By Sarah Wikler
The following issue has been bothering me for a long time and I think that many parents feel the same way I do. Why do our schools give so much homework? My children are constantly overwhelmed with homework. Isn’t it enough that our children are away from home for eight, nine, ten hours a day? Don’t they deserve a little down time? And what about their parents? Often the assigned homework is impossible for a child to complete on his own. Are we as parents expected to do homework with our children all night long? Many Lakewood families are large ka”h. How can we realistically do homework every night with each one of our children? And what about leaving some time available for children to help out at home?
I couldn’t agree with you more. There is no reason that children should be doing homework all night long. They spend many hours each day at school, and they need some down time when they come home. Furthermore, since we are b”h gebentched with large families, children should be available to help out at home without having to worry that they won’t be able to finish all of their homework.
Not always is an overwhelmed child an indication that the teacher is overloading her students with homework.
A child who is a perfectionist may complain about having TONS of homework. The truth is, the assigned homework is actually quite reasonable, but to the child it may feel overwhelming since it will, in fact, take a long time to complete, due to the child’s perfectionism.
A child who is a social butterfly may also complain about having TONS of homework. What the child really means is, “I will only have two hours tonight to schmooze on the phone, instead of three.”
To the weaker student, the assigned homework may seem overwhelming. It will, in fact, take a longer time to complete due to the child’s academic weakness.
The primary rationale for homework is the need to reinforce learning. Children need to review the material they have learned in school that day so that they will be able to retain the information and build on that knowledge. Review is an integral part of the learning process.
Ideally, much of the reviewing should take place in school. An experienced teacher is able to conduct reviews in the classroom.
There are certain subject areas that do require additional work at home, such as math, but homework should be kept to a minimum.
In order for the homework load to be reasonable it needs to be monitored.
In elementary schools the rule of thumb is ten minutes per grade level divided between the morning and afternoon teachers. In first grade, a total of ten minutes would result in five minutes of homework assigned by the morning teacher and five minutes of homework assigned by the afternoon teacher. At the sixth grade level a total of 60 minutes of homework would be appropriate, giving the morning teachers thirty minutes of homework to divide between themselves and thirty minutes of homework for the afternoon teachers to divide between themselves. The principal can oversee this to make sure that it is being adhered to.
Monitoring the amount of homework in high school is much harder since there are many more teachers involved. The principal’s intervention is crucial.
As a high school principal, I monitor the amount of homework that is assigned in each class, including the amount of homework assigned each night and the approximate length of time it should take to complete. I also ensure that due dates of all projects and reports are staggered. When principals take an active role in monitoring the amount of homework assigned, it has a good chance of being reasonable.
So is there anything that you as a parent can do to limit the amount of homework?
Sure! Speak up!
If the problem is unique to your child, you should approach the teacher(s) and/or principal and request special accommodations for your child- e.g., completion of five math problems instead of the assigned ten problems.
If the problem is pervasive throughout the entire school, and, as you indicated in your letter, many parents feel as you do, approach the teachers and/or principal as a group and voice your concerns, and make specific suggestions for improvement. If you can’t get anyone to accompany you to this meeting, do it alone. Hopefully your concerns will be met with a sympathetic listening ear, you will have raised awareness in the school staff as to the implications of giving too much homework, and you will have accomplished at least a degree of amelioration of a troubling situation.
Sarah Wikler, MA, MFT, a former high school principal, is a therapist in full-time private practice in Lakewood, N.J. She works with children, teenagers and adults, specializing in treating anxiety, depression and trauma.