Homework Hassles

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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