Homework: Yuck!

The reality is that for my boys, the optimal time to do homework is long gone by the time I walk in the door.
Anne Tergesen

Homework. Most kids hate it. And while parents recognize its long-term benefits, they aren’t any happier about the daily struggle to get it done. In the homework wars (“Sit down and do your homework now!” “Stop nagging me!”), working parents are at a distinct disadvantage. When I walk in the door at 6:30, my boys are too tired and excited to see me to immediately shift into homework mode. But if their reading, spelling, and math doesn’t get done by 7:30, all is lost; My six- and eight-year-old sons become way too tired to do anything without considerable hand-holding (and some tears). And the whole ordeal starts to interfere with our already chaotic bedtime routine. The reality is that for my boys, the optimal time to do homework is long gone by the time I walk in the door.

But working parents have some advantages, too. I’ve managed to stumble across two: The first is the ability to delegate the supervision of homework to another adult—-a babysitter or a teacher at an after-school program, for example. At the start of the school year, our nanny offered to take on this role. Now, rather than fight with my second grader when I get home, we're able to have some fun. My oldest has learned to do his homework much more independently than was
the case even a few months ago. And my two younger boys are happier since I no longer ignore them to focus on my older son’s homework. Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology at Duke University who studies homework, advocates involving older siblings, too. Cooper sometimes relieves his son of responsibility for household chores in return for the boy's help with his sister's geometry homework. “Especially as children get older and the material gets out of a parent’s ken, the use of siblings can make sense,” he says.

Another tactic that’s worked well for me is to work alongside my child. When my son puts up a big fight, I persuade him to sit down next to me in our home office, where I type on the computer as he does his subtraction. This helps him see that far from being an undeserved punishment, homework is often a prerequisite to doing a good job.

Cooper has devised a list of homework tips for parents, teachers, and kids (see below). For parents, a key recommendation is not to get overly involved: “If the teacher doesn’t have a formal role for you and your child has not asked for help, stay out,” Cooper advises. If your child becomes frustrated, Cooper recommends suggesting a short break. And if your child’s homework seems excessive, you might request a conference with the teacher. As a rule-of-thumb, Cooper says, students should get about ten minutes of homework a night for each grade they pass (ie: a first grader should get about 10 minutes, a second grader 20 minutes, a third grader 30 minutes, etc.). Interestingly, a recent poll of teachers and parents by AP/AOL Learning Services found that 63% of teachers and 57% of parents say homework levels are about right.

Here are Cooper's tips:

Homework Tips for Parents

1. Be a stage manager. Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit place to do homework. Make sure the needed materials (paper, pencils, dictionary) are available.

2. Be a motivator. Homework provides a great opportunity for you to tell your child how important school is. Be positive about homework. The attitude you express about homework will be the attitude your child acquires.

3. Be a role model. When your child does homework, don’t sit and watch TV. If your child is reading, you read too. If your child is doing math, balance your checkbook. Help your child see that the skills they are practicing are related to things you do as an adult.

4. Be a monitor. Watch your child for signs of failure and frustration. If your child asks for help, provide guidance, not answers. If frustration sets in, suggest a short break.

5. Be a mentor. When the teacher asks that you play a role in homework, do it. If homework is meant to be done alone, stay away. Homework is a great way for kids to develop independent, life-long learning skills. Over-involvement can be a bad thing.

Homework Tips for Teachers
(and things for parents to watch out for)

1. Give the right amount of homework. Research suggests students should get about 10 minutes of homework each night for each grade (10 minutes for 1st grade, 20 for 2nd, and so on). Adjust upward a bit if assignments are mostly reading or your students come from families with strong educational orientations. Don’t overload kids with homework. It can ruin motivation.

2. Keep parents informed. Let parents know the purpose of homework and what your class rules are. If communication is clear, homework is an important bridge between schools and families. If communication is lacking, homework creates tensions that are hard to resolve.

3. Vary the kinds of homework. Homework is a great way for kids to practice things that are learned by rote (spelling, math facts, foreign language). It is also a great way to show kids the things they learn in school apply to things they enjoy at home (calculating batting averages, reading the back of a cereal box). Mix it up.

4. Be careful about parent involvement. Consider the time and skill resources of parents when requiring their involvement. Working parents may have little time for a direct homework role. Poorly-educated parents may have trouble being good mentors. Students who are doing well in school may benefit most from homework they do all by themselves.

5. Never give homework as punishment. It implies you think schoolwork is aversive. Kids will pick this up.

Homework Tips for Kids

1. Pick a good time to do homework. Try to do your homework at the same time everyday – right after school, just before dinner, or right after dinner. Try not to leave homework until just before you go to bed.

2. Remember to make time for long-term projects. Think about using a weekend morning or afternoon for working on big projects, especially if the project involves getting together with classmates. If you need special stuff for a project, make sure to tell your parents to get it for you well in advance.

3. Spend more time on hard homework than easy homework. If you know what’s easy and hard, do the hard work first. Take a short break if you are having trouble keeping your mind on an assignment.

4. If homework gets too hard, ask for help. If your parents are busy and you have an older brother or sister, ask them for help, or get your parents to ask them. Only ask for help if you really need it.

5. Find a place that makes studying easy. Collect up all the books and supplies you’ll need (and your snack) before you begin to work. Do you homework in the same place every day.

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