Homework in Elementary School

Parent Q&A

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  • My kid's school has no homework given in second grade. I know a lot of parents are in support of it so I'm fine with it being the policy, but personally disagree with it and told my son that I will be giving him "homework" instead, especially since his sibling in K this year is getting homework so I want to keep it fair. Homework in our household tends to be educational activities and not necessary just worksheets, so it is not as bad as it sounds.   Last year he did workbooks at home to supplement math (since he is pretty advanced) and will be continuing with it this year, but I don't want to increase his workbook requirement since it is not fun.  Any advice on interesting and fun enrichment activities to serve as homework.  I'm looking for ideas for interesting enrichment workbooks, websites, apps, board games, puzzles, or other type of activities that I can assign for a 7 year old to do independently (he is a strong reader, and follows direction well) to do at home that is educational and will make it feel like he has homework so I don't have his K sibling complaining while still showing him that "homework" and learning can be fun.   

    I would check out the local 4-H chapters. The Emeryville 4-H is having it's kick off meeting on MON 9/17 at EBI school. They have so many project that you're bound to find something 'enriching' for your 2nd grader.... Thx

    My daughter went through a lot of biographies in the early elementary years. We got butcher paper and created a timeline showing the lifespans of the people we read about, to see how they overlapped.

    You say your son is advanced at math. Is he up for some kind of data analysis, maybe sports statistics? Charts, comparisons. Averages, if that's in his skill set (I think that's normally more like 4th or 5th grade...). There are multitude of things he could analyze; surely something he is interested in will lend itself to analysis.

    Not homework, exactly, but music has been found to correlate with school performance. Learning to read music has direct relationships to math, as it is a complete symbolic language with notes described as fractions of a measure (eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes). Notes have pitch and duration, may have lyrics associated with them, and music provides additional direction about volume and feeling. There's a lot to juggle, and it seems to be good for growing brains.

    Check out MindWare (www.mindware.orientaltrading.com).  They have a ton of brain teaser/puzzle books and activities that are interesting and fun.  My family particularly enjoyed the Math Adventures/Mosaics and the Logic Links.

    We love Beast Academy for math and the Horrible Histories books for history. Beast Academy has an online program that starts in 2nd grade and their math curriculum is fabulous. My daughter went from feeling like she was just "OK" at math to being several grades ahead after just 2 years of Beast Academy (https://beastacademy.com/). There is definitely enough challenge for quite advanced kids. The Horrible Histories books are a lot of fun, but I think are probably around a 5th grade reading level, so that might depend on your son. Good luck!

    Our "family homework" last year, for a 6 and 9 year old, was 30 minutes reading, 30 minutes Prodigy or Khan Academy and one Spanish worksheet. We also signed them up for Firecracker Math. 

    My suggestion is that you go to Lawrence Hall of Science, or Chabot, or the Exploratorium, and look through the gift/bookstore for puzzles and math games. Generally that's a better use of time than workbooks in terms of complex learning. Good games/building tools to think about are: Set, Apples to Apples, Zome, Magnifying Glasses/Microscopes, Fractiles, Simple Machines. A lot of these can be done with the 5 year old as well, so they can both learn at the same time.

    This suggestion comes from the parent of two teens, both very bright and often under challenged in school.  However, one fits the school mold and thrives, the other is a square peg in a round hole when it comes to school.  For both, their interests drove their enrichment.  I wanted them meaningfully engaged in their area of interest.  For one, it was Pokemon, he would spend hours researching, building decks, then playing in weekly leagues and several tournaments a year.  This required reading, math, higher level strategic thinking, social skills, etc.  For the other, it was reading and writing.  She picked the books and beautiful notebooks and pens/pencils.  She read, wrote, illustrated.  If she particularly loved a book, she'd ask me to read it and we'd discuss. It there was a movie version, we'd watch that and talk about the differences between the book and the movie.  This required reading, writing, and analytical skills, as well as fine motor and artistic development.  I did not have specific "work" times, but rather put limits on media, and when they were "bored" they readily went to their projects.  My husband and I showed interest and supported their endeavors, but did not manage or drive the work.  I can't tell you how many hours they spent on their projects, it was a lot. They learned a ton in a real like kind of way. Now in their teens, they only regret how much structured homework they have and long for the days of self-directed immersion.

    Go to the Mini-Maker Faire at Park Day School in Oakland in October.  You will get more creative, enriching ideas than you ever thought existed.    Check homeschooling websites for ideas as well.  Make projects, do puzzles, play games, make forts, create productions, write stories.  Encourage your 7 year old to gain mastery in some skill.   You can also send your 2nd grader to an educational therapist once a week to get some research-based enrichment.  Don't rely on mass-produced worksheets when there are other possibilities

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Homework for first grader (OUSD)

