When kids have too much
How to balance play time, family time and school time
From MSNBC NEWS.....
PARENTS AND school boards are slowly realizing the problem of too much homework,
and are now trying to do something about it. In Piscataway, New Jersey, the
local school board recently voted to set firm limits on homework: Teachers give
one-hour assignments that children can try on their own, and weekends and
holidays are homework-free.
Well-conceived and well-structured homework assignments can play
a critical role in promoting children’s learning. At the same time, too much
homework or poorly structured assignments that cause tension and anxiety can
take a toll on a family.
“MSNB NEWS”: Is there an
appropriate amount of homework that children should receive at any given age? If
so, how do you know what that amount is?
Ostrum: The National PTA
suggests that children in kindergarten through second grade receive 10-20
minutes of homework each night. In grades three through six, that recommended
amount increases to 30-60 minutes nightly. After grade 6 the amount of homework
really depends on the number and level of difficulty of classes a student takes.
So assigned homework can vary significantly from student to student.
Many schools and school districts provide their own guidelines
for nightly homework. For example, the Boston Public Schools (where I used to
teach) lists on its Web site that the recommended average amount of nightly
homework should total two hours for students in junior high school and 2.5 hours
in high school. Parents should inquire with the schools that their children
attend to find out about specific homework policies.
“MSNB NEWS”: What advice do
you have for parents whose children are spending significantly more than these
recommended amounts of time on homework?
Ostrum: It’s important to
remember that these suggested amounts are guidelines, not mandates, and that
they also represent average amounts of time. Some children will complete
homework assignments in less than the suggested time slot and others will need
more. If your child is spending significantly more than the recommended amount
of time on the assignment, you might want to confirm that she or he is taking
down the assignments clearly and completely. What teachers articulate and what
students perceive and record often differ from each other substantially.
Ask your child how his/her teachers generally assign homework.
Does it come as a quick verbal directive at the end of the class period? Is it
provided in a clear, visual way as well? Also, check your child’s assignment
book. Do the assignments recorded there look clear and complete?
If you suspect that your child is having trouble recording the assignments and
that the resulting confusion is increasing his/her homework time, you may want
to speak to the teacher about communicating the assignments in different ways so
they are clearly understood by all students. Conveying assignments in different
styles enables students with diverse learning and communication styles to avoid
You can also give your child a daily assignment sheet. The sheet provides some
structure for your child in taking down assignments. It might be especially
useful for late elementary and middle school students, e.g., grades 4-8. You can
also keep them in a folder, as your child gives them to you, to track his/her
“MSNB NEWS”: Parents with several children
sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the homework that their children have to
complete. How can they oversee it all to make sure it is getting done on time
and with an appropriate amount of care?
Ostrum: Obviously the age
range of the children, other activities to which they are committed, and
accessibility of an adult who is there to spend time with them before bed all
play a part in the different possible solutions that would work for any given
family. In general terms, here are some strategies you can use, assuming that
there is a lot of activity in the household and sometimes you feel you are just
First, on the most basic level, put up on your refrigerator a
weekly homework tracker. Use the weekly homework tracker to keep a quick and
easy eye on which assignments are due for which child in a given week and check
off work on the tracker as it is completed. You get to stay on top of things
and, just as importantly, your children get a visual reminder every time they
open the refrigerator that you are in the loop.
Another suggestion, depending on your children’s age range and
time available, is to have them work as a study group with each other. Put them
around the dining room table at the same time to work on their homework. The
older ones can help the younger ones.
The simple act of teaching something that they learned will help reinforce the
concepts in their own mind. Remind them to ask each other before they ask you
for help. In the beginning, you may have to guide the older children in
differentiating between really teaching so that the younger ones understand a
concept versus just giving them the answer. But developing that skill will help
them in many other contexts as well.
“MSNB NEWS": What
should you talk to your teacher about, when it comes to homework? How do you
approach the subject without seeming to attack their teaching methods?
Ostrum: That question is an
excellent one because it is important to remember that teachers are
professionals who have received training in pedagogy and are also experts in
their subject area. So it is important to communicate with them accordingly.
Some fundamental tips for meeting with teachers include:
Don’t wait until parents’ night to speak to them. In many
schools, parents’ night becomes a marathon for teachers of five-minute chunks
of time in which it is difficult to cover much substance. Look at parents’
night as a chance to meet and greet, but not much more. Instead, schedule a
separate time to come in and meet with teachers. You will get more of their
attention than you will on parents’ night and you will also demonstrate that
Always take notes during conversations with teachers and
administrators. Taking notes shows once again that you care. It also
demonstrates that you respect the seriousness of the conversation you are
having and implicitly puts those speaking with you on notice that you pay
attention to details. That is important when you consider that your child’s
teacher is responsible for many more children than just yours.
Ask the teacher about his/her philosophy on homework: is it
supposed to recap what children learned in class that day? Introduce them to a
new concept that will be covered the next day? To what degree does the teacher
want the assignment to challenge the students? Teachers have a range of
different ideas on the purpose of homework. It will help you as a parent to
understand the differing perspectives of the educators working with your
Does the teacher collect and grade homework? Teachers
sometimes do a quick spot check around the room instead of collecting and
grading an assignment. Students frequently see this as a sign that the work is
not important or is an assignment that does not count.
Ask the teacher how and at what point in the class s/he gives
out homework assignments, e.g., once verbally at the very end (when kids are
rushing out at the bell), multiple times both verbally and in writing, only in
writing on some kind of assignment sheet, etc. Children need to be exposed to
information in a variety of different ways, so they should receive their
homework assignments accordingly (they receive the same assignment in writing,
as a verbal directive from the teacher, etc.). Once is not enough for most
Do not make excuses for your child, regardless of whether you
agree or disagree with a teacher’s approach to homework. Instead, keep the
discussion focused on learning styles.
To feel even more confident about having this type of
conversation in which you can discuss your child as a “visual learner,” for
example, do some Internet research at a site called www.edweek.org. They have an
archive of wonderful articles that you can search with keywords and that will
help you feel prepared and comfortable in anticipation of a teacher conference.