I can hear the homework cries already…

“NO, dad! That’s not how we learned it and I can’t do it that way or the teacher will mark it wrong.” As Sam’s dad tries to help his frustrated 4th grader convert a simple fraction to a decimal the only way he knows how – Sam grabs the worksheet, tears it to shreds and flings his math book off the table, across the room. “I hate this stupid homework. The teacher didn’t explain it and I don’t even care if I lose points. I’m not doing it.”

This scene and others just like it play out in thousands of homes every night across the country. Homework being tackled by tired kids. Too much or too little coaching by frazzled parents trying to do the best they can. And I know in my house, it’s often homework overload one night, not enough the next. Where is the balance? What’s the point?

Much has been written on homework by educators. Alfie Kohn has little use for it. The New York Times recently covered the subject citing research that showed the quality of homework is more important than anything else. After ten years of supervising my own kids’ homework, listening to teachers talk about why and how it matters in school council meetings, working with parents and perusing the research, I conclude the following:

There are three reasons why kids need homework, providing it’s the right kind of homework. 

First, it clues you the parent into exactly what your child is studying that week so you can reinforce the message. Studies show that the more connections children have to the material they are learning, the more likely they are to retain it. When my daughter, Olivia, was introduced to  fractions in third grade, her teacher brought in a cake. Some suspicious parents heard that and thought “Great, my kid is eating cake instead of doing math work.”  But cutting the cake again and again visually demonstrated how fractions work. I thought this was a great example of hands on learning. The fraction worksheets continued to come home that week, so one night,I ordered an uncut pizza and had Olivia tell me what the fractions were as I cut. To this day, she “gets” fractions. So, let them eat cake!

Second, homework gives the teacher a chance to see who is getting the lessons and who needs help. This is, by the way, the big reason why as a parent, we need to coach and guide, rather than do the work with or for our kids. I’ve been as guilty as the next parent  to help just to “get it done” and cross it off the list. If the teacher continually sees homework that’s 100% correct, they believe that the child understands the curriculum. But if the comprehension isn’t there, your child is missing out on a critical re-teach and review step. Without this, their progress will be hindered.

If your child is worried about getting their homework correct all the time vs. finishing it and learning something, that may be a sign that it’s just busy work being routinely assigned. Or there may be too much weight placed on homework versus using it as a check and balance. New research summarized by GreatSchools.org suggests that kids can learn more from making a mistake and revisiting the work. It makes sense.

The third reason why the right kind of homework is important is practice. Good old fashion, sit down and do it again hard work.  And again. This is especially true for math curriculum in grades 3-5 that builds…and writing. Many schools now have links with practice math problems available on teacher websites. The same for writing prompts. If not, you’ll find some in the Resource page above. As a point of reference, a best practice in elementary schools is this: ideal minutes of homework =  grade x 10. So your 2nd grader would ideally have no more than 20 minutes of homework per night, 4th grader 40 minutes, etc. A future homework post will explore what to do and say when your child has too much or the wrong kind of homework.

How’s the homework scene in your family?


  1. My children’s best teachers are usually the ones who encourage students to try show work for each problem, but to not “freak out” if they don’t get an answer that makes sense. If they can see the child’s effort and a question to ask in class to help solve the process, the child gets full credit and learns to interact and participate. My high school student has one teacher who assigns reading and lectures as homework, and they do Q&A as classwork, which prompts lots of in-class discussion while being a way for the teacher to see first-hand who understands and who needs a connection made along the way.

  2. Great idea to take what the child was being introduced to in class (for example,fractions) and show interest and support by cutting the pizza for dinner and reinforcing the math concept. Food for thought!!

  3. The grocery store is a great place to help your child with many parts of their math homework – Patience is the key here so you cannot go when you are in a hurry- start in produce and allow them to figure out the price of fruit by the weight of it. Kids love to go into the cereal aisle and they can figure out which cereal is cheaper based on ounces. another fun one for kids is the 3 for $5.00 cans or the 2 for $5.00 boxes – how much is each one?
    We believe if you keep it fun, they end up enjoying the learning process a whole lot more.

  4. My 10 yr old schooled me on #2 when, after refusing to let me check his homework…again… said “the teacher will check it so she knows what I can do or not do, Mom.” Definitely a crystal clear learning moment for me!

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