Ask EdNavigator: Helping with Homework

New Orleans Moms Blog recently invited readers to submit questions about schools and education to EdNavigator, a new nonprofit organization working to help New Orleans families keep kids on track from preschool to college. The second of the top two questions is answered below, and we look forward to responding to more in the future. Got a question about your child’s education? Post it in the comments below or email it to [email protected]!

Amanda asks, “What is the average time a child should spend on homework? And how much help should I offer?” Alicia adds, “How involved should I be in my child’s school work now that they’re a tween?”

HomeworkLet’s get one thing out of the way first: There isn’t an exact amount of homework that kids should or shouldn’t be doing. That being said, researchers generally agree that the “10-minute rule” is a reasonable way to set homework expectations. The rule is that homework should take a child no more than 10 minutes per grade level per day, across all subjects. In other words, a second-grader should have at most 20 minutes of homework per day (2 x 10 minutes), while a sixth-grader should max out at about an hour (6 x 10 minutes).

Less important than how much time homework takes is what it does for your child. Homework should really be about practicing important skills, fostering healthy learning habits and discipline, and encouraging independence. How much help should you offer as a parent? Not much. After all, the whole point is for your child to do the work on their own, and good homework should cover material and skills that your child has already practiced in class. Too much homework involvement from a parent not only doesn’t help – it can actually backfire and lower student performance.

So, take a step back from the math worksheets. The best way you can “help” with your child’s homework is by:

  • Making sure it gets done: This is pretty simple. Prioritize homework and set the expectation that your child will complete it every night. Having a regular block of time for homework (like right before or after dinner) can help.
  • Creating a healthy learning environment: This doesn’t necessarily mean buying your child their own computer or a fancy desk, just making sure they have a clean, quiet, well-lit place to study and the basic materials they need (pencils, paper, a ruler, and so on) close by.
  • Clarifying homework instructions, if necessary: Generally speaking, homework should be self-explanatory, but occasionally your child may encounter instructions that are confusing or hard to interpret. Help ensure they know what they are supposed to do – then leave the doing up to them.
  • Encouraging independent learning habits: When your child is struggling with their homework, push them to stick to it and find a way to get past whatever obstacle they are facing. It may be that they need to look up information or review the skill they are supposed to be practicing, which they can do through sites like Khan Academy, or they may need to write down a few questions to ask their teacher the next day.

If your child seems to be spending a ton of time on homework on a regular basis, it’s worth asking a few questions to dig deeper:

  • Is your child routinely struggling? Homework can be frustrating for kids if they are having a hard time reading independently or understanding the concepts they are supposed to be practicing. If that seems to be the case, it may be a sign that your child is not getting the support that he or she needs in class. Set up time to discuss the problem with your child’s teacher.
  • Is your child practicing smart study habits? Homework can take a lot longer if your child is doing it while distracted by the TV, dozing off while completing homework in bed, or being pestered by other siblings.

Sometimes, of course, the overall amount of homework is really just too much. Teachers are generally aware of how much homework students are getting overall, but the load can creep up without anyone noticing. If you think the amount of homework your child is getting truly is excessive, talk to your child’s teachers. Beforehand, you may want to sit next to your child as they do their homework, so you can see for yourself what takes them the longest or where they tend to get confused.

Thanks for the great questions this month! Got a question about your child’s education? Post it in the comments below or email it to [email protected].

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