Homework: Setting up for Success

Categories: Children, Family, Parenting, and School.


What child out there enjoys continuing school work at home?  What parent enjoys it?  I’m betting that most children and parents would rather not deal with homework. Just thinking about homework is probably not bringing up the most pleasant memories.  How many of us can remember, in a memoir sort of way, sitting at a table with math work to do while looking out the window at all the other kids playing and having fun?  The next day the teacher gets your homework with little smudges where your teardrops fell on the paper.

This is usually the point in the year where the rubber hits the road with school work.  Reality has set in!  Anybody out there struggling to get their kids to do their homework? The ploys that children will use to avoid doing their homework will grind on a parent’s nerves.  By the time the kids are done with their homework, the parents have often developed a twitch.   You may be surprised to find this out (tongue in cheek here), but some parents will do the homework and school projects FOR their children just to get it done without the fight and hassle!

When I was a kid we hardly had any homework until high school.  Many of my peers have said the same.  Times have changed.  Now it is common for even third graders to have homework most nights of the week.  In recent years there has been a growing trend towards more homework in the earlier grades.  There is a great debate on the benefits of this.  Some, like the authors of The Case Against Homework (Crown, 2006) and The Homework Myth (Da Capo, 2007), argue that most homework is just busywork and leads to burnout in student interest.  Others argue that assigning homework trains children early to get used to heavy study loads, which makes them more successful students in college and in their later careers.

It sounds like a good idea to help kids learn good study habits.  Its sounds like a bad idea, though, to give them busy work to accomplish that goal.  Kids can learn good study habits in a short amount of time.  A standard recommended by Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at Duke University, is 10 minutes of homework for every grade level.  That means a third grader should have no more than 30 minutes of homework nightly.  I’ve talked with stressed out students who are up until midnight doing homework.  I’ve talked with stressed out parents who sit with their children for four hours a night cajoling and holding their hand until the homework is finished.  That is NOT helpful.  Rather than encouraging good study habits for college, these kids learn to hate studying so much they’ll avoid it at all costs.

Homework is a fact of life for kids, and for parents.  It’s best to learn how to successfully get through it.  Larry Koenig, author of Homework Without Hassles has three rules he suggests parents follow to successfully get their kids to independently complete their homework. The first rule is to establish a set time for homework.  Based on the 10 minute per grade level guideline, set a start time as early as possible while allowing for a reasonable break after school.  It’s best to do this before suppertime if possible.

The second rule is to create a homework place. The place to do homework should be quiet, free of distractions, and should have whatever the child needs to do the homework (paper, pencils, calculator, computer, etc.).  This will help the child develop a habit and a mindset that work is to be done when he is in that place.  Given these guidelines, the homework place shouldn’t be in front of the TV or at the kitchen table.   Quiet means no noise is best or maybe soothing music if this helps.

The third rule is that homework is done alone.  Dr. Koenig asserts that parents who hover and are over-active with their children’s homework are more responsible for the work, and therefore the child can’t really take the credit for getting the homework done.  The result of this is that the child has learned dependency and self-doubt rather than independence and confidence.  There are definitely times that a child is working on a group project and this should be done with the other students.  Most of the time, though, the assignments are meant to be done on their own.  So no phones, no texting.  They will get done sooner, and then the phone and texting is a reward for getting it done!

Dr. Koenig states that when parents set these rules, they can expect resistance from the children.  He says to remember the benefits that will happen, though, if you insist the rules be followed consistently.  The benefits will be less drama and less drawn-out hassles around homework.  The child will learn to work independently and manage his own responsibilities.  Try it for four weeks, and see if it works better than what you are doing now.  Good luck.

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