Today's forum on homework is now over, featuring expert Linda Cameron, a professor at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and an expert in homework and schooling issues.
The top 10 homework tips from longtime teachers Janice Harper and Lynn Morrison, authors of Homework is for Kids, not Parents:
1. Create a positive work environment. Together choose a quiet place that is well lit and free from distractions. A desk or table also helps concentration.
2. Keep all supplies nearby. Arrange tools in a caddy, basket or drawer. After each interruption to search for supplies, it takes a child 2 to 3 minutes to regain focus.
3. Arrange a fixed, nightly homework time. Treat it as you would an appointment. Most school boards recommend increments of 10 minutes per grade. Ensure that your child uses all of the scheduled time for homework or other academic pursuits; consequently, there is no advantage to rushing through work or forgetting it at school.
4. Encourage your child to work independently. Completing assignments by themselves helps children to become confident, responsible and independent adults key factors in their success inside and outside of school.
5. Teach by example. Turning off the TV and reading a book, balancing your chequebook or writing a shopping list, all demonstrate to your child that what they are practicing today are related to skills that they will need as adults tomorrow.
6. Be available. Sometimes an encouraging word is all that is needed. Other times, when frustration creeps in, ask your child to explain what the question asks. Listening to the details can help determine the point of confusion. Asking questions like “How do you know…?” or “What have you tried so far?” encourage children to participate in the problem solving.
7. Praise your child. Positive comments motivate. Don’t wait for the day when everything runs smoothly and test scores are high. Praise works best when given daily and immediately.
8. Use a homework planner. Children more easily complete and return homework with this aid. If your child consistently forgets homework at school, arrange for the teacher to initial the planner to confirm that all assignments are recorded.
9. Be patient. If your meet with resistance from your child, do not argue back. Soon the focus shifts to something completely unrelated. Instead maintain a consistent homework routine. When conflict occurs, listen to your child’s feelings and concerns. Express how you feel and together list possible solutions. Agree on one of the solutions. When children feel that their opinion matters and are invited to help find solutions to these problems, they are more likely to make these solutions work.
10. Contact the teacher if homework problems persist. A good teacher wants to know when there is a problem. Both teachers and parents share a desire for the children to learn and feel successful.
Q: My 10-year-old is spending more time on homework than my 14-year-old. She has three assignments due this week. Both of my children are very involved in sports and it's stressful (for the kids) trying to fit everything in. With the alarming rates of childhood obesity this nation is facing, I wonder about the time children spend on homework. There is a lot of finger-pointing at televisions and computers, but in our house the television is rarely on; there's too much homework to be done.
A: Comments about the stress of homework are far too common. Research has demonstrated clearly that it is one of the most stressful aspect of kid's lives. We do need to be vigilant about keeping the time per day spent on homework to a limit ... check the guidelines below.
One problem often is that kids do not plan ahead for assignments so they get backed up and all of sudden become overextended. Keep a family calendar with all the important activities for everyone on the family included: birthdays, parent meetings, sports activities, professional development days and also include when assignments are due. That way, steps can be taken to make plans for the assignment, parents can plan to be available to facilitate and kids learn how to be organized. Time to develop the whole child is critical. They need time for exercise for sure.
Q: My children have finished grade school, thank God. Homework is no longer the major stress in our lives. I do not bring work home from the office, so why are children expected to spend their evenings pouring over school work? Home time should be family time. Everyone I know with children says that the biggest stress in their family life is homework. I understand that the school day is mostly wasted with managing unruly children, but surely some time could be found in the day for students to practice what they have learned and not have to bring it home to do. I don't ever remember doing homework in elementary school and when I spoke to my mother about this she said: School time is for school work and when you were at home, it was my time. She never had us do homework. We all managed to get through school. My sons spent at least 2 hours each night doing work that was sent home and many nights it was closer to 4 hours. Too much, too young, let them be chi ldren.
Q: Could you give me an idea of how much homework children should have per night by age or grade? I think that would be helpful for parents to know.
