All homeworked out?

Parents sound off on finding the right balance between hitting the books and breaking out the board games in households increasingly pressed for time.

By GreatSchools Staff

When it comes to your kids, are nightly worksheets, reading logs, and book reports getting in the way of after-school activities and family dinners — or even holiday plans? You're not alone.

"My daughter's third-grade year started out with between two and three hours of homework a night," says MagnetMom, a GreatSchools member whose daughter is enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District. For her active family, it was simply too much. "With sports and music lessons, the last thing [children] need are dittos or busywork," she explains. "The reality is we're a really busy family, and homework is the thing that keeps the kids from getting the most sleep possible."

After other parents complained, the teachers reduced the load to an hour per night — which is still too much for MagnetMom. "I see how it's important to build the skills they'll need for homework in high school," she says, "but I really don't see how the stuff they send home has much benefit. I could take the same hour and watch a great program on the History Channel or the Discovery Channel or go to a website that features multiplication tables and get more out of it."

Depending on a school's homework policy, teachers may assume students can't have too much of a good thing: the more work assigned, the more learning takes place. But, as many GreatSchools parents point out, excessive assignments can take away from family time — which is often in short supply for busy, two-income households. There's nothing wrong with wanting your kids to study hard, they argue, but it's important to remember that not all lessons come from hitting the books.

Michellea, the mother of a middle-schooler in Massachusetts, believes that free time and free play are critical for developing social and problem-solving skills. Like MagnetMom, she's skeptical about the benefits of marathon-length assignments: "While some homework can reinforce certain skills and help teachers understand [what students can handle], hours of homework is unproductive and unhealthy, in my mind!"

Mominseattle agrees, speculating on the potential drawbacks of such a heavy load. "One to three hours a night plus a full day of school is more work than most adults have at their jobs," she says. "I believe [too much homework] has the potential to ultimately undermine children's inherent curiosity. They should have time to enjoy their childhood, which is already short enough."

So how do parents concerned about their overloaded kids try to compensate for worksheets galore? Numberone, a mother of three boys, suggests sneaking in quality time whenever possible. "In my house, family time starts [when] you wake up and say good morning," she says. "It doesn't matter what you talk about or how long you watch TV — it could be for two minutes or two hours — it is still considered family time." For Michellea, "family meals, downtime, and developing interests are just as important as schoolwork. It's possible to have an excellent education and maintain life balance."

While many search for such balance, not all GreatSchools parents want to halt homework altogether. "American parents need to stop complaining and start supporting their teachers and showing their children what academic effort means," says one. "A good work ethic is what the American dream was built on." A few moms even had suggestions for how teachers could take the needs (and schedules) of families into consideration, such as assigning weekly homework packets that give children the flexibility to decide when to complete their work.

Has family time taken a backseat to homework in your household? How do you balance academics and activities? Add your two cents to the homework discussion in our parent community.