Dec 2009


My daughter is a first grader at an OUSD school. She struggles with the homework, and often copies others in class to get by. We spend up to an hour, M-Th, on her homework (spelling, writing sentences, math, reading). I am concerned that it is both too much work and too much pressure (she has told me she is 'dumb') and/or that it is too hard/going too fast for her for some reason. While the principal is supportive of the fact that my daughter may be a 'whole language learner' rather than a phonetic learner, and may have some 'spatial processing' issues, her teacher has asked me to 'push' her more, and do homework 'in 1/2 hour intervals, with breaks'. To me, this seems like way too much, and not addressing possible learning differences. I am wondering if others have had this experience, and how did you advocate for your child? anon

I have a first grader an an OUSD school. We too struggle with completing the homework. Sometimes we don't finish and I usually write a note to his teacher. I think there is a lot of pressure to keep up and it's very difficult for some children. I think for my son it is a matter of readiness for the reading and writing; he seems to do okay with the math. My son often comes home with unfinished school work and I've noticed that he will look to the other children to figure out what the task is before he completes the work during the day (he may be a visual learner for directions instead of oral?). I had an SST (student success team) meeting with the school and his teacher. They seem to be concerned about my son's progress but are taking a wait and see approach which I feel is appropriate. My wish is that the school and his teacher give him time to be ready for reading instead of pressure to be at the same level as other children in his class. So far I am happy with this approach. I am gently encouraging work at home but if he melts down about the homework we stop. Incentives such as left over Halloween candy seem to help greatly! If you want to talk more off line, ask the moderator for my email. anon

The general rule (given by the state as well as the National Association of Pediatrics) is 10 minutes per grade level. So, a first grader should have around 10 minutes per night, give or take five minutes.

My middle child has a mild processing delay, and what takes most kids 20 minutes can take her an hour. So, I did two things. One, I requested an SST and a 504 meeting at her school (if you are in a public school, you can request this, in writing, and by law they must respond to you within two weeks). The SST meeting will help you and her teacher (and the school psychologist and so on) decide what you all think is going on, and what testing you and they think should be done. Then, modifications can be made, if necessary, for your child in order to meet her needs (both in and out of the classroom).

The second thing I did was to say that as her parent, *I* will decide when she has had enough! If that means doing half of the math problems instead of doing them all, so be it. If that means I cut her off after 20 minutes, then so be that!

I have always had teachers who support me and my daughter. I have never had a teacher insist that my daughter do more than she can at home. It is insane to imagine a child your daughter's age doing an hour of homework! That is a 6th grade expectations, not a first grade one.

Please ask for an SST meeting, and do not take no for an answer. Legally, the school must do this, if you ask. How horrible for your daughter if she is simply a slow processor, or a child who needs to learn through touch, that she is essentially punished for being who she is! An SST will help you identify what her needs are, and will help design an appropriate approach to learning for her and you.

Good luck! You must be an advocate for your child

Our public school has a really great family resource specialist, whose motto is ''The teacher has your kid for a year. You have her for life.'' Meaning that, despite the teacher's best intentions, your responsibility to your child is stronger, and you know your daughter better. So, if you feel like it's too much pressure (and it sounds like your daughter is starting to suffer), it's too much. At first grade, you can decide your daughter will only do 20 minutes or 30 minutes of homework a day. It's ok.

As for how to advocate, I think it works best to be polite and respectful, and to put things in terms of working together to help your daughter succeed. Even so, you absolutely should be firm about what's not working, like the homework, and what you'd like to try. The teacher may not like it, but if your daughter's getting discouraged, she's only learning to have low expectations of herself. That's a hard thing to unlearn.

It would be good to look into learning differences. For this you ask the school, in writing, for an educational evaluation. Better to do this sooner rather than later; while the school legally has to respond within 60 days, things can drag on. Check out a book like ''Negotiating the Special Education Maze'' for information on the process. Best of luck- PhD with an LD

An hour of homework for a first grader is ridiculous. I would take it upon myself to modify it if I were in your situation. I know this is hard. You don't want to alienate your child's teacher, and you want your child to do what others are doing. But really, why do we need to beat the joy of learning out of children at such an early age? My daughter had a lot less homework in first grade, and it was still a challenge.I think the most important thing to do is shared reading in the evening. For example you read one page, and your child reads one page.If it's any comfort, my daughter was actually ''behind'' in reading in the lower grades, but is now reading grade level material with ease.

We were in the same place last year. We ended up not doing all the homework and concentrating on the reading. We continued the reading throughout the summer and now she is doing great. It takes a lot of girls longer to catch on to reading. If she thinks she is dumb read easier things, or do fun things she enjoys- scholastic or not. Second grade is a year for catching up to the concepts that she may not have gotten in first grade. We always felt we were barely hanging in there- doing A LOT of teacing. It will be fine. It is good that the principal is on board. anon

Hey, I should have responded when you first posted. I am a first grade teacher in OUSD and I think the idea of an hour of hw is totally absurd. When I was in first grade I'm not sure we had ANY hw. Currently the guidelines are that teachers should give around a 'page' of hw for each grade. In the past I have had families who request more and families who request less. I respect all of the families who make the effort to speak to me about their children and the hw, and I tell them that while the pages I give (usually a reteach of the phonics or math skills for the day) are meant to help the children to learn new skills, the only thing I really care about is reading. I read with my family every night until I went to high school, and I LOVED it. I was very successful in school and university, largely due to this emphasis on reading, and I still love reading more than almost any other activity. If my students learn to read, and love to read, and read to learn, I will be happy. Carrie

First Grader hating homework

Nov 2005


My son is in first grade and he hates homework. I think he mostly hates the writing part of it, but he writhes like he's in pain, whines, throws (small) things and yells at his little sister.

