Is Homework Really Worth It? The “Cheat Sheet” Every Parent Needs.
By Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D.
Have you heard the buzz about homework and how it may be totally overrated? Many elementary school teachers are opting their classrooms out and even some prestigious high schools are doing away with homework requirements. This leaves lots of parents asking if all the worksheets, study guides, and projects really benefit students while simultaneously questioning how kids will learn to be responsible and disciplined without the age-old practice of doing homework. The punch line is: homework continues to drive parents crazy no matter how you look at!
So, what does the research tell us about homework? It says that age matters. Elementary school students really don’t benefit from homework. Middle-schoolers show a modest improvement in academic achievement with homework, but moderation is key and more homework is not better! Once kids are in high school, the benefits of doing homework are clearer, especially for math, but setting limits is still important since students who do more than two hours of homework per night don’t necessarily out-perform peers who spend fewer hours hitting the books.
Taking all of this into consideration, how do you help your child deal with whatever assignments come home on a given night? Here’s a quick parental cheat sheet organized by grade level:
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: No homework is A-Okay.
At this age, embrace a no-homework policy if it’s offered and try not to stress about your child falling behind. Remember that your child is still learning through play and peer interactions, and these activities should be a priority.
Whether or not homework is assigned, focus on helping your child learn and practice personal responsibility (unpacking their folder/lunch, keeping track of library books) and lay the groundwork for good study habits like working/reading in a screen-free zone.
Contact the teacher if homework time is tearful, stressful, or generally more dramatic than necessary. Brainstorm solutions that make sense for your child knowing that the act of doing more work at home after a full school day may not be the best way to strengthen skills.
MIDDLE SCHOOL: One hour a day is MORE than enough.
View homework as a way to teach life skills like time management, planning ahead, staying organized, and prioritizing tasks. Your job is to act as a coach and help your child get tasks done. Make sure to let teachers correct mistakes and give feedback.
Encourage your child to practice personal accountability by emailing teachers if they encounter difficulty or have questions you can’t answer (because, last time I checked, I was incapable of doing even simple math the way it’s taught now!). This is a valuable life skill that will work in your child’s favor in the real world.
Set limits on how much time is spent on homework and hold sleep sacred! More than an hour of studying/work time per night is too much at this age. Pull the plug at that point and always prioritize sleep knowing that work can be made up while every minute of head-to-pillow contact is precious for developing brains.
HIGH SCHOOL: Homework matters (but don’t overdo it!)
Talk about boundaries when it comes to “sharing” answers and other strategies students often use to tackle enormous workloads. Make sure your child knows where group work ends, where cheating begins, and how to balance the potential benefits and consequences of their choices. There are many shades of gray here to be discussed.
Let your child take the lead when it comes to how he or she will complete assignments but suggest a two-hour timespan for work on any given day. If that’s a struggle, encourage your child to reach out to teachers and fine-tune their approach to homework so things move as efficiently as possible.
Even though your child is older, step in to set limits on social media/technology access during work/study sessions. Know that most teens are unaware of how their smartphones are sabotaging study efforts because checking social media is second nature. This means that teens underestimate the amount of time spent checking non-academic sites because it’s as second nature as blinking or breathing. If you can get your teen to agree to a weeklong experiment of doing assignments without a smart phone handy, the impact will be powerful enough to stick.
Stephanie O'Leary, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in Neuropsychology, a mom of two, and author/creator of "Parenting in the Real World." She provides parents with a no-nonsense approach to navigating the daily grind while preparing kids for the challenges they’ll face in the real world. See her site www.StephanieOLeary.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.