throughout the year. Email. Check in. Ask how it’s going. And let the teacher know you appreciate his time.

……….

So, parents, how’re you doing with homework these days? Holding your poo together? Or not so much? If you have stories or additional tips, I’m all ears.

And P.S. I’m on the fabulous and funny Dadsaster podcast this week as they tackle parental involvement in schools. I might – *ahem* – confess to be just slightly less involved than the PTA president… and I might list all the things I’m supposed to be doing that I don’t, um, actually do. In other words, I did all my own stunts in the podcast so none of the stars would be harmed in the shoot. I give and I give. Give it a listen here.

……….

Stressed School Boy photo credit David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalimages.net