Homework Help: When Quick-Fix Tips Aren’t Enough

Our tips go beyond the goals of "comply and complete" to focus on long-term changes.

Parker Barry

Most homework tips focus solely on how parents can get their kids to comply and complete it. Ideas like setting a timer, organizing a designated work space, creating a homework chart and using techniques to stay calm (for the parents) may solve some kids’ homework problems. But homework loads have become so burdensome in many schools that education advocates say these quick-fix tips aren’t always enough.

traffic_tipsSo how can parents effectively help their kids manage homework? Do kids have a choice in how much school work they must do at home? Do parents? If your kid is struggling with homework, check out these tips that challenge the status quo.

1. Assess what’s really going on

Don’t assume the problem is your kid’s level of motivation, attention span or work ethic. Look more closely at the problem to discern if the real issue is confusing assignments, busywork without clear purpose or an unrealistic amount of work.

Ask your kid: Do you have enough time and teacher direction to complete your work? How much time do you think is reasonable to spend on homework? What else would you like do after school, in the evenings and on the weekends?

Browse through your kid’s homework for a week or two to see if instructions are clear. Weigh their personal needs for family time, playtime and sleep against the current homework demands and assess if they’re compatible.

2. Advocate for your kid

“It’s time to trust your own instincts. Don’t let the schools tell you that you have to accept things the way they are,” authors Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish write in their book “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.”

Bennett and Kalish acknowledge it’s not easy for parents to challenge homework practices, and I agree. As a rule, I try to be uber-supportive of my kids’ teachers. Teaching is a demanding job, and I appreciate knowing that my kids are instructed by caring, competent people. That’s why I dread making waves. Still, I’ve had to speak up more than once when homework requirements didn’t work for my kids.

A few years ago, my then-third grade daughter began reading less as the school offered pizza-based reading incentives for the reading time kids logged. Even though she had been a voracious reader, she didn’t want to log her nightly at-home reading, so she began avoiding reading. I researched the impact of reading incentives and didn’t like what I saw. As a result, I told the teacher my daughter would not be participating in the reading log homework and explained why. The teacher wasn’t thrilled, but she accepted my decision.

Respectfully talk with your child’s teacher about specific homework concerns. Consider totaling the minutes (or hours) your kid spends completing homework each week and note any specific examples of confusion or frustration that arise. Some teachers are willing to make homework modifications for individual students, especially those who have documented learning or attention challenges. If a teacher says “no,” Bennett and Kalish have a section in their book that outlines discussion points and further options.  

3. Work with other parents for long-term changes

Ask for a copy of your school’s homework policy and gauge whether it’s being followed by your kid’s teacher. Is it in line with current research on homework? If it’s not, work with other parents who want to change the policy (Bennett and Kalish outline this process in their book as well). Some schools have changed homework policies because of parent activism.

Despite some parents’ best efforts, however, the reality is that some schools resist parent- or kid-driven changes to homework. On the other hand, some parents oppose new no-homework policies at schools attempting to change the homework culture.

“Even if our initial efforts to organize and mobilize other parents and sympathetic teachers to change policy aren’t successful, we need to keep trying,” said Alfie Kohn, author of ‘The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.’ “In the meantime, each parent must do what’s right for his or her own child.”

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