How to survive homework

By Jackie Stricker

You arrive to collect your child from school and cheerily suggest going to the local shopping centre for some afternoon tea. The response is a look of shock and a horrified gasp, “I haven’t got time….too much homework.” “Hasn’t school just finished for the day”, you think?

So then :

  • How much homework is a reasonable amount?
  • Should parents help with homework?
  • How long should your child spend on homework each night?
  • What if your child balks at doing any homework at all?
  • How do you deal with the perfectionist who wants to spend all afternoon and evening glued to their books?
  • How do you avoid histrionics when homework is due but is not complete or simply not done at all?

1. How much homework is reasonable?

If your child is not feeling stressed, overanxious or tired, then chances are they are coping just fine. All kids are different and some manage workloads more easily than others.

It is really all about knowing your child and being prepared to speak to their teacher if you feel there is a problem.

Co-ordination of homework between teachers is very important. I have known students to be completely overloaded because each one of their teachers has dished out a huge amount of homework with no thought to the other five teachers who have all done the same thing.

There needs to be a discussion at school level that structures the homework timetable so English is perhaps set on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Maths on Tuesday and Friday and other subjects interspersed throughout the week. Different deadlines help too.

A discussion at the next P and C meeting might be helpful if this is a problem at your child’s school.

2. Should parents “help” with homework?

This depends on the help. It is appropriate to listen to your child read aloud, to drive them to the library and to help them source their research.

It is NOT appropriate to write things out for them, to do their research, to draw their pictures, to set out their projects or to actively involve yourself in their work.

Anyway, the teacher can pick it a mile off when it’s the parent doing the work. I remember receiving a model of a bridge from a child in sixth grade that was the most amazing feat of engineering I had ever seen. “Interesting,” I thought, as that particular child had fine motor problems and her father was an architect. I spoke to the student and asked if she had made the bridge herself and she looked embarrassed. She admitted she had watched her father make it. I rang her father and explained that while I understood his enthusiasm, the task was a challenge for his daughter not for him.

Direction and guidance are good things but it is not helping your child if you are the one getting the A plus.

3. How long should your child spend on homework each night?

From five to seven years of age homework might consist of simply reading for ten to fifteen minutes each evening.

Projects may be set and these can require cutting up magazines or pasting pictures to create a poster.

Your child may have an assignment on ‘People in My Family’ or a project covering an aspect of the curriculum for that particular term.

Between 10 and 20 minutes a day is expected to be spent on homework in infant school.

You can always read to your child if they have no homework to do.
From eight to twelve throughout the primary years, time spent on homework will slowly increase. Half an hour through to an hour and a half a night is about average, by grade six. This can be somewhat dependent on the school.

In high school, homework time will increase each year.

Being organised is really important. Make sure you child has their own space in which to work, good lighting, a comfortable chair and no distractions.

4. What if your child balks at doing any homework at all?

Their work needs to be a priority. You need to ensure there is time to do it. Don’t fill the afternoon with after school activities so that the student is so whacked by the evening that they fall asleep over their books. It is all about sensible time structure.

Refuse to allow any television until homework is complete. It is also a good idea to have a contract between the teacher and yourself to check each night that homework is done to a satisfactory standard.

There is no point you okaying a piece of untidy rubbish just so you don’t have a fight about television or going out.

Stand firm. Insist on an acceptable standard and take away privileges if homework is not done.

You need be aware of what is being set as homework in order to be able to monitor it successfully. A diary works well.

Vigilance is important… it is easy to slacken off but then the child will slip through the cracks again. Once you establish a routine things should improve.

5. How do you deal with the perfectionist who wants to spend all evening pouring over books?

Put a time limit on work hours. Negotiate this if necessary with your child but once the limit is in place, again stand firm.

Recreation and sleep are important too and it is essential that your child develop a balance in their life. If your child is unable to complete work within a reasonable time frame, speak to their teacher.

6. How do you avoid histrionics when homework is due but not complete, or simply not done?

The important thing to remember here is: DO NOT TRY TO SAVE YOUR CHILD.

If you write notes with a million excuses as to why “Little Johnny” couldn’t finish his homework, you are making a rod for everyone (including “Little Johnny’s) back.

Your child will learn to dodge responsibility. The message becomes, “someone else will fix it”.

The teacher will feel frustrated and irritated by your excuses, having heard them all before.

You will feel guilty and annoyed at being put in that situation.

Make your child responsible, hard though that may be. If the work has not been done and there was no dire illness or family tragedy involved, then let your child take the consequences.  They will be better organised next time.