I checked the archives and didn't see anything regarding this sort of thing. He has tied his own shoes since he was four, so I don't think he needs OT, but something's gotta give. Also, his handwriting is terrible.

This is stressing us all out. He gets a weekly homework packet and it colors the entire week culminating in a tantrum the night before he turns it in. At this point, early in the week I bust my a-- to get him to do a few pages, and then lose it entirely by the end of the week and tell him to finish only if he wants to.

Help! Signed, On the brink

I had one of those...now a 4th grader. Personally, I think 1st graders should not have homework. Our solution was to leave it up to our wonderful first grade teacher, who had him stay in for a few recesses and do it. Eventually he would do some at home and some at school, but it REALLY ENDED our home battles. Some kids develop their skills later on and doing homework is just not a fair thing to ask ALL little kids to do. My now 14 yo on the other hand would ask for MORE HW...go figure!! Good luck, I really sympathize. anon

Here is how I solved the homework issue with my first-grader. I had him choose how he wanted his homeworks to be done. Not doing his homeworks was not an option but he could decide how to have them done. After discussion, he decided that when he comes home from school he should have a snack, play for 10 minutes (I put the timer on) and then do his homework. While he plays I look over what need to be done that day. When it's time for homework, we go over what he needs to do so he has no surprises and he decides in what order he wants to do it. I think the key here was to have him in control over how to do homeworks and establish a routine. It has helped him and me tremendously. I felt I needed to find a peaceful solution because this is just the beginning of years and years of homeworks. So, you might want to ask your son how he wants to solve the problem. m

A friend's child had a related issue. I'm not suggesting that this yours is the same but I thought I'd share his experience. He let it go for a few years before addressing it since the child was so accelerated in other areas. It turned out that the child had problems forming letters (dysgraphia) which caused a lot of stress doing homework. They now address this with special excercises and tutoring. anon


2nd grader is very resistant to homework

April 2002


My son is in the 2nd grade in a Berkeley public school and he is just turning 8 years old. This year he has started to get regular homework assignments. He is very resistant to doing homework and tries all kinds of tactics to avoid getting his homework done. These include - going to the bathroom, saying his foot hurts and he need to rub it, even just staring at the page and saying he can't do it. Even tho my husband and I sit with him and try to help him out, he is still resistant to getting it done. He usually does the parts that he finds easy ( ie: math problems) first, and then starts the avoidance tactics . I would like to hear from other parents who have faced a similar problem with a child of this age and how they solved it. I am interested in an approach that emphasizes positive motivation rather than punishment. Any advice would be welcome. Thanks. Ellen

I had this problem to varying degrees with my 3 sons, and found that getting myself out of the mix was the best solution. Once they got it that there were reasons for, as well as consequences for not doing homework, which were unrelated to parental nagging, they accepted the responsibility. Eight is not too early. You don't want to get into the nagging rut because it will never end (they go to school for a long time).

Exactly how you do it will be individual to your situation and relationship with your son and his teacher. With one of my sons, we had a parent/teacher/child discussion about homework, in which everyone stated their position. Mine was: ''I'll be glad to help you with your homework if you get stuck, but it's up to you whether or not you want to do it.'' The teacher explained the homework ''rules'' and asked if he was having any problems with it. In this reasonable environment, he was hard put to think of any. After that, it only took one or two times of my ignoring his whining for him to get it.

It's great to be out of the loop! Good luck. Susan

My daughter is in 2nd grade, and we also experienced this problem for several months. Things that we did that helped (many suggested by her teacher):

-- Get your child's vision checked both for visual acuity (which is the 20/20 stuff) and visual tracking. We found out that our daughter has visual problems that make her eyes feel as tired as a 40-year old! (She had her eyesight tested at school in kindergarten and no problems turned up.) She is getting glasses and will do several months of eye exercises. She was diagnosed at the UC Eye Clinic in Berkeley.

-- Consistency: Have your child do his homework at about the same time of day, in the same place in the house.

-- Environment: Create a quiet place for homework to be done. Create a place (desk drawer?) where homework and other tools (pencil, ruler, etc.) are kept.

-- Back off: Our daughter's teacher tactfully suggested that it might help if we were a little less involved in our daughter's homework (I am so guilty of this.) Homework is hard and takes time away from playing, which understandably can lead to complaining and resistance. The teacher made us realize that we were providing our daughter with the opportunity to resist homework every night by sitting down and, while doing it with her, entering into a conversation about the merits of homework. Essentially, our daughter didn't want to do homework, and she would engage us in conversation about it as an avoidance tactic. Now, while she does homework, we are nearby to answer questions, but are also clearly engaged in some other activity. This has really helped.

