Homework: The Great Homewrecker!

One of the top three questions I hear from parents is, “How much homework is a reasonable amount?” Many parents are exasperated over homework battles and find that their entire family’s well-being is held captive by the volumes of homework assigned to one child.

I am just entering into this Battle Zone as a parent, but I’ve been here before as a student. I used to have hours of homework every night! I don’t ever remember feeling or experiencing any “happy” memories from my elementary or middle school years. I certainly don’t recall ever enjoying learning in any way. All I remember is feeling “stupid” and arguing with my mom about homework all of the time. (Once again… “Sorry, Mom!”)

Interestingly, once I grew up, became a teacher, and then became known as a study skills specialist, the parents from my alma mater invited me to speak about homework management. It was then that I learned the homework frustrations were an epidemic at that school! (And still are, from what I hear!)

So, it was not just me…it was me and every other student to go through that school for the last 30+ years. Parents have apparently been complaining consistently, but the school has always said, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”

For the life of me, I don’t know why so many parents hang on…the only thing I can figure is that they assume this volume of homework is “normal” and that doing all of this homework will someday give their child(ren) and advantage in life.

Maybe so. But, there must be a much happier medium! I don’t see why families have to suffer, why parents have to be the “bad guys,” and why it is necessary to assign so much homework that we suck the living passion for learning right out of our children!

There have been a variety of studies done over the years that repeatedly confirm the best guideline for homework is 10 minutes per grade. So, 1st graders should have 10 minutes a day of homework, 2nd graders should have 20 minutes, on up to 12th graders who can handle up to 120 minutes of homework per night. (Although, with good study skills, 3rd-12th graders could get spend much less time and still get great grades!)

So, here I am now…Mom to a 1st grader (with a SHORT attention span). My son has a spelling test every week. He has a homework packet every week. He has to read 15-20 minutes every night. And, since the school does not teach printing, I must take it upon myself to teach this to him. (I should write an article on this topic and why I am so passionate about it!)

So, on a daily basis, we are expected to spend:

  • 5-10 minutes learning spelling words.
  • 5-10 minutes completing the homework packet.
  • 15-20 minutes reading every night. (This is child-led reading, not parent-child story time!)
  • And 10-15 minutes of daily printing instruction that is not covered in school.

That’s 35-55 minutes of homework per night…for a 1st grader who should be expected to do no more than 10 minutes. AND, he doesn’t get home from school until 4:30, so apparently he is expected to work until 5 or 6 PM each evening!

How about letting him have some free time to build those great spaceships he has designed with Legos? He’s been heavily studying blue-prints for Star Wars transports…I think it is only a matter of time before he figures out how to re-create some of those with his Bionicle blocks. Or, how about running outside? Instead of mandating more salad bars in schools, maybe Mrs. Obama should be outlawing excessive amounts of homework!

Don’t get me wrong, I support teachers whole-heartedly and I specifically realize that my son’s teachers only have his best interests at heart, but there are so many conflicting pressures on his time. What I really wonder is…do most teachers understand why they are assigning homework?

Generally, homework should be viewed in the context of “small-chunk” learning (as mentioned in an earlier post). It should facilitate a few-minute review of various daily lessons so that the new information becomes more permanent in long-term memory.

Homework should also help facilitate connections between lessons learned in school and real-world applications. Anything else is excessive! (With few exceptions.) Homework is also great “exercise” for developing responsibility and organization skills, but it shouldn’t take hours on a daily basis, create havoc in the family, or completely destroy a child’s natural love of learning!

-Susan Kruger


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