Is homework robbing your family of joy? You're not alone

Homework is a necessary evil for most students, so what is a parent to do to ensure everyone in the house survives?
/ Source: TODAY
By Allison Slater Tate

Children are not the only ones who dread their homework these days. In a 2019 survey of 1,049 parents with children in elementary, middle, or high school, Office Depot found that parents spend an average of 21 minutes a day helping their children with their homework. Those 21 minutes are often apparently very unpleasant.

Parents reported their children struggle to complete homework. One in five believed their children "always or often feel overwhelmed by homework," and half of them reported their children had cried over homework stress.

Parents are struggling to help. Four out of five parents reported that they have had difficulty understanding their children's homework.

This probably comes as no surprise to any parent who has come up against a third grade math homework sheet with the word "array" printed on it. If you have not yet had the pleasure, for the purposes of Common Core math, an array is defined as a set of objects arranged in rows and columns and used to help kids learn about multiplication. For their parents, though, it's defined as a "What? Come again? Huh?"

It's just as hard on the students. "My high school junior says homework is the most stressful part of high school...maybe that’s why he never does any," said Mandy Burkhart, of Lake Mary, Florida, who is a mother of five children ranging in age from college to preschool.

In fact, Florida high school teacher and mother of three Katie Tomlinson no longer assigns homework in her classroom. "Being a parent absolutely changed the way I assign homework to my students," she told TODAY Parents.

"Excessive homework can quickly change a student’s mind about a subject they previously enjoyed," she noted. "While I agree a check and balance is necessary for students to understand their own ability prior to a test, I believe it can be done in 10 questions versus 30."

But homework is a necessary evil for most students, so what is a parent to do to ensure everyone in the house survives? Parents and professionals weigh in on the essentials:

Understand the true purpose of homework

"Unless otherwise specified, homework is designed to be done by the child independently, and it's most often being used as a form of formative assessment by the teacher to gauge how the kids are applying — independently — what they are learning in class," said Oona Hanson, a Los Angeles-area educator and parent coach.

"If an adult at home is doing the heavy lifting, then the teacher never knows that the child isn't ready to do this work alone, and the cycle continues because the teacher charges ahead thinking they did a great job the day before!" Hanson said. "It's essential that teachers know when their students are struggling for whatever reason."

Hanson noted the anxiety both parents and children have about academic achievement, and she understands the parental impulse to jump in and help, but she suggested resisting that urge. "We can help our kids more in the long run if we can let them know it's OK to struggle a little bit and that they can be honest with their teacher about what they don't understand," she said.

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Help kids develop time management skills

Some children like to finish their homework the minute they get home. Others need time to eat a snack and decompress. Either is a valid approach, but no matter when students decide to tackle their homework, they might need some guidance from parents about how to manage their time.

One tip: "Set the oven timer for age appropriate intervals of work, and then let them take a break for a few minutes," Maura Olvey, an elementary school math specialist in Central Florida, told TODAY Parents. "The oven timer is visible to them — they know when a break is coming — and they are visible to you, so you can encourage focus and perseverance." The stopwatch function on a smartphone would work for this method as well.

But one size does not fit all when it comes to managing homework, said Cleveland, Ohio, clinical psychologist Dr. Sarah Cain Spannagel. "If their child has accommodations as a learner, parents know they need them at home as well as at school: quiet space, extended time, audio books, etcetera," she said. "Think through long assignments, and put those in planners in advance so the kid knows it is expected to take some time."

Know when to walk away

"I always want my parents to know when to call it a night," said Amanda Feroglia, a central Florida elementary teacher and mother of two. "The children's day at school is so rigorous; some nights it’s not going to all get done, and that’s OK! It’s not worth the meltdown or the fight if they are tired or you are frustrated...or both!"

Parents also need to accept their own limits. Don't be afraid to find support from YouTube videos, websites like Khan Academy, or even tutors. And in the end, said Spannagel, "If you find yourself yelling or frustrated, just walk away!" It's fine just to let a teacher know your child attempted but did not understand the homework and leave it at that.

Ideally, teachers will understand when parents don't know how to help with Common Core math, and they will assign an appropriate amount of homework that will not leave both children and their parents at wits' ends. If worst comes to worst, a few parents offered an alternative tip for their fellow homework warriors.

"If Brittany leaves Boston for New York at 3:00 pm traveling by train at 80 MPH, and Taylor leaves Boston for New York at 1:00 pm traveling by car at 65 MPH, and Brittany makes two half hour stops, and Taylor makes one that is ten minutes longer, how many glasses of wine does mommy need?" quipped one mom of two.

Also recommended: "Chocolate, in copious amounts."