-- Tell your child often that you are confident that he can do the work. (But don't engage in a longer discussion when he inevitably says ''but I can't do the work!'' Otherwise this becomes another avoidance tactic.) Interestingly, when we suggested to the teacher a reward system (gold stars for completing homework without a big fuss, followed by a present for X number of gold stars), she gently discouraged us from doing this. She explained that it was crucial for our daughter to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for her homework, and for the motivation to come from within our daughter, not externally. anonymous

I am a psychologist who works for the Berkeley Public Schools supporting parents and teachers in their work with children. I also have a private practice as a parenting and family consultant. I have worked with many parents who have struggled on the homework front. There are a number of different things you want to consider to improve your situation. First of all, how much homework does your child\x92s teacher assign on a daily basis. As a second grader, he really shouldn\x92t be expected to do more than 1/2 hour of homework a night (not including the 15-20 minutes of reading that most teachers assign). If his work takes longer than this, and you are struggling, you may want to ask the teacher if you can ease off.

It may also be a good idea to let your child\x92s teacher know that you are struggling to get the homework done. Teachers usually have good suggestions for emphasizing some parts of the homework over others. They can also give you input based on what s/he sees your child doing in class. It is important to recognize that the purpose of homework is to practice what your child has learned in class. If you feel like your child is struggling too much at home, then perhaps you should seek to simplify the work. Engaging in a daily struggle with your child is more detrimental to his learning than him not fully completing each assignment.

One thing that is often helpful on the home front is following a daily homework ritual, where homework is done during the same time period each night. When this is done consistently, children learn to expect it, and ultimately become less resistant. It is important to stick with this plan, even if it doesn\x92t seem to help at first. Children (and adults too) will often test the boundaries of anything new, and it can take some time for your child to realize that you are serious and committed.

A reward system is also a good idea. A Friday treat for having done all of his homework with little or no resistance often works. One family I worked with had some success taking their child for an ice cream cone Friday evenings if he had been able to complete his homework each night during that week. Keeping a fun, daily record of completed homework (perhaps using stickers) is a fun way for your child to share how much progress he has made.

While direct punishment can make the situation worse, not allowing privileges when homework hasn\x92t been done is often successful. For instance, a lot of parents won\x92t let their child watch TV or play video games before their homework is complete. In this way a homework battle can often be avoided. You can tell him (without showing anger) that of course they can\x92t engage in the particular privilege when homework hasn\x92t been completed. Again, consistency is important. These are just some basic tips. There are always new things to try, some which may be more or less successful to you. The thing to keep in mind is that while school success is important, it is also important for an 8 year old to love to learn! Good luck. Lisa


How much homework is reasonable in the 3rd grade?

Feb 2003


I think my child, who is in the 3rd grade, is assigned way too much homework on a daily basis. But, how much is too much?

My child is very diligent and works at a reasonable pace. Still, it can take more than 1 hour, sometimes 2 or even 3, to get the work done. I think this is outrageous. It seems to me that in the third grade a 1/2 hour to 45 min. is about right and occasionally 1-1/2 to 2 hours might be needed for a special project.

Am I way off base here? Is this just the way it is as they progress through school? Anon

As an educator for over 30 years and as a parent of a high school student, I have to say the subject of homework makes me crazy. Homework during the elementary years (K-5) in particular, is of no academic benefit to the child, especially if the homework takes too long and cannot be done independently without stress. Getting in the habit of reading (independently or with an adult or older sibling) for 20-30 minutes a day can be beneficial, as can spending 5-10 minutes practicing spelling, or playing a math game to reinforce number concepts. Any work that involves parental intervention is probably not appropriate. Workbook pages, answering questions from a text, huge adult-dependent projects are very stressful for most families, especially those with children who are struggling in school. I urge you first of all to let the teacher know how long it's taking your child to do the work, because sometimes he/she has no idea and will modify the work, if not for the whole class, then for your child. No 3rd grader should be doing 1, 2, 3 hours of homework! The teachers are often under pressure from their school or district (or from parents who feel their children should be working harder and achieving more) to provide a certain amount of homework for each grade level, but if enough parents and teachers speak up, maybe these policies can be changed. Some children LOVE doing workbook pages and massive homework. Let it be available for them. Some children are academically gifted and love to pursue various subjects. That will be apparent, and those kids will ask for what they need. I want kids to enjoy school, and see learning as interesting and rewarding, not as a drudge. Our children don't have enough time to PLAY or to pursue their own interests. Not to mention how lovely it would be if kids came home (even after music lessons, scouts, sports, etc.) and could JUST RELAX with their families. There will be plenty of time for them to work hard in middle school, then high school, then college, then in life. Do we need to stress them out as young children? anon

