The idea of homework makes sense. Children learn things in school and then can practice what they have learned for a short time at home to allow for more exposure to new concepts and emerging skills. Parents may find that some public schools and/or more traditional schools give out nighty homework while some more progressive schools are doing weekly assignments that children can do when the timing suits their schedule. Quite a few progressive schools aren’t doing much homework at all beyond projects and reading, or, are tailoring homework to the individual child. Many schools wait a bit for children to settle into their school year before starting to give out homework, namely with elementary school children.
Ultimately what makes homework a workable experience is the child’s attitude toward the work. This attitude isn’t born out of thin air, it is based on their feelings around how achievable the work is, how much they are struggling with it, how much success they’ve been having with similar work in school, and how it is being put forth at home (parental attitudes, stringency, etc). It is also hard for children not to compare their nightly experience to that of their siblings. If one child is sitting on a device while another is being made to write essays, you may be hearing about it.
The important part, as a parent, is to make sure that homework is not overwhelming your child, hurting their confidence, or causing issues in their schedule or nightly routine. If your child is struggling with homework, here are some suggestions that you can consider to make the situation better.
What to do if your child is struggling with homework
1. Speak with their teacher
Talk with your child’s teacher to see if you can gain any insights into whether your child is struggling due to the challenge level or something else. It may be that the content feels very accessible in school because it is being done in a format that feels better for your child, however the embedded tasks in the written homework present a new challenge and the teacher isn’t aware of this challenge yet. If this is the case, maybe your child and their teacher can figure out a better way to format the homework so it makes more sense for your child at home.
2. Ask how much help is appropriate
Ask the teacher how much help is appropriate. Share how much time your child currently spends on the homework (both with your intermittent help as well as without any help) and see if there can be any flexibility on how much homework your child is receiving and/or how much help you (or someone else) can provide.
Be sure to consider the different forms of help when having this conversation: giving the answer is one thing and is quite different from scaffolding your child’s learning by asking the right guiding questions, etc. Hopefully, with the guidance from your child’s teacher, you can find the right level of support for your child so they continue to learn without feeling frustrated.
3. Figure out how much you and your family value homework
Consider the question yourself and talk with your partner/spouse and/or anyone else involved in raising your child about how much you value homework in terms of its ability to aid in your child’s learning. This doesn’t need to be a referendum on where you fall on this issue for life, just a simple discussion on what is serving your child now. If you both agree that it shouldn’t take as much time as it currently does, that your child’s down time is more, or as, valuable following a rigorous school day, share these beliefs and values with their teacher and see if you can make any changes.
In this conversation, you can discuss making homework a weekly endeavor as opposed to a nightly one to offer more autonomy, decrease the load, and allow for more overall flexibility in your child’s busy schedule. Remember, you are the parent, you hold your child’s life, the big picture, in mind, and while you may not have a full view on what happens in school or what is standard for a given age, you know when your child is struggling beyond reason. Remember to be your child’s advocate when they need you.
4. Look at the big picture of your child’s schedule
Consider that their plate may be too full and make sure that they have just as much down time as they do extracurriculars and homework. There is a lot of empirical evidence that shows the value of downtime for children (and adults!). It is when a lot of the work and learning that happens in school is actually integrated into a child’s existing body of knowledge. Downtime is the rest that our brains need to continue along with cognitive tasks like paying attention and memory. It's hard to constantly be motivated to attend without a significant break to recharge, so less homework might actually be better for your child’s education.
Maybe the homework regimen is going well, with occasional push back, but nothing major. That’s great. It means that your child is relatively well suited to the demands of the homework they are receiving but nonetheless you should continue to bear in mind the above ideas to safeguard their downtime and support them with intermittent help. You got this!