If you’re like many parents, you might be dealing with the nightly battle over homework. You see your child struggling to finish everything late into the night. You’re wondering how much involvement you should have in the process. For you and your child, homework has become overwhelming.
So what should you do? Fortunately, there is research that can help guide parents (and teachers) on what’s best for our children. The research concluded that there is very little correlation between homework and academic outcomes for elementary school children and that there are better and worse ways for parents to be involved in home learning.
▪ It’s your child’s homework, not yours. Resist the urge to get involved in getting homework done. If your child does not hand in the homework, most teachers have gentle disciplinary measures in place. A child will never learn to become responsible if their parents save them from the consequences.
Parents may help with homework if the child has a specific question, but this should be limited. Don’t do the homework for your child. If your child gets something wrong, you don’t have to fix it. If your child does not understand something, then the teacher needs to know and will correct him or her when given the chance. The research shows that parents who are too involved in homework actually hinder their child’s learning and create an unhealthy emotional environment in which the child depends on the parent for answers.
▪ Make rules about getting homework done. Parents should set up a place and time for doing work, make sure that children have the materials they need and then set and enforce rules for homework. One simple rule might be: “No computer or video games until the homework is finished.” Such rules can teach children that there are rewards for completing necessary tasks and can help parents limit unhealthy activities.
▪ Don’t tell your children why math and reading are important; show them. Parents can show children how important basic academic skills are in our everyday lives when cooking, shopping, building something or following sports. Board games, such as Monopoly, help children learn how to devise strategies, think logically, follow rules and win or lose gracefully. Reading aloud to your child is great for building vocabulary and showing your child how imagination can make reading fun and take them to faraway places.
And remember your child’s interests. Read books on topics that fascinate your child. Explain math using sports statistics. Use their favorite character or movie to describe science concepts. Not only will this help your child quickly grasp the material as it becomes relevant to them, but it also allows them to explore new opportunities and create passions that can follow them throughout their lives.
▪ Set a time limit on homework. Do not allow homework to interfere with playing or family time. Young children need to play, develop social etiquette and have fun. Remember that free play and extracurricular activities such as team sports, dance, drama and music lessons are all crucial to your child’s healthy development. These activities teach children confidence, discipline, determination and negotiation skills that last a lifetime.
▪ What is the right amount of homework? The Miami-Dade County School District has a homework policy that recommends daily reading and a limited amount of homework by grade level. Parents, teachers and school leaders can work together to further ensure that you are doing what is best for your children. Most experts recommend about 10 minutes of homework per grade — for example, 10 minutes for first graders and 50 minutes for fifth graders.
For elementary school children, short assignments Monday through Thursday are enough for parents to know what lessons to reinforce at home and to help children learn to be responsible. The district’s policy also allows teachers to be creative with homework, so it does not need to be simply a repetition of schoolwork. A good homework assignment might be to play a board game or calculate foul-shooting percentages of their favorite basketball athletes.
Children are born with natural curiosity. They want to learn about the world around them. Working together, parents and teachers can ensure that homework helps reinforce skills while teaching important lessons that support life-long learning. It is not the performance or mastery of learning that counts, but rather it is the acquisition of skills and knowledge and their application that ultimately define success.
Jeffrey Brosco, M.D., Ph.D., is the associate director of the Mailman Center for Child Development at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System, and Lawrence S. Feldman, Ph.D., is a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.