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Tuesday, March 25th, 2014
When I was younger, I dreaded doing my homework to the point where, in third grade, I just stopped doing it, cold turkey. After a few days without receiving any assignments, my teacher alerted my mom who was, needless to say, unimpressed. Every day after school, I would have to sit at the kitchen table with my mom until I got everything done. Even after that incident, I never could quite shake my distaste for doing schoolwork after hours. Then, when I began babysitting, my favorite thing to do became helping kids with their assignments, even if they didn’t need my assistance. I was especially helpful to my brothers, showing them what I had done in years past and catching their mistakes mid-math problem.
Some parents and caregivers think that getting involved in children’s homework helps them learn and become better students. It turns out that line of thinking may not be not true. In a new parental involvement study, two sociology professors dug through three decades of research and found that, overall, more-involved parents make very little difference in students’ academic achievements, regardless of race, class, or educational background. In fact, sometimes the increased participation can hurt students. This is the case with homework, especially by the time your child is in middle school. According to Keith Robinson, one of the researchers in the study, parents often don’t make suitable tutors for older kids. Adults may have forgotten the material or they may not have learned it (or learned it well!) to begin with. With the introduction of the common core in school, things are simply taught differently now. I remember looking at a sixth-grader’s math assignment last summer and thinking that it might as well have been in a different language. After all, there is a reason your child goes to school: to learn from teachers, who are the best people to teach her about what she learns. It’s also not helpful for parents to communicate regularly with teachers, according to the study. The bottom line is that teachers have to be trusted to do their job.
Not understanding the material is a good reason to get less involved with your child’s homework, but it’s certainly not the only one. It’s hard for a child to feel confident about his homework if a parent is always breathing down his back. Moreover, there is going to be a day when a parent isn’t going to be able to help a child with an assignment. If that day doesn’t come until he enters college, it’s not going to be a good day. It’s in your child’s best interest for you to prepare him to be independent at a younger age. I understand the urge to help him with his work – especially because I used to have that urge often with the kids I babysat – but the best way to help is to lean back and let her try the assignment on her own first. You can still lend a little helping hand when he’s studying for an upcoming spelling test, but it’s time to cut back on helping if you find yourself doing it too much every night. If you are worried about your son or daughter’s progress in school, there are ways to help without constantly pitching in during homework time. For example, a tutor can work with both the student and the teacher to get the student up to speed on schoolwork. Luckily for Mom or Dad, you’ve reached an age where you don’t have to worry about homework anymore. Enjoy it!
Print out a homework schedule so your child can keep track of his assignments or browse backpacks.
Image via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, October 10th, 2013
I miss summer. Not so much for the warm weather (we’ve been blessed with a beautiful early fall in the Northeast) or lazy days at the beach. No, what I really miss is carefree evenings with my family unfettered by homework assignments. These days, my ninth-grade son arrives home from school and gets right to work. He’s working when my wife and I walk through the door in the evening, and he’s still working after my 8-year-old goes to bed. In most cases he’s done by 10 o’clock, but sometimes it lasts even later. Even though I know he could be more efficient in his reading, studying, and writing (who among us can claim otherwise in our work), it seems like an awfully heavy load on top of a nearly 7-hour school day. While he always finishes and hasn’t complained (so far), I wonder how he’ll stay on top of assignments once winter and spring sports start up. And I know I’m far from alone in my concern.
As we report in “The Homework Blues” in our November issue, the workload being placed on kids these days is greater than ever. The old 10-minutes-per-grade-level guideline has disappeared. Moreover, homework has trickled down to kindergarten, where some kids are spending an hour a night reading and completing worksheets. Although the demands on my fourth-grader haven’t been as overwhelming as on her brother—yet—she knows things are going to heat up. I remember how miserable she was last year when, on top of reading, math, spelling, and other assignments, she had to take practice exams at home in preparation for statewide tests, which have taken on increased significance in light of the adoption of the Common Core. It took a toll on her outlook and on our entire household. Ironically, studies show that for all its increased emphasis as a learning tool, homework offers scant academic advantage in grade school and can turn kids off to learning.
In my son’s case, I know he is doing advanced work that will prepare him for the demands of college. I also see how the hours pile up. When every teacher gives, say, 30 to 45 minutes per day, it doesn’t take a math whiz to realize that six reasonable assignments add up to an excessive workload. Karl Taro Greenfeld found out the same thing when he tried to do his 13-year-old daughter’s assignments for a week, which he chronicled in The Atlantic.
So what can you do to manage your child’s homework? For starters, make sure she’s set up for success by creating a dedicated study space that’s clear of clutter. “The Homework Blues” offers a number of suggestions for helping your child develop a consistent routine as well as for taking steps to lighten a load that you deem excessive. You can also download these homework surveys to pass out at the next PTA meeting. This move can help you assess the severity of the problem at your school and build support for policy changes. Above all, you need to be a nurturing presence, guiding your child to complete assignments (without doing them yourself) and finding ways to keep him calm when the pressure of a lengthy or difficult assignment causes him to melt down.
Tell us: Does your child have too much homework, and how do you deal with it?
Image: Angry and tired schoolgirl studying with a pile of books on her desk via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
Last week, I read an article on The Atlantic’s website titled “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me,” and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. In the piece, Karl Taro Greenfeld is concerned that his 13-year-old daughter, Emme, is doing way too much homework. As an experiment, he tries to do Emme’s homework for a week.
Though I enjoyed reading about Greenfeld’s attempts to complete the homework assignments, I was more intrigued by the lengths that Greenfeld’s daughter took to ensure that she did her homework fully every night. “Some evenings, when we force her to go to bed, she will pretend to go to sleep and then get back up and continue to do homework for another hour,” Greenfeld writes.
I remember the similar lengths that I took to complete my homework in middle school. During religious school, I would do my algebra homework underneath my Hebrew worksheets. I studied between dance routines during recitals, a trick I learned from other children, older and wiser.
In his article, Greenfeld expresses his belief that teachers should give less homework, especially less busy work. I agree with that; the amount of time I spent doing pointless assignments is impossible to calculate. However, the larger issue that Greenfeld’s article touches on goes beyond homework struggles.
The pressure to compete with other kids for the best grades can be enormous and it is a serious problem. When I was in middle school, we were often graded on a bell curve. You did not have to do well on an exam; you had to do better than the other students. After our tests were returned, the teacher posted the curve on the wall so you could see where you ranked in relation to others. Though there were no names on the sheet, students would spread rumors about who scored what. Do we really need preteens to feel more self-conscious?
I am all for healthy competition and encouraging children to do well in school, but some schools have taken it too far. When Greenfeld wonders if his daughter will ever have the time to read a book for fun, I cringe, because I know his question is valid. There is often no time built in for unstructured personal enjoyment. There has to be a way to allow kids to get away from the stress of school, at least every once in awhile.
The teachers are not the only ones to blame, however. Parents are responsible for pressuring their kids as well. A recent Slate article brought to light the increasing trend of “redshirting” kids in kindergarten. A full 9 percent of parents wait until their child is 6-years-old before sending him to school. Though in certain cases this is a justified move, in many situations children are being held back solely because parents want to give them an academic, social, and athletic advantage over the other kids in the grade. Imagine the expectations! Slate calls this era “an age of parenting as a competitive sport.” My question is: When the game’s over, who really wins?
What do you think? Does your child feel too much pressure to succeed in school?
Image: A teen school boy studies hard via Shutterstock
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