Homework. It’s something most families live with. For some families homework feels burdensome while for others it is a welcome step in reaching their academic goals. Some children bring home more homework than others. Some parents are far more involved in their children’s homework than others. Every situation is different, but we all need wisdom to think through homework – how to keep it in proper bounds, how to make the most of it, and how to use it to help our children grow academically.
Our friends at the Ambrose School, a fellow-ACCS school in Boise, Idaho, published a series of questions and answers that addresses several homework-related issues. I hope this Q&A provides some food for thought and some clarification.
Q: I’m spending hours with my grammar school student doing homework. I don’t even know how to do some of this stuff! (Latin, for example).
A: Throughout the 3rd, 4th or 5th grade, students should work toward independence. Parents often make students dependent by being too involved in their homework. While this may make one feel needed, depending on the student it can be counterproductive. We encourage parents to gradually but continually put pressure on students to do their own work.
Q: If I don’t check my student’s work, he makes lots of careless mistakes. What do I do?
A: On the contrary, if you continually prevent your children from turning in assignments with careless mistakes, they will not learn to be more careful. Let them make the mistakes and learn from their failures.
Q: My child gets very stressed if he or she doesn’t get high marks on every assignment. We spend hours trying to get everything “just right.”
A: This “perfectionism” is best addressed at a young age. Students develop healthier practices overall when they learn to do work that is less than “perfect.” If not addressed, your student will likely develop difficulties accepting their performance in many areas of life. No one is perfect. Students need to accept B’s and C’s when they have done their best in the allotted homework time. This is resolved best by through strictly limiting homework time. [Recommended reading here: Ending the Homework Hassle by John Rosemond]
Q: My older student spends between 4 and 6 hours every night doing homework. He is really frustrated, even to the point of sneaking time in the middle of the night to do homework. Sometimes he even cries. I’m not sure how long he can keep this up. What can we do?
A: 7th through 12th grade students are expected to do as much as up to 3 hours of homework nightly. [By the way, this number is the homework guideline for the Ambrose School. Regents aims to give no more than 2 hours per night for high school students and less for younger students.] When students exceed this amount on a regular basis, a problem needs to be addressed or they will be overwhelmed. First, speak with the teacher to verify that the student is doing their work in class and is approaching it correctly. The most common reason for this problem is a lack of diligence, even if this does not seem to be the case. Many students are prone to distractions: they take breaks when the work becomes difficult; they rotate between activities (homework, practicing an instrument, eating, drinking, playing, etc.); or they rotate between subjects too frequently (although this can sometimes help when the student is stuck on a problem). Even when it appears that the student is working diligently, his concentration may be scattered. He may be putting a lot of energy in, but accomplishing very little. Diligence requires structure and self-discipline. In our experience, this is a gradual process that takes 2 to 3 months to develop. The key is not to allow the student to spend more than 3 or 3 ½ hours on homework during this adjustment time. The overall time restriction will help them budget their time and move more quickly. The pressure actually makes them more efficient. This prevents the “doldrums” that occur when a student labors without being productive. Students need a time incentive to “run for the prize” rather than just labor, seemingly in vain.
Q: My student seems to be doing well, but I’m not! He’s only in the 4th grade and he’s already asking questions I can’t answer—particularly in Latin, English grammar, Science, and Math.
A: Our curriculum challenges students, and often parents. Our teachers realize this and will gladly help with questions after school or on break. Encourage your student to plan their work so that they have time to ask questions of their teacher.
Q: My student has many activities that keep him from doing homework on certain nights. How can we manage this?
A: Many of our students have busy activities. This provides an opportunity for them to learn how to plan in advance. Teachers publish homework assignments on a weekly basis and in advance by several days (often over a week). These are available on RenWeb, our internet parent information system. Students can also obtain these directly from teachers. Students should be encouraged on Friday or Saturday to plan the upcoming week. For example, if a student has activities on Tuesday and Thursday, they should plan on the previous Friday to get at least one of the assignments for each of those days done over the weekend.