For the last few years, the National Education Association, the National PTA, and other experts have been actively campaigning for schools to take a more moderate approach to homework for elementary school children.
Their recommendations call for the 10-minute rule—10 minutes of homework per grade level per night, topping out at about 120 minutes a night for high school seniors, and no homework for kindergarteners.
Unfortunately, the reality looks like this, according to a study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy: A survey of more than 1,100 parents of English- and Spanish-speaking students in kindergarten through grade 12 found that first-grade children spent roughly 28 minutes a night on homework; second-graders, nearly 29 minutes; and kindergarteners suffered through about 25 minutes of homework each night.
What’s a Family to Do?
Whether your child comes home with a simple assignment she can knock off in an hour or an in-depth project that will take weeks to complete, tackling homework in the right way can have far-reaching benefits that nurture independence, organization, and self-discipline.
The key is to think of homework as a well-planned diet to:
- Boost your child’s confidence
- Build self-management skills, and
- Develop problem-solving strategies that support future success.
Try This No-Fail Six-Step Program:
1. Balance the “assignment diet.”
When you eat a great meal, you start with a little appetizer, move on to the meaty stuff, and end with a pleasing dessert. It’s also the perfect plan for homework.
With that in mind, teach your child to list what needs to be accomplished (set up that menu!). Then jump in with one or two not-so-easy/not-so-hard exercises that can be completed and checked off the list first. Then show your child the value of digging into the toughest assignment next, either before she’s too tired or so she’ll be done before her favorite show starts. Save the easiest stuff for the end, when your child may be exhausted—and if it’s just getting way too late, the stuff she could finish in the morning.
If your child usually does homework with a sitter or in an after-school program, you can lay the foundation for this self-organization strategy when you go over assignments before bed, reminding her that setting down the plan before starting makes the entire job easier to complete.
2. Set a place.
Once you have the plan, it’s time to organize the space so your child can get started. Sounds easy, but getting started can be ridiculously hard, especially for a child who’s a master of procrastination or just unsure where to begin. Set a routine for every school day and work with your child to follow it so the routine becomes second nature. Help by making the first step as easy as pie: First, let him settle down in the designated “homework spot” (dining room table, bedroom desk, etc.). Be sure he unpacks books, puts his lunchbox in the kitchen, or gets other “housekeeping” out of the way. Then he can line up what needs to be done, but before he starts let him…
3. Walk away and work up an appetite.
That’s right. Encourage kids who come home right after school to take a break, run around outside for half an hour, or even grab a power nap (older kids may need it after a tough day!). Studies suggest that your child will be better able to concentrate on academic tasks after brief physical activity and that a little sleep could improve memory. Be sure to set the parameters beforehand, though—30 minutes to an hour is long enough. Then entice your scholar back to the study area by providing a healthy but yummy smoothie or snack along with that math main course.
4. Dig in (all the way).
When the real work begins, kids need to learn to meet the tasks head-on by eliminating distractions. This is where being a good role model is important. If you’re a habitual multitasker who watches TV while making dinner and returning text messages, your child is learning that it’s OK to give homework or other responsibilities partial attention. To set a good example, make the designated homework time a TV/video game/music/phone conversation-free event for your entire household if possible. We could all use some unplugged time, and eliminating the multiple distractions will enable you to get back into the habit of focusing on one thing while working wonders for your child’s concentration.
5. Clean the plate.
If getting started is the hardest part, staying motivated is a close second. As your child sits down to the “dessert” portion of her homework meal, give some strong positive reinforcement that will help your student see the overall value of her efforts. This may mean searching out the accomplishments and letting criticism take a back seat for a while—“Look at how your handwriting has improved,” “You were able to figure out your answer with just a little help this time,” “I’m impressed by how much you remember from last week’s lesson.” Keep the focus on specific accomplishments tied to her homework rather than generalizations like “Good job” so your child learns that details matter and that success is measured in personal achievements.
6. Plan for the messes.
Inevitably, there will be tougher assignments, mistakes, and struggles. This is when battles often erupt and leave everyone dreading the daily chore. Or, it could become the moment when kids learn that they need to take responsibility for their work, do it well, or face consequences. With the clock ticking and exhaustion and/or frustration looming because of a difficult assignment, it’s tempting to urge kids on with the promise of dessert or extra screen time, but those external rewards turn the purpose of homework into a “what will you give me if I do this” attitude that undermines any academic or character-building value. Let the job well done be the payoff—like the sense of peace you feel when you finally complete a task you’ve avoided for months, such as cleaning out a closet. Instead of bargaining or bribing, encourage and—when necessary—back off and let your child face the consequences that might come with not doing an assignment well (or not doing it at all).