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Resolving Struggles Over Homework

Now that school has been back in session for several weeks, I’ve received quite a few questions from parents about the oh-so-dreaded topic of HOMEWORK.  I’ve heard from kids that they’ve been working hard all day and are tired and don’t understand why they have to do even more work when they get home. I’ve heard from parents that homework creates a huge source of tension, arguments, stress and tears.

Here’s the truth.  As a school psychologist, I do NOT support homework for elementary aged children other than nightly reading.  There has been a slew of recent research that shows that homework has almost no impact on student learning and achievement (most notably the research of John Hattie, check it out!).  What homework does create is added stress, loss of family time, and increased family conflict. Parents become the homework police, nagging and reminding their kids to do it. Pointing out which problems are incorrect. Not letting the child leave until they get it right.

I am so happy that so many school districts and individual teachers have moved away from homework in elementary schools.  IF your elementary aged child enjoys their homework, then go for it! You can support them by making sure they also have time to PLAY, spend with family, and get moving outside.  If you check their homework, put more of an emphasis on their EFFORT and what they did well. Instead of focusing on mistakes or what they did wrong, welcome those mistakes as an opportunity for problems solving.

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If you’re in the boat of families that has witnessed the tears and the arguments over homework, I highly encourage you to talk with your child’s teacher!  Most teachers truly care about their students and when they assign homework, their intent is not to create problems for families. If you approach it with, “The amount of homework you assign is ridiculous and it’s causing a lot of problems for us!” things probably won’t go over so well since you’ll be putting the teacher on the defensive, and no one likes to be put in that position.

Instead, work together WITH the teacher!  Don’t make it a blame game.  Tell them what you’re seeing.  Ask how long it should take, how long it does take, and what your child is showing/expressing.  “Every night when I tell James it’s homework time, he runs to his room and slams the door, and starts yelling that he hates homework and wants me to go away.”  Discuss options that you’re willing to work with, like:

  1. Reading with your child nightly and a quick review of math facts

  2. Reducing the amount of homework and agreeing ahead of time an appropriate amount of time to spend on it (ie. 15 minutes instead of 1.5 hours)

  3. No homework.  I’ve worked with several families who experienced such an increase in conflict and behaviors that their teacher agreed to eliminate homework for those students, and the results were positive.

Remember, you know your child better than anyone and will always be their #1 advocate.  Don’t be afraid to talk with their teacher about this.

Matt Hendon