I think you are 100% right to be outraged about the amount of homework your 3rd grader is getting. Think how much time it must be taking the less focussed, less self-directed kids. The National PTA standard is 10 minutes per grade level (ie not reaching 2 hours/night until 12th grade). I found that the large amount of homework given to my children in 4th through 8th grade had a longterm negative effect on their schooling. They hated it so much that three very bright, inquizitive children became negative on all aspects of academic learning. (Luckily our school district seemed sane through 3rd grade. Unluckily, the policy reversed starting in 4th grade). I say start fighting with your teacher/principal/school district now about the amount and quality of work, and get other parents involved. (My youngest son's 4th grade teacher expected high-school level work for written assignments, only possible with total parent involvement--ridiculous!) We've been pressing our school district for about 4 years and are beginning to see some results. For years we got the line ''for every parent who complains there is too much, there is another parent who claims there isn't enough.'' Then they surveyed the 7th and 8th grade parents, and more than 1/3 said too much, less than 10% said too little. It's not fair to your child so keep on it. Kids who spend all their free time on homework don't have time for self-taught learning on topics that interest them, don't have time for sports, and are likely to want to veg out in front of the tv and computer when they do get a break. Anti-homework crusader

When I was in school in the seventies we got no homework in 3rd grade. I've been a teacher for 15 years and kids get a lot of homework these days. I think 1 hour of homework is reasonable, more than that seems a bit much. Sometimes taking a long time to do homework is an indication that the student is having trouble with some of the work. Have you talked to the teacher about it? Even if your daughter is not having trouble, I would talk to the teacher about your concerns. I always appreciate parent feedback, especially concerning my expectations for what the kids will be doing with their time outside of school. Usually I get a majority of parents wanting more homework and just a few wanting less. The teacher has to try to balance the needs of all the parents. Good luck. Danielle

My son is also in the third grade, and at first I too found he had too much homework. Like your child, there were days when we would spend 1-1.5 hours together working on his homework. Compared to the second grade, I thought this was too much. But as time went on I've notice that the length of his homework is generally dependent on the complexity of the assignment how much of it he really understands. My son, for example, loves math. When they were doing multiplication problems, he would finish math sheets in a hear beat. When they moved onto division he struggled some but then mastered the process and now breezes through those assignments. A couple of weeks ago his classes started doing long multiplication, it's once again taking him longer he has to sit down and really concentrate. Homework does usually takes him about 1-1.5 hours daily. I think it's great! Especially since I've noticed him enjoying it and feeling confident. 3rd Grade Mom

When one of my kids was in 3rd grade, I was helping out in class one day when the teacher (who was the one in our desirable public school that all the parents tried to get for their child) made a remark about little Stevie not completing his homework because his dad (who is a professor at Cal! she pointed out) will only permit Stevie to spend 30 minutes on homework each night! Stevie is not like the rest of us! she said. His daddy must know something we don't! She was annoyed and was complaining to the rest of the class, which I thought was pretty unprofessional, but it did give me the idea that I could set a time limit on homework and then just let the teacher know about it. My kids always struggled over homework, hated doing it, and I absolutely hated how it took so much time away from family time in the evenings, especially when it was so often just brain-dead busywork. I think it is reasonable for parents of young children - and the third grade is young! - to limit the incursions of school into the family time at night, especially considering how many of us work full time and don't see our kids except at night. Why should our only time together be spent nagging and whining over homework? Just put a limit on it. (This only works for the lower grades. The teachers in middle school and high school could care less what your policy is at home - your kid will flunk if he doesn't do the homework.) I also helped my kids with projects that I thought were beyond the scope of what they were reasonably able to do. I typed up stories for them that they dictated, I thought of science projects and helped build them, I operated the calculator while they called out numbers, and I provided illustrations for creative assignments as needed. I know some of their friends never got this kind of help from their parents, and many of them were and are super academically motivated on their own. My kids were not, and I figured if their teachers couldn't get them to that point, then I had better step in and do some damage control. They are old now, doing just fine, one in college and another a year away, no worse off for doing less homework than everybody else. Plus we have a pretty nice relationship based in part on years of cooking dinner together and playing board games and watching movies instead of doing hours of homework. Name withheld to protect the guilty

I think homework is way over rated. I may err on the side of no homework at all. Whatever plusses it offers are outweighed by the impact on the family. Who has time for a family now? What I see happening is a slow increase of deadly amounts of mostly irrelevent homework which drives wedges between parents and kids and deprives them of independent time for cultural activity and following their own curiosities which is a fundamental requisite for being healthy and human. And after doing all this homework, years of it, because it ''prepares them for the next step in their educations'', what happens is that they finally graduate from college, get jobs and spend the next 20 years on a shrink's couch trying to learn how not to take their work home. It is crazy making and actually destructive. To those who say children need homework because it teaches them how to organize and plan, I say that those skills are essential, yes, but they are not automatic and should be taught in the school, with supervision, on school time, not by throwing wads of work at children who need to be up and inventing, playing and relating, and just assume they will somehow know how to accomplish it. There is now a whole industry of tutors, coaches and therapists who do nothing but help children adjust to homework loads. Is there something wrong with this picture? All right. This is all just: My opinion.