A: Check the websites of your board of education, where you should find charts and homework policies. In general:
JK-Grade 3: 10-30 minutes per night
Grades 4-6: 30-60 minutes per night
Grades 7-9: 45-90 minutes per night
Grades 10-12: 60-120 minutes per night
Q: Why is the homework issue such a big deal?
A: Doctors and child therapists say that homework issues are the biggest school related cause of stress-connected illness for children. No wonder so many parents are worried. Homework is respected and done when teachers give feedback on it. If it is not looked at and evaluated, kids see little reason in doing it for the sake of doing it. There is little researched correlation between homework and learning for young children and the positive effects on learning increase as kids get older. So the benefits exist only in later grades. That does not mean that young children should not be reading and writing and visiting museums and checking out websites and practicing their times tables at home. Playing school was a great learning experience for my kids ... they thought they were playing but had the tools for learning at elbow to teach what they were learning to their dolls and stuffed toys or any live people they could capture to sit still and listen!
Q: Why do kids get so much homework these days? It doesn't really seem fair, especially when the reality is that many in high school also have to hold down part-time jobs, do community service and they have little time for themselves just to have fun. Is the curriculum in high school too much now so teachers have to force students to do so much outside of class? Or has it always been this way?
A: Kids often get too much homework these days because of the pressures of the curriculum and accountability. They have to "cover" so much so that their test results will be adequate. Things have been offloaded to independent work that used to fit into the day. It is a very, very full curriculum indeed and more is being added constantly. Classroom management is tough as well and sometimes too much time is taken up in class handling the disruptions. There are lots of reasons … not all good I am afraid. Most teachers are doing their best but alas …
Your question is the essence of my heart-felt concern. In some cases, there is too much homework that is not real, meaningful and relevant. Too much is left up to the kids to manage on their own and oftentimes is not given feedback and is not really connected to reality.
Homework should extend and elaborate on what is being learned in school … sometimes reinforcing new learning, sometimes practicing a new skill, sometimes and hopefully often taking them to new questions and ideas and inquiry … sometimes reviewing material that needs reinforcing. But it should never be busy work ... useless and boring. Kids need to understand why they are doing what they are doing.
Yes, the worlds of many teenagers is very complex and too full … but sometimes not always with productive and healthy things. The instance you give is a positive one. The world is very different now with technology grabbing the attention and time too often to excess, the community not as safe to "play" in, and kids preoccupied with too grown up interests ... alas, there are no answers.
Q: What websites are available for homework help?
A: I use Ask Jeeves as one resource; Google is another. Your local public library probably has some online homework help as well, such as the Toronto Public Library or the Burlington Public Library. Also, TVO has a great website where teachers will review your essays and answer your specific homework questions.
Q: My 11-year-old son does not focus on his homework assignments. It is a constant battle to get him to complete an exercise. Work is usually messy and incomplete. What can I do?
A: Sounds like he is an 11-year-old boy … I am wondering how much he thinks that the homework is meaningful and relevant. I am wondering why he is not engaged in it. It might be the dance and not the dancer! Have you met with the teacher? This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but communication is critical. What are his work habits like at school? What strategies might the teacher recommend? Can he do the assignments on a computer? Might there be another reason for the messiness … are his eyes healthy?
Set a time limit for the amount of time he should have to do homework taking into account time to relax, play, hang out with friends, do nothing, play his sports, etc. Check the board of education policy on homework and use it as a guideline. Boys need lots of time to be physically active. Discuss a good time of day to block off for homework, choose the best place for him to do it and provide quality tools for him to use: good pencils, markers, paper, books, resources. Good luck … I am afraid that the problem partially comes with the gender and age.
Q: I recently posted a question regarding reading pressure in Grade 1. My son is, in fact, being pressured to do reading homework ... including such things as learning to spell the words one through ten. He is then being assessed on this skill. My concern is that this is very stressful given that we are only one month into the new school year. My understanding is that this is a Grade 1 expectation but that this expectation needs to be fulfilled by the end of Grade 1. How do I approach the teacher to discuss my concerns? Do you feel I will be making things harder for my child by being a squeaky wheel?
