Asked how much time they spend helping or supervising their children’s homework routine, many of my friends and acquaintances will say “hours.” And after a full day of work and school, it’s exhausting.
Luckily for me, I don’t say this from experience. My kids have never brought home a lot of homework. The reason for that is a combination of two factors; first, my kids have had some wonderful, sensible teachers over the years who have never assigned an unreasonable amount of homework. And the second reason is because neither child is very conscientious when it comes to their schoolwork, so a lot of homework never made it into their backpack.
But also, since I’m on kid #2, I approach homework with a different strategy and a different attitude than I did the first go-round with elementary school. I tracked my oldest online and stayed on top of his assignments to make sure he had them done, and communicated regularly with his teachers just to make sure he was keeping up. It was absolutely exhausting, and I felt like I was a full time student all over again. And did it make him a better student? No, it just absolved him of the responsibility of keeping track of his homework. So now, unless there is something specific they need help with, they’re on their own.
When I was growing up, I can literally not think of a single time that I was ever asked by my parents if I had homework. If I had it, I knew. If I chose not to do it, I knew I was dropping the ball by not finishing my work. It was on me, and would show up on my report card.
I suppose it was a bit different since I was a good student, but had I needed help, I would have asked. Even as an elementary student, you’re aware of your obligations curriculum-wise, whether or not you want to admit it. “The dog ate my homework” is only funny because the kid knows better.
I can tell you one thing, though: had I come home with two hours of homework every night, asking my dad to sit with me to help with six pages of fractions, after he had just worked for eight hours and commuted for two? I can’t imagine.
And that’s what goes on now, in some cases. I have friends who sit with their kids at the kitchen table on a regular basis for two and three hours. This isn’t unusual for them. Some of those people have just worked all day, cooked supper, cleaned up the kitchen, rushed the kids to hockey practice, and haven’t had a moment’s peace. I don’t know how they do it.
Not only that, but it’s a matter of understanding the material, as well. It’s a tale as old as time that kids’ work is usually beyond a parent’s comprehension, but things have changed so much over the years that I expect most of us are at a loss with the new math (I would have been lost with the old math). I can’t imagine having a child in junior high French Immersion, coming home and asking me to explain his science homework. I’d have a better chance translating Egyptian hieroglyphics.
As an acknowledgement of families being overworked and overstressed, a handful of schools have made news over the past year for making changes to their homework policies. These changes range from reducing workloads, to no longer grading homework, to completely eliminating it.
Of course, it will take a lot more than a teacher here and a school there for things to change. Even as parents protest the workload, some, myself included, worry that sending kids home every night with an empty backpack may ultimately hamper their academic progress, not to mention the lessons in accountability and personal responsibility that will be lost.
The bottom line is this: is it useful? Research has shown that homework for elementary students does not necessarily improve academic skills.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t think many teachers are assigning homework just for something to do; I like to believe that each teacher is responsible for delivering and evaluating certain curriculum, and that homework is based on meeting particular targets set by someone higher up. If classes were smaller and kids listened better, they might get more done in class and have less to do at home. If the curriculum targets were different, they might not have to cover so much material. If, if, if.
All I know is that if parents dread homework more than the kids, the intent is lost and something needs to change.