But, in the practical sense, what can you do about the situation? That's the system, right? I used to oversee my daughter's homework, and when she brought home assignments, we would sit there and ask ourselves what it was they were trying to get her to learn. If the answer was ''not much'', or the assignment was ambiguous and a waste of time, I'd instruct her not to do it, and I'd call the teacher and impart my decision. Not sure if the teachers loved my phone calls, but we have a very close family, and my daughter, now in high school, is brilliant, curious, engaged in learning, and at the top of her classes. She thinks about what they're telling her to learn. Now then, I don't think there is much flexibility in the public sector. We've chosen private schools (and our mortgage shows it). We selected schools that emphasize learning, not tests and homework. Does this help? I've just comiserated, but maybe this doesn't offer an alternative. I am nearly sure that I am in the minority. I am willing to struggle with this as long as my children are in school. I don't think it's necessary to train children to be obliging while doing pointless busy work, but it is necessary that they learn how to learn and how to seek information, how to love learning, and how to tell the difference between hard work for a goal and submission as a way of life. So sue me. Tobie

Like other people who responded to your posting, I think it is outrageous the amount of busy work that elementary school children are given to be done at home. Creative work that can only be done at home (like, interview your mom about..., or a few short drills on math skills or spelling words taking a few minutes each) makes sense to assign for homework. But the hours of meaningless work that is assigned these days -- supposedly at the request of parents -- is only creating children who hate school and who will already be sick of doing academic work by the time they reach middle school -- a time that valuable homework can finally be assigned. As another poster noted, in the 70s very little to no homework was assigned for K-6 grades. I was more than ready to do homework, and was excited about it, in 7th grade when it was finally assigned to us. If I went to school today, from what I hear from my colleagues (also professors at Cal) with kids in the K-6 grades, I feel I would be so burned out by middle school that I would not enjoy intellectual pursuits. Younger children need to play (in both organized and spontaneous ways) -- THAT is their homework.

I sure hope that lots of parents complain *now* and keep complaining, because I will send my (now toddler) to a public school and I will not allow him to do unreasonable amounts of homework in elementary school (and it will probably embarrass him greatly, unfortunately; another Cal professor with their back up about too much homework !). I hope the ''homework pendulum'' swings back to something reasonable by then with help from concerned parents (and teachers who also posted) like you. An advocate for schoolwork in school not at home Homework in 3rd grade

I just feel moved after reading the responses to the homework issue to *thank* all of you parents ranting against excessive homework. My child is still in preschool so it's not relevant yet but I had a hunch there was going to be something coming our way in the future. Thank you all for thinking independently about homework. I'm all for letting children relax and learn without adult induced stress. Long live childhood. Ilona

In regard to the Home work problem in many schools. A friend of mine formed a group (of parents) who pressured their local public elementary school to reduce the amount of homework given to all grades successfully. I think they agreed upon 15 mins per grade so that 1st grade was 15 mins plus reading, 2nd was 30 mins plus reading and so on. Worth a try.

It was a total revelation the day I realized that at least through 3rd grade, PARENTS can usually dictate how much homework their child does. I've sent notes explaining that my children were unusually tired that evening and needed to go to sleep early, other notes saying that we had a family event (for example: older kid performing in school event)that precluded finishing that day's homework, and even notes that said the homework was just too much to finish in a reasonable time (sometimes I would say that we'd finish it over the weekend if I felt that it was worthwhile finishing for my child) or that the homework was way too repetitive of skills my child had demonstrated mastery over so I wasn't going to have him do more of the same old thing. Written nicely and with respect, I've never had a Berkeley public school teacher give me (or my child) problems for these notes. On the other hand, the BEST teachers had a comment space on the homework assignment (or weekly packet) that ENCOURAGED parents to give feedback about which if any of the homework was too repetitive or conversely which homework really had been a challenge for your child (so the teacher could vary in class and homework assignments accordingly). I agree that for K-3, homework should be reading, reading, and reading as well as skills that can only be learned with repetition such as practicing basic arithmetic and spelling facts, some memorization (poetry) OR more long term creative assignments such as science projects and interviews which can't be done within classroom time. And, a child so young shouldn't be made to spend more than 30-45 min. doing repetitive work (reading is EXTRA!) Karen H.


3rd grader's Homework vs. afterschool activities

Oct 2002


Would love some insights as to how other families (parents) facilitate the completion of homework on a school day that contains after-school activities. Our third-grader now has more homework to do, and her interest in extra-curricular activities has also expanded, but she's understandably tired at the end of a long day and we're wrestling with the right formula for work and play. (She doesn't actually do much after school yet, just soccer, but would like to add in one or two more things, and I am reluctant to do this until I have a better gameplan for the homework). Suggestions and strategies would be most welcome for supporting these two important areas. Thanks. Deborah

My son is also in the third grade, and I have found that it often takes him 1 hour sometimes more to complete his homework. Unlike last year where it was probably 30 minutes or so. On top of that he is expected to read 15-20 minutes every night. Considering that my husband and I work full time, and neither of us are able to pick him up from daycare until after 5pm. He normally does not get started with homework until 6pm, unless he has soccer practice. On those days, homework is not started until after 7pm. Sometimes I find it really hard to get him started, other times homework is fun and he breezes through it. I find sitting down with him and encouraging him throughout his studies really helps him out. We've had our squabbles with him sometimes, but I know it's because he's tired and can't put his all into it. I know I can not leave him in his room and expect him to finish his assignments. He's more a hands on person, know what I mean?

