BY STEPHANIE HELSABECK, M.Ed.
When looking at decades of research on the topic of homework in elementary school, no overall positive correlation between homework and achievement has been found. Knowing this often causes parents to wonder why the practice of giving young children homework continues. Often teachers are uninformed and are also following uninformed policy given by the school or the school district. So, what can you, as an informed parent, do to protect your home from the unnecessary homework strains?
First, figure out what you are willing to do. The school is not in control of your home, you are! This is your family, and you deserve quality family time. How much family time are you willing to give up? Is your child having problems with the quality or quantity of the assignments? Are you taking on the role of tutor or can your child complete assignments independently? Thinking through these questions will help you decide what changes need to be made.
It is important to know the school district’s homework policy as well as the individual school’s policy. By being informed about these policies, you can determine if the individual teacher is following the guidelines. If guidelines are not being followed, often a simple discussion with the teacher can get things in line with policy. At most back-to-school nights the teacher will talk about homework policies and expectations. They usually tell parents how they want to be approached in the event a problem should arise. Take them at their word and contact them immediately if homework starts to cause problems.
If you find it is time to have a meeting, ask the teacher to briefly explain expectations for homework and then express your own expectations and what your family can and cannot do. For example, if the teacher says, “The expectation in my class is reading thirty minutes, and completing a math worksheet, so homework shouldn’t take more than an hour.” You may say, “We find our child has a hard time with math; therefore it takes him/her much longer to complete the worksheet. Could we modify the assignment, so that he/she has less to complete, or set a time limit and after this amount of time, work stops?” The teacher may not be aware of the struggles with homework, so engaging in a conversation may accomplish a lot to improve the situation.
If the teacher is unwilling to work with your situation, it may be time to make the changes necessary for your child yourself. Most of the time teachers want to help, but there are times when you must take unilateral action and cut homework yourself. When taking this step, you must inform the teacher, and at this point let the principal know what is happening. You may write a note stating your appreciation for the meetings you had earlier to discuss the issue, express understanding for the teacher’s position, but make it clear you disagree. Lay out what you are willing and not willing to do for homework. Let the teacher know you are willing to meet again, perhaps in a month, to discuss how the adjusted homework is going. You could also share correspondence with the principal, so that he/she is aware of the homework issue and how you as a parent are trying to remediate the situation.
Making the decision to adjust your child’s homework yourself can be an uncomfortable prospect. But it will prove to be well worth it as you enjoy less stressful evenings. Keep in mind elementary school grades do not impact students in life-altering ways, but the daily struggles with homework may have lasting effects. One of the biggest impacts is that students learn to hate school, and that impact is long lasting and has life-altering consequences. As you engage in battles over homework, your relationship with your child is also impacted negatively. That can also be a long-lasting consequence of allowing homework madness to invade your home. Again, reclaiming family evenings takes some effort, and can be uncomfortable at times, but will surely be well worth it!