Back to School

How much homework is too much?

Sep. 1, 2013 at 6:35 PM ET

Girl with books
Vast Photography/First Light/Getty Images /
Girl with books

When it comes to homework, how much is too much? That’s one of the questions raised in a New York Times piece, “The Trouble with Homework,” which ponders why U.S. students rank lower than many of their international counterparts when it comes to math, reading and science despite the fact that U.S. kids are loaded down with more homework now than ever.

Part of the problem may be that tons of homework doesn't help. Advocates like Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, and Nancy Kalish and Sarah Bennett, authors of The Case Against Homework argue that none of the supposed benefits of homework—that it reinforces learning or promotes achievement—are backed up by convincing research. What's more, they say, it detracts from family time and creates stress and frustration for kids. 

So how much is too much? One common measurement is that students should get about 10 minutes of homework per grade level, according to family health advocate Wendy Young, founder of Kidlutions. Talk to your child's teacher if you think he's being loaded down with an unrealistic amount of busywork. Then follow these smart tips to help your little learner succeed.

Remove distractions. Removing distractions such as the TV, computer and phone will increase your children’s ability to get homework done quickly, according to Ana Homayoun, founder of Green Ivy Educational Consulting. If a computer is needed to complete the assignment, turn off the Internet so your child won't be tempted to browse.

Be consistent. “Have your child dedicate a block of time each day for doing homework,” suggests Young. She also recommends keeping the time frame consistent which will help your child feel more organized and less overwhelmed.

Help your child get organized. Being organized can make the homework process run smoother, but it can be a challenge for some kids. Family coach Lynne Kenney recommends sitting down with your child and writing out each of the night’s assignments on one sheet paper. As your child completes a task, have him cross it off the list. Writing a checklist will also come in handy when your child has long-term assignments. At the start of the project plot out each step, which your child can cross off once complete.

Unwrap the sugarless gum. If your child has trouble concentrating, try offering him a stick of gum. “Chewing gum helps concentration,” says Occupational Therapist Angie Harisedes. It helps to burn off excess energy, which in turn helps the chewer, feel calmer, more centered and focused.

Help kids to be their own advocate. Sometimes a student’s workload is just too much. Instead of going to the teacher to complain, Homayoun suggests encouraging your child become his own best advocate. First, have your child create a time log that notes the amount of time it takes to complete each assignment. Then set up a meeting between your child and his teacher where they can discuss the issue and come up with a collaborative solution. If the meeting isn't successful, then you can step in.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.