Like your daughter, my son enjoys extra curricular activities. So recently we signed him up for gymnastics, one day a week on a day that does not conflict with soccer practice. I find placing him in varios activities allows him to release all the energy he has and tire him out for bed earlier in the evening. Healthy snacks and a nutritious breakfast and dinner is a definite must, god knows what he eats at school. And allowing him to be a kid on the weekends has also helped. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are his time. We allow him to be a kid and not worry about school or anything else, and generally our weekend schedules revolve around his play time and what he wants to do. He plays outside, watches TV, hangs out with his buddies, and just relaxes. Sunday evenings at around 5-6pm, we prepare for the upcoming school week, we have him take an early shower, and he relaxes till dinner and bed time. We constantly remind him of the importance of school, and explain to him that his education is what will help him excel in life. But like most kids, he is most worried about what his buddies are doing.

Just hang in there and encourage your daughter in everything she does. It may cut your time in half, and force you to give up a lot of personal time. But in the long run I think it is very rewarding for the child to be active in after school programs. If I recall correctly, studies have shown that children involved in extra curricular activities always do well in school. I think it's just a matter of knowing how to balance everything out, and showing your child to do the same. Good luck. mom


How much should I help 4th grader with homework?

Jan 2005


I am wondering how much help parents are giving to their 4th graders with their homework. I know that the ideal is that kids are able to handle this responsibility independently. His teacher this year certainly expects this. However, my ten year old boy does not yet seem capable. We have tried to put it on him and he ends up getting sent to the office to finish certain assignments. This is humiliating to him and does not seem to be helping. He does finish about 80% on his own, but spends so much time fighting the homework that it takes him a long time. His organizational skills are also poor as is his handwriting. His ''grades'' (numbers) are good, but the homework issue is becoming a battle ground at home which I know is also not helpful. His dad and I are wondering how involved others are with their children's homework. Anon.

Being the parent of 4 children, ranging in age from 23 to 13, my husband and I have certainly experienced the gamit of public & private education in the bay area, along with their homework policies.

I think you first need to ask yourself as parents if all of the homework is relevant. Children in both public & private school settings are given what we term in our household as ''busy work'' it has no real value toward their education and is typically boring. We have (if requested by one our children) helped them with the ''busy work'' in order to create time for the important school work and other aspects of development such as music lessons or other interests.

All children are different, our oldest daughter never wanted help on anything after the 3rd grade, great student, super self- movitated and at 22 will be graduating from college with honors. However, our youngest (13) is also a highly self- movtivated straight A honors student, both private and public educated. Our 13 year loves having her dad and I involved in her school work. She typically studies for tests with our assistance, that being - going over the information with us and exploring better ways to remember specific information. She loves sitting with her dad each evening while doing pre- algrebra. Dad LOVES math and is able to share with her a deeper understanding and appreciate for the subject than any schools I've ever experienced.

If your child wants you involved, you should be involved. I am not saying do the work for you child, but actively be present. It can be very time demanding, but it is worth the investment. Also, keep in mind, not all children approach their homework the same way. Few kids like sitting at a desk doing homework for 2 or 3 hours a night. I watched our kids spread out on the beds, take over the entire living room most school nights, one liked to sit at the kitchen table and enjoyed my being close by, another seemed to do his homework all over the house, rarely seeming to sit still. All of our kids have been high achievers, they have preformed beautifully in college, and more importantly are good people.

Be patient with your son, find out what works for him, be involved, but be clear that his homework is his responsibility. Let him know you are willing to talk about his homework and explore organizational ways to help him get the job done. Long term projects can be daunting for a 4th grader, support him in learning about process and how to plan ahead. It is a fine line between helping and doing and it is your responsibility as a parent to know where to draw the line while supporting your son. Good Luck! Kate

You are not alone - Your right about they should be more independent but if I do not stay on top of my son's homework it just won't get done or not done right. I spend at least 1- 2 hours a night working with my son to complete his homework and to write neatly - he's great at school and popular but at home it's like pulling teeth - He's smart but hates to perform homework that does not interest him. He has a project to write about a mission and to build a model of the mission and he's doing just fine but his math or language oh boy no real interest there. I now have my son attending a homework club after school twice a week and that seems to be working. On those days his homework is done. It's just a matter of working with your son along with patience. Good luck. . . Yolanda

hi, i think 4th grade school becomes more serious than previous grades so there is probably a leap your son has to make in terms of organization and stamina (mental) to keep up with the material and work load.

My step son had great difficulty beginning in 5th grade and even now in 8th grade continues to struggle to keep up - given many circumstances that didn't help him succeed.

