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Handling Homework

By Tim Jahn, M.ED

Homework can become an enormous source of conflict between parents and children. Children resist doing homework, well, because it’s work and, let’s face it, they would rather play. At times, parents may wonder if teachers are trying to punish them.

Is homework helpful?

Most educators agree, and research supports them, that homework is valuable when it is reasonable and stimulating. Teachers assign homework, not to punish children or parents, but to give children the opportunity to:

  • Practice skills they learned in school
  • Prepare for tasks and assignments they will undertake the next day
  • Pursue independent learning assignments that require more time, family support, or sustained creativity
  • When the amount of homework or level of difficulty frustrates children, parents should intervene on their behalf. The National PTA suggests the 10-minute rule: 10 minutes a night for 1st grade and 10 additional minutes for each successive grade until sixth grade. If your child is overwhelmed by homework, talk to his teacher.

What should parents do?

Nearly every expert contends that homework is the child’s responsibility. While some experts recommend a hands-off role, most believe that parents should provide support for school success. It‘s not helpful to nag, hover, or do the child’s work for her, but parents help when they:

  • Set up a study spot that is quiet, neat, comfortable, well-lit and organized. The kitchen may not always be the best location for homework since it’s a busy family hub and can be distracting.
  • Establish a specific time for homework. The best time is when kids are most alert, usually right after school, but certainly not late at night. For some children, the best time may be early morning, right before school.
  • Remove distractions and limit screen time, including television, video games, and Internet use.
  • Teach children how to write down assignments, take notes, read directions, make outlines, manage time, use to-do lists, and plan ahead. These essential study skills apply to all grades and all kinds of assignments.
  • Check homework for completeness, neatness, and accuracy, but don’t correct it for him. Instead, suggest he check or proofread his answers.

When there’s a big problem

Despite your best efforts, homework problems and conflicts may arise. Some children struggle with homework because they don’t understand or can’t do some of the assignments. They may have problems with reading or math. Other children are not motivated to do homework because they find it boring, or they would rather do something else, or they don’t care about the consequences. For some children, homework is a lonely routine, like bedtime, and procrastinating, griping, or constant requests for help may be child’s way of connecting. When your child is stuck, try these suggestions:

  • Talk to your child’s teacher. She may have some excellent suggestions for taming the homework monster.
  • When children balk and stall, establish this firm rule: work first, play later. Do not allow children to do anything after school until the homework is done.
  • When children fail to make a satisfactory effort, establish appropriate consequences. Children may lose the privilege of watching television, playing computer games, or visiting friends.
  • When you can’t handle the homework conflict anymore, hire a high school student as a homework coach. Some children may respond better to the help of other adults or older students.

Tim Jahn is a Human Ecology Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program and leads workshops for parents of pre-teens and teens. He can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 331 or at tcj2@cornell.edu.

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