Families Magazine

Coping with the Homework Hassle

June 2003

Today’s middle school student sinking under overstuffed book bags might be surprised to know that in the 1930s the American Health Association classified homework as child labor. Furthermore, the California State legislature banned homework in the early part of the 20th century, claiming six hours of fresh air was vital for healthy children.

Contrary to these early trends, the amount of homework given to six to eight years old tripled between 1981 and 1987. Many kids today are forced to limit their extracurricular activities, and bewildered parents find themselves coping with projects aimed towards increasing parent involvement. But while family time may increase, the blood pressure rises as well.

According to a 1998 survey by Public Agenda, nearly 50 percent of parents reported having a serious argument with their children over homework, and 34 percent reported homework as a source of stress and struggle. Etta Kralovec, Vice President for Learning at Training and Development Corporation in Maine, has co-authored two books questioning the value of homework, calling for more parental control over the child’s educational agenda.

“One of the things I’ve found so interesting is that parents think teachers are demanding more homework, but teachers say parents are demanding more,” says Kralovec. In the early 1990s, Kralovec studied alternative schools in Maine and discovered the inability to complete homework was repeatedly cited as the reason for leaving school.  Kralovec helped organize a parent/teacher forum in a Maine school district which led to an after school homework center. Her book calls for similar community forums to discuss and resolve homework issues.

SHOULD PARENTS HAVE A SAY?
Illinois parentsMary and Dave Repetney struggled to keep up with the homework their three daughters brought home while caring for Mary’s terminally ill mother. Although both parents are teachers, they hired a tutor but the children sometimes fell behind when Mary’s mother’s illness demanded her full time attention. “I think parents should have the right to decide that sometimes things happen and we can’t spend three hours doing homework,” says Mary Repetney. “We’d miss one night and get notes home from the teacher, and it made me very angry because it wasn’t our kids’ fault – there was a lot going on in our lives.”

Trina Lambert from Colorado describes her twins’ fourth grade experience as “hellish” partly due to homework issues and a parent’s illness. “I let the teachers tell me that exceptions weren't the ‘real’ world, but I've since realized there are many versions of the real world,” says Lambert. This year she insisted on an individualized plan for her fifth grade son, who is ADHD/ODD. “We decided he's going to have to work with a model more appropriate to his situation.”

“I believe it is the teacher’s job to assign the homework and be aware of what children in general can accomplish for homework,” says Virginia parent Linda Dupie, who has successfully addressed homework issues with her daughter’s teachers. “I as a parent have the right to question it if I see her homework is affecting her overall education in a negative way.”

HOW CAN A PARENT HELP?

With increasing pressure to improve test scores, the debate over homework will likely continue The National Education Association and the Parent Teacher Association have set guidelines and recommendations to help parents cope. They include:

Create a stable routine. Help your child set up a study place, away from distractions and with all the tools he or she needs. Establish regular homework times, whether it’s immediately after school, or after dinner before TV. Let your child choose, if possible, but don’t be afraid to alter the routine if bedtime starts disappearing into double digits.

Be supportive. Talk about the assignment and make sure your child understands it. Show an interest and make suggestions or draw correlations whenever possible. Make sure you’re accessible without hovering or doing the homework for your child.

Schedule Projects in Advance. Many parents complain their children leave projects to the last minute. Ask your child regularly about assignments and when they are due. If the teacher does not require an assignment book and these projects become a problem, request that parents are kept abreast of major assignments. Help your child divide the tasks and plan ahead.

Look Over Completed Assignments. Not only does this ensure the assignments are done correctly and your child understands, keeping up with your child’s work allows you to make connections whenever possible.

Watch For Frustration. If you child appears stressed or overly anxious let him take a break. Offer praise and encouragement and try not to let your own frustration or anxiety show.

WHAT HAPPENS IF HOMEWORK BECOMES TO MUCH?

Find out the District Policy. Most homework policies are set district wide. Ask the principal how much homework you should anticipate at the beginning of the year. Often times it’s not consistent, and a student may breeze through fifth grade only to be snowed under in sixth.

Talk to Other Parents. If other children are having difficulties, it may have something to do with the lesson, classroom or school policy.

Talk to the Teacher. Whether it’s your child who’s having difficulty or several in the class, a teacher may be unaware if assignments are unclear or taking too much time. Always take a positive approach and discuss the teacher’s reasons, and then explain your experience. Look for ways to improve the situation – don’t demand immediate policy change.

Kralovec points out that teachers are often pressured to follow set policy, and welcome parental input. “Parents need to do a little consciousness raising about homework,” says Kralovec. “Each community has a different set of issues but teachers and parents need to begin a conversation.”

For more information visit the www.pta.org for a Parent’s Guide to Homework.

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