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The beginning of the school year may seem like a strange time for homework fatigue to already be setting in, for kids and parents alike. However, it may truly be the most difficult time of the year due to the transition from summer camps and vacations to back-to-school with its structure, routines and activities.
One of Nysmith’s core philosophies is minimal homework. We believe that homework is meant for reinforcing content but more importantly, to teach critical study and time management skills. Our guidelines follow a simple formula of 10 minutes per grade level, 4-5 times a week. (For instance, a 4th grader would have no more than 40 minutes of homework, 4-5 times per week). However, in a recent survey of Nysmith students and parents, we noticed a wide variation in responses on the volume of homework students were doing each night, with some reporting to do more than the Nysmith guideline. So what could be the disconnect?
According to Ann Dolin, author of Homework Made Simple and founder of Educational Connections, there could be many different causes at play. She suggests that one of the best things parents can do is to communicate with teachers. Dolin says there’s no way for a teacher to know if a student is spending hours and hours on homework each night unless parents talk to them and tell them what’s going on at home. Once the line of communication has been opened, teachers and parents together can try to understand what might be making a 30-minute homework load turn into 2 hours of homework each night.
Where a child chooses to do homework could also be either helpful or harmful to productivity. Dolin says that although there is no “one perfect place to do homework,” parents and students may want to try a couple of different options to see which one is the most productive. Many parents report that they’ve seen their children most productive doing homework in a common area of the household such as the dining room or kitchen table. Some children prefer the hum of a busy space and with parents nearby, they can ask questions if help is needed. Common spaces also allow parents to keep an eye on their child as they do homework and minimize any distractions.
Another tip that Dolin recommends is finding a designated time to do homework. With some students participating in activities like sports teams, clubs, and other after school activities, the “right” time of day may possibly vary from day to day. However, Dolin recommends six time of day options to discuss with your student. They are:
1) Right after school
2) After a 30 minute break (after returning home from school)
3) Before dinner
4) After dinner
5) Before bed
6) Before school
The best time of day for your child to do homework will vary from student to student but if you can agree on what makes the most sense and which will be most productive, you’ll cut down on a lot of homework headaches.
Having a start time and end time can also help keep your child organized. For those children who want to speed through homework so they can just be done with it, setting a designated 30-minute homework window may just be the answer. If your child finishes their homework in 10 minutes within that 30-minute time window, they can read for pleasure or start working on a project that may not be due the next day but in the next week or two. Dolin suggests setting a visible timer (no more than 30 minutes) in the area in which your child is doing homework, so that they can also keep an eye on the time.
If organizational skills are more of what your child needs, “chunking” assignments or breaking up homework by subject can help prevent children from being bogged down too long on a particular subject. For any one homework assignment, students can also “chunk” by choosing to answer or finish the easy parts first, then moving on to the harder ones. They can also complete the first few questions or half the page of an assignment before taking a short break and returning to finish the rest.
Nysmith’s Upper School Director, Nora Webb, says that making homework time a family affair, can also help children get started more easily on homework and remain on task. For example, setting aside a specific time each night where parents and children can separately but together engage in quiet time doing homework or reading, can really help children get into a consistent routine.
Finally, when it comes to homework, knowing how to play our role as parents can be difficult. Dolin says that parent’s responsibilities in homework include setting routines, creating external structure, providing guidance, and checking for completion (not quality). And always remember that your student’s success is a joint effort between student, parent and school with communication being key.