A: Oh I understand the fear of the fallout from confrontation but communication is the best answer here. You are right to feel concern about this for your little guy. These early years of literacy development are fragile but ever so important. Everyone is feeling pressure in this one-size-fits-all world that is dominated by testing and accountability and trying to fit so much into so little time. It’s like we have to teach so much in so little time and then unreasonable expectations are arrived at. I recommend that you set up an appointment to talk with the teacher about your concerns and tell her about the stress your son is feeling. Get to know the teacher so that you feel relaxed communicating with her on an ongoing basis. If you can volunteer, that is often a good strategy for seeing what is going on and learning strategies to help your son in his literacy development.
Q: My daughter is in Grade 1 and comes home with at least 90 minutes of homework every night. I usually cap her off at 60 minutes and I think even this is excessive. I have commented in her daily journal to her teacher about the excessive homework, however she has chosen to not reply. In speaking with other parents of children in her class and parents from previous years, they feel the same way I do but are reluctant to say anything because this teacher has a good reputation and is well-liked by the students. My other daughter is in Grade 2 and does about 15 minutes of homework in the evening, which is reasonable. I know I'm not sending my daughter the right message when I tell her it's okay if we don't finish her homework, but where do I draw the line? What happened to teaching kids at school? Teachers are extremely well paid and frankly I resent having to do a large part of their job after I have just finished a 12 hour shift myself at work.
A: Whoa … your question just sent my blood pressure through the roof!!!! Your concern is really valid and your response to communicate your concern to the teacher is what I would recommend. Try to work this out without being confrontational but rather take the tack of concern for your child and wanting to enrich his or her life with other things like time for play, for dancing or music, for climbing trees (safely of course) or for whatever she fancies. Maybe the teacher does not know that amount of time it takes to complete the work … track that for her. Let the teacher know that you will monitor the time for her and that you will see that your daughter completes at most 20 minutes of homework a day. Check out the guidelines on the board of education’s website and you will find that the recommended homework for this age group is from 10–30 minutes per night. I advocate the lower limit.
You are right, kids need to do school at school and then have time to do the other things at home that interest them. If it is to work on a story that they have started at school that they are just dying to write more on or to read a few more chapters of a book that their nose just can’t keep out of … that is different than assigned obligatory school work. Keep advocating and communicating.
Watch the anger statements. Teachers do work hard and are not overpaid. It sounds like the teacher your daughter has cares about kids … I wonder why she has not responded. Maybe a meeting would work better or an email.
Q: How much "parental assistance" is enough, when your child just does not know what exactly to do (and hopefully the parents do!)?
A: This is a tough question that I have wrestled with as a parent. You can get "sucked in" to the projects and with enthusiasm you find out that you have done much more than support and challenge your young student and probably deserve the grade. It hurts when the grade you get is not as good as you think it should have been!
Seriously however, there is more than one question here. If your child does not understand the homework and it is not clear to you either then send a note or an email to the teacher asking for clarification before second guessing and doing something that makes no sense. (That is assuming that this is a young child who needs an advocate and needs someone to explain to the teacher why the homework was not completed.) Sometimes a quick phone call to another student might help your child figure things out … two heads are often better than one. A guide for how much assistance is enough does not exist. You need to inspire, encourage, help your child find resources, provide honest and constructive feedback, maybe an idea or two…a place to work that is not too distracting….and a time limit. Kids do need to have some sense of how long they need to work on school work and really need free time. Homework should make sense in every way! (Good luck on the next science fair project!)
Q: What do you do if your child doesn't have much homework? Should I make him go over schoolwork at night or let him enjoy the free time?
A: What a wonderful problem to have … no homework! Don’t you savour free time? You might check to see if he indeed does not have homework, sometimes kids deliberately forget homework and spend more intellectual time thinking up excuses about who ate it or what horrific thing happened that prohibited completion. However, free time to explore interesting things, to play, to visit with friends, to read a good book, to play a game, to get some exercise out of doors … to learn is far better for growth and development that completing another math sheet or some other trite busy work. What matters most is that your child is doing something that matters to him, that intrigues him and raises questions and wonderful ideas that will inspire further learning. Take the time to find out what interests him and invest in finding resources that will help him develop knowledge, skills, and abilities that will serve him well through life.