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Ask the Experts

My Second-Grader Works Too Slowly

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My second-grader works very slowly. We both work on her homework during the afternoon. She usually needs to do about three to four pages of homework. We start at 6:00 p.m. and she does not finish until 7:30 p.m. I don't know what to do for her to work at a faster pace. Am I being too pushy? When she asks me to give her a 10-minute break during that period of time, should I? She likes to work more with math and does it much faster than reading and writing. What can I do to help her improve her work pace?

Answer:

It is sensible to check yourself out on this one. Homework seems to be one of the biggest sources of frustration for everyone involved, and the debate about its efficacy has become heated. Some experts say we need children to do more because we are falling behind in education. Others say it is our curriculum that is the problem and that this won't be solved by giving more homework. To make it more complicated, some studies suggest that homework (before sixth grade) does little to improve academic success. No matter what your bias, homework is not going away. So it helps to be positive about it around your child.

The U.S. Department of Education offers these guidelines: kindergarten through second grade - 10 to 20 minutes each day; third through sixth grade- 30 to 60 minutes. However, I think there are so many factors involved, such as when and where the child does homework and how difficult it is based on the child's skill level, that these guidelines may not be very helpful. Check in with your child's teacher about her expectations and what she feels your daughter should be able to accomplish, based on how she completes her work in class. I like that your daughter is asking for what she needs. Try giving her a 10-minute break and see how she does with it. Avoid difficult transitions like watching television. Experiment with the order of her work. Some children do better doing what they like first and others like doing the easier part last. It is your daughter's homework so let her complete it at her pace. Then you can go over it with her to see how she did. Keeping children on task is helpful, but too much pushing can be counterproductive.


Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

10/27/2009:
"I too have a 2nd grade son which is very bright yet procrastinates with his homework unbelievably. One thing that I found that helped is staying at school (in the library or something) and finishing it there. For some reason he gets through it very quickly and efficiently. Another challenge is that we have difficulty finding a room at school to do the work after school. "
11/13/2007:
"I have a gifted child in a challenging program that promised an IEP and has instead delivered frantic teachers testing and grading things that my 7 year old has had minimal time to process and contextualize let alone master. It's absurd. We do our best to be 'positive' about the situation, but my very bright and engaging little child is beginning to resent school. An average night of homework includes: 2-3 work sheets, studying 20 or so spelling words (some very difficult), reviewing math add/sub facts to 20, nightly reading, preparation for reading test and/or unit test. She is graded on handwriting, yet receives no formal handwriting instruction. They are expected to write paragraphs and complete, detailed sentences before they have been taught sophisticated grammar. My daughter is miserable and so am I. We see her grades beginning to suffer because she is not receiving a true IEP and her special skills are not being accessed and supported. I hate 2nd grade."
05/17/2007:
"Our 2nd grade daughter has always made A Honor roll, she's bright, and makes good decisions. When it comes to homework though she works at a snail's pace. Initially I thought it was a problem with her. However, I'm convinced now that she is burned out and tired of sitting in a chair for so many hours each school day. She should not be expected to come home and spend another 1-2 hours on homework at her age. Education is extremely important to our family but homework on a daily basis is just too much when you consider the hours they spend in a classroom setting day after day. My feeling is that in 7 hours this work should have been completed at school before returning home and not the other way around."
05/17/2007:
"Our 2nd grade daughter has always made A Honor roll, she's bright, and makes good decisions. When it comes to homework though she works at a snail's pace. Initially I thought it was a problem with her. However, I'm convinced now that she is burned out and tired of sitting in a chair for so many hours each school day. She should not be expected to come home and spend another 1-2 hours on homework at her age. Education is extremely important to our family but homework on a daily basis is just too much when you consider the hours they spend in a classroom setting day after day. My feeling is that in 7 hours this work should have been completed at school before returning home and not the other way around."
01/10/2007:
"I can commiserate. I have a very advanced 2nd grader who gets about 15 pages of homework per week. He hates doing it because it's so easy that it's boring. He wants more challenging work but the teacher refuses to give it to him because he wont do the boring stuff. I also have a very delayed 2nd grader who is just starting to read at a beginning kindergarten level and struggles with his 5-6 pages of homework per week. It takes him 1-2 hours sometimes to complete it while other times it's 20 minutes. They're in different classes and the smarter one resents his homework load while the other one gets to play a lot sooner."
01/10/2007:
"I agree to a point. However, my son won't sit still and procrastinates. He stretches his 20 minute second grade homework into an hour! I think this might be what the writer is trying to ask help on."
01/10/2007:
"I agree that homework for 2nd Grade is a bit much, especially in terms of how many pages they are assigned per night. In LA Unified our Daughter gets 3 to 4 pages per night, a reading page that she needs to read 5 times AND weekly homework that is turned in every Friday, so add that to the stockpile. The hard part is she needs us to help her for most of it so we have to be available for an hour or more. She gets upset that she was to do so much and this in turn sours her to homework. We have a difficult time almost every night. Give us a break, its 2nd Grade for crying out loud!! Frustrated in LA Unified."
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