Anyhow, your involvement is very important to his success but try not to make him dependent on you. Focus on one goal at a time. The first one being how to stay organized. Where he should put papers, having a good binder w/ clearly marked dividers, and having one place to put his homework assignments (like a little calendar book). Work w/ him on this first. Also, check each homework assignment and make sure it is properly headed - name, date, subject. Small things like this make a big difference. don't badger him w/ the mountain of mistakes he is making - it's way too overwhelming. take one step, then move on.

you will be amazed - my son actually has neat writing now, whereas before he looked like he did his homework in the midst of a tornado. he used to literally scribble his name slanted in the middle of the top of the paper and think that was sufficient.

after he get's a ''system'' down. then start to see where he is really struggling subject wise. often times many boys (excepting that small percentage that excel) don't do well cuz they don't care - probably counter to you or your wife's achieving natures. my son always does the minimum and sometimes his idea of what the minimum is doesn't qualify as passing - well it did in 4th grade, but not in 8th.

then, give him strategies to complete his homework successfully. Discuss what he has to complete, then talk about what the best approach would be to completing it in a timely matter. Also, try a timer - my son's mind wandered very easily, so the timer helped him focus. Say you have 20 minutes to complete your math. that's it, then you can check it and help w/ problems he couldn't figure out.

always check to make sure he put his assignments away properly in the binder so he can find it the next day. the slacker's 2 favorite answers are, ''i forgot it'' and ''i can't find it''.

in terms of ''putting it on him'' - make him do the work. don't do it for him. check the work, if it is wrong or incomplete, send him back to finish and don't let him get away with incomplete work - he's setting and learning important standards of work now and if you let him go to school w/ incomplete assignments, he will get the message. if he or you both don't understand how to do something, it is fine to mark it on the paper and get help from the teacher. he has to learn how to identify where he is unclear and find solutions to getting the answer - but not from you and often we are wrong or learned how to do things differently.

mostly i think our job is to set good standards, reinforce, check, give them training (ie organization and standards) and support them positively. after years of failed lecturing only the ''total positive parenting'' approach has given us any success.

also, communicate with the teachers and find out what systems they have to assign homework - where do they post it. they usually have a very clear and simple way to make sure the kids know where to find out their assignments. it helps if you know it too.

if he has the assignment book, then you should look at it every day and see if he writes them down clearly and properly.

this would probably amount to a full time job mentally but only an hour or 2 of real work time for the parents... best of luck! still training too

Your letter could have been written by me or my husband. All of what you said about your son is true for mine (except his teacher requires them to stay in the classroom during recess to complete assignments, rather than being sent to the office.) So, the way we've started working it is that we have him do his spelling book and math problems on his own. Those are very well-defined topics, and he doesn't tend to wander with them so much. When it comes to writing assignments (answering questions about a story they read, or writing a story or report), we work closely with him. He will write as little as possible, in incomplete sentences if we don't. We help him think out what he wants to say, and then I will say it back to him the way he said it so he can get it down on paper. Sometimes, for a longer report, he dictates to me while I type. Check with the teacher if this is okay, though. Some don't approve of it, because there is the temptation to make your own corrections. Good luck--my son's teachers have not been concerned, so I guess they figure he will grow out of it. I can only hope it happens soon! Parent of a 4th Grader

Looks like you have totally left it on the kid. I have a 4th grader. He does his homework every day. H only asks for something that he is having trouble with. He does writting practice every day. Usually he writes a page about how he spent his day. That gives writting practice as well as keeps me informed of his activities and feelings during the day. He can play after he finishes his homework.

I spend about 10/15 minutes with him in the end, going over his homework and discussing it with him. making corrections and telling him to do it over if it is not neat or correct. He doesnt like that, therefore to avoid it he tries to do it correctly the first time by himself.

If this approach doesnot work with you and it is a constant battle for the two of you as well as a mood destroyer..........Find a smart high school kid , who will come and help with homework for $10/hour. It is worth it for the confidence that he will gain, and your peace of mind.

A friend of mine does that and it has done wonders for the kid. sherry

I think parental involvement is crucial at this stage. From personal experience, and seeing what's occurred with my siblings, I have found when parents do not teach a child how to be organized, the children's tendencies are chaos and some failure/guilt/esteem problems as well. This is part of setting a child up to be a successful adult, regardless what life path they choose. The sink or swim idea is great once they become adults, but it's not fair to throw them out like that without setting up a strong foundation, which takes years and consistent effort to put into place - elementary years are a wonderful time to start laying that foundation.

I only wish my parents had sat with me, and helped me develop the habits necessary to keep my assignments organized, sectioning out the longer projects into manageable chunks, so I'd never have to cram, crunch, get behind or feel overwhelmed/incapable.

As it was, they just said ''Do your homework'' throughout the years, never extending their involvement. It was up to us kids to figure out how to manage our time and workload, and the truth is... we all failed miserably in school, despite our intelligence, because while we easily slid by in our early years, in high school/college, we discovered you can't get by on smarts alone; you need to be diligent in completing coursework, and know how to study, in order to succeed. We didn't know how to do this - noone ever taught us.

Having said that, I don't think parents should do the homework for the child, because that teaches a kid that they are not responsible for their own domain, and that ''someone else will do what I don't want to do''. Guide and explain that which is not understood when necessary, but let them learn how to problem-solve until it's clear the problem is beyond their current capability to reason it out.

I think parents' job is to create the structure, the framework, within which the child does homework. As the years progress, the child will have this habit solidified, and the parents can ease up, as the child will understand what sort of routine to create to get all the work done. anon