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The Value of Age-Appropriate Homework

Benefits include improved study habits, self-discipline, independent problem-solving skills and more

Have you ever wondered about the value of your child’s homework? There is currently an enormous debate as to whether or not homework should even be assigned in elementary school. Parents often wonder what is considered too much, and what purpose it serves. There are many reasons teachers assign homework, but, be assured, it is always meant to benefit you and your child.

As a teacher, I have reviewed much of the research on the topic of homework. The most comprehensive study, by Duke University professor Dr. Harris Cooper, does show a correlation between completed homework and academic success. This was most pronounced with older children, but was also true for our younger school-age students. Dr. Cooper agrees that even young children should be doing small amounts of homework.

There are a number of benefits to homework, including improved study habits, self-discipline, and independent problem-solving skills. Students learn other life skills, too, such as time management and how to set priorities. Homework helps students learn to plan and organize. Completing these assignments, and mastery of these additional skills, improves the self-esteem of students. And, it will be no surprise to parents that sometimes children don’t enjoy homework, but this gives them an opportunity to learn the important life skill that we all have to do some things we don’t enjoy. Additionally, it’s an opportunity for children and parents to take responsibility for their parts in the educational process.  A child’s successful education is dependent upon the efforts of the teachers, students and parents. It’s a team effort.

Every year, I explain to the parents of my third-grade students the three primary reasons I regularly assign homework. First, it gives students a chance to practice what they’ve learned in class, but in a different setting. Second, homework is a wonderful opportunity for parents to see what we are working on in class. A parent may recognize a problem with which the child is struggling, and provide extra help as needed. Last, I believe it is my job to prepare students for the next grade. If children aren’t given homework in the younger grades, it can be quite a shock when they enter the upper grades. I believe it is better for them to start small, and build up to the demands they will experience later. It doesn’t seem fair to send a child off to the next grades unprepared. By gradually increasing the homework load, we will have our students “college and career ready” in this area when the time arrives.

How much homework is too much? There is a widely held general rule of thumb that homework should be about 10 minutes per grade level, so a third grader would have approximately 30 minutes of homework each night.

When one of my sons was in sixth grade, he was having trouble completing his homework. I was also his soccer coach, and I was holding him out of games because he wasn’t turning in all of his homework assignments.  After several weeks of this, and knowing soccer was his best motivator, I started sitting with him to do his homework in the evenings. I discovered that it was taking ME approximately four-to-six hours a night to help him complete his assignments. We changed his school immediately, and I’ve been apologizing for those missed soccer games ever since! Children do need time for family, fun and physical activity. When parents struggle with finding enough time for homework, they should consider cutting back on their child’s screen time, rather than beneficial activities such as hobbies, clubs or sports. If you find that homework time consistently far exceeds the general rule of 10 minutes per grade level, discuss this with your child’s teacher.

Most teachers carefully choose your child’s homework. Most frequently, it is an opportunity to practice and review skills learned in class. Students may also be assigned short essays, as there is often not ample opportunity to work on these in class. Projects may be assigned as homework, and may provide the additional advantage of learning how to break a larger assignment into smaller pieces. Homework should never be just a form of busy work. 

One of my sons is currently in his junior year of college. He reported to me that he had several hours of homework nightly in middle school and high school. He certainly didn’t enjoy doing it. However, he recently shared with me, “I would not have been as successful in college without that homework, because it helped me learn to manage my time.” College students do homework, study for tests and work on projects. My son reports that he spends three to four hours working outside of class on an average day, and that he spends up to 12 hours a day preparing for exams during the week of finals. Fortunately, both of my son were “college and career ready” when the time came.

If you find yourself frustrated with your child’s homework, please remember that teachers are trying to help your child to be proficient with their academics. They are also attempting to help your child be successful in life. Moreover, homework is allowing you the opportunity to be involved in your child’s education! 

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