Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Homework Hassle


The word strikes fear into the hearts of kids and their parents alike. Our kids don’t like that it cuts into play time. We don’t like the struggles. Or maybe it’s just that we fear we no longer remember how to do long division. (Embarrassing)

But homework isn’t going anywhere. It is an important part of our children’s education and, when assigned appropriately, it serves to reinforce concepts learned in class, as well as to provide practice opportunities for perfecting new academic skills. Homework should not be new work or content not yet covered in school. We as parents need to understand the goals of homework at different stages, as well as how best to work with our children’s teachers to ensure the best possible learning outcomes.

When can you expect to see homework begin? Well, you will likely see the start of it in the primary grades, and it will gradually build as the years go on. My 6 year-old even brings home short reading assignments periodically, from Kindergarten. But these aren’t graded pieces of work, rather opportunities to encourage literacy and reading together. Our local school board (Toronto District School Board) directs that homework in the form of reading assignments and topics for family discussion may begin as early as first grade.

How much is too much? Students in middle school or junior high should have less than one hours’ worth of homework a night. In high school the amount of work will increase, but should not go beyond 2 hours. Of course, leading up to a big test, there may very well be increased study or practice time in preparation.

If your child seems to have more homework than falls within these guidelines, you may need to investigate.

-          Is it a problem with too much work, or rather too little attention? Maybe you have a daydreamer who needs reminders to focus. The homework that takes the “average” child 40 minutes may take a daydreamer 75. You could try setting a timer to keep them on track. Or perhaps there is something treatable at play, like ADD. If encouragement and oversight aren’t working to improve focus, it may be worth a trip to your family doctor.

-          Are there too many distractions in your child’s workspace? Turn off the TV and the music. Remove the cell phone. Maybe you need to face her desk away from the window.

-         Are they bored?  If your child is academically gifted, perhaps he or she needs more challenging work to keep them interested, rather than a lighter volume of work.

-          Do they bring home assignments that they did not complete during the school day? It may not be that their teacher is assigning too much homework.  The volume might be a result of unfinished classroom work.  In this case, you need to determine what is happening in the classroom. If they are daydreaming at home and not working efficiently, the same thing is probably taking place at school. If they are working well at home, something else is at play.

Watch your child work, ask questions and be involved. If needed, make an appointment to speak with your child’s teacher to get to the bottom of a problem and work on a solution together.

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