Attention Parents: Your Guide to Making Peace in the Homework Wars

Parenting expert Annie Fox offers tips for families on how to avoid stress and arguments caused by daily homework.
Parenting expert Annie Fox offers tips on helping families with the homework wars. (Photo: Mermet Mermet)
Oct 25, 2012

Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.

Let me state for the record: I am not a fan of homework, especially not obligatory daily assignments that drill students on information and skills they’ve already mastered. Practice makes perfect. But over-practice makes for soul-crushing boredom and it turns kids off of education.

From my way of thinking, homework, if given at all, ought to be assigned sparingly. After all, kids have had a long day in class. They’re not machines. They need a break. And, yes, they need to play. Coming home from school every day to face a mountain of homework is dispiriting.

If a teacher assigns homework, students and parents ought to be confident that there’s a very good reason for the assignment, and a high likelihood that it will yield tangible benefits for the student. What kind of assignments are those? The ones that include:

  • a creative challenge
  • the opportunity to reinforce a new concept presented during class
  • practice using the concept for problem-solving

The result? S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G the student’s mind and transforming a new idea into an Ah-ha! learning experience. When homework offers these opportunities kids respond eagerly because, as learners, they win. This makes them eager to learn more. (And if that isn’t the ultimate goal of education, I don’t know what is.)

More: What Every Parent Should Know: How to Help Your Kids Deal With Peer Conflicts at School

The alphabet coloring homework sheets my son received for 26 weeks during his kindergarten year were busy work. There was no mind stretching during those coloring sessions. Though, as I recall, there was some healthy resistance and a pointed challenge: “Mom, why do I have to do this?”

Why indeed? Teachers aren’t sadists. They must believe homework benefits their students. But is that really the case? According to Alfie Kohn, educator, educational critic, and author of The Homework Myth, “…there is no evidence that… kids who have better grades and test scores have them because they've had to do more academic assignments after a full day in school. (Also) there isn't a shred of evidence to demonstrate that homework has any nonacademic advantages, such as teaching self-discipline and responsibility or teaching kids good work habits.”

And yet the homework continues piling up and the stress it causes in kids, and in families, is heartbreaking. If it feels like your child is spending inordinate amounts of time on homework, here are some steps you might take:

1.    Find out what your district’s homework policy is. The student handbook usually includes guidelines that describe how many minutes of homework per evening per grade level. Compare the guidelines to reality.

2.    Talk with other parents whose kids have the same teacher as your child. Sometimes the issue is “too much homework.” When that’s the case, parents have the right and responsibility to talk with teachers and let them know the impact all those assignments are having at home.

3.    Talk with your child’s teacher. Sometimes, the issue isn’t the amount of homework. Sometimes it’s your child’s ability to complete the assignment in a timely fashion. Ask your child’s teacher, “How much time did you expect that assignment to take?” If what you hear is: “10-15 minutes” and your child spent 45+ minutes, then you and the teacher may have a new topic of conversation. For example: “How can we work together to help this student (my child) be more successful and efficient in his/her work? Is an evaluation for learning differences an option we should consider?”

4.    Down with busy work! If teachers are assigning homework that clearly falls into the Busy Work category, speak up to the teacher (calmly and respectfully, of course), to other parents, and at PTA meetings.

A child’s mind is a terrible thing to waste. So is a child’s time to relax, dream, and be a kid without the ever-present dark cloud of “homework” hanging over their heads.

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