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My Kindergartner Hates Doing Homework

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My son is in kindergarten and he already hates doing his homework. He cries and whines about it. I tried rewarding him with chocolate but I don't want to have to bribe him to do his homework. How can I motivate him or make it fun? And how can I help him develop good homework habits?

Answer:

In their kindergarten year, children have a lot to get used to, especially if they haven't been away from home before, or haven't had a lot of structure in their days. As such, they are often exhausted at the end of the school day, or over-stimulated and over-active. Parents have adjustments, too, and while it is commendable that you want to instill good work habits in your son right away, it may be that your expectations are a little high. I think with a few minor adjustments, homework time can become less of a battlefield for you.

Check with your son's teacher and find out if the same behaviors are occurring in the classroom. Does he do his in-class work without problems, or is he resisting there as well? Talk with the teacher about strategies to use at home, so there is consistency between both settings. Your goal should be to create the expectation that homework is a regular part of your son's day, like brushing his teeth or putting away toys. But like those habits, it won't happen overnight. It is an ongoing process for most children.

Some other points to consider:

The point of homework in Kindergarten is twofold. First, young students must get used to the idea of taking something home from school, and then bringing it back. Just learning to do this is a big deal. Second, Kindergarten homework is usually a review of something already learned and practiced in the classroom. It should never be something new to him. So, your son should have already mastered the work. Remind him that he already knows how to do it, and that homework is a kind of practice, like riding a bike or catching a ball.

The timing of homework can be very important. If you are trying to get him to do it right after school, he may be too overwhelmed. After holding their behavior together at school all day, oftentimes kids "let down" when they get home, and this is when parents see crankiness, whining, and other misbehaviors. Think of it as letting out frustration in a safe place! So, your son may need some down time before you introduce homework. Let him have a snack and watch a short TV program, play a game with you, or engage in a physical activity.

Finally, homework should not take very long to complete. A good rule of thumb is five to ten minutes for every grade: 5-10 for Kindergarten, 10-15 for first grade, etc.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

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

05/24/2012:
"I think it is really disturbing that, as a psychologist, it has not even occurred to you that KINDERGARTNERS SHOULD NOT BE GIVEN HOMEWORK!!! A whole day at school amongst strangers being told to sit still, be quiet, not play, do this, do that, dont touch...the list goes on. Home is for down time, They need to relax, be themselves, play, allow their imaginations to simply flow - all the key self soothing elements for building creativity and happiness later in life. How is any of that going to happen when your parents are obliged to start nagging you to get MORE work done? Is it only tortorous to me to hear parents saying that their children are spending evenings at home crying about schoolwork and learning? Does anyone even hear this cry of distress? No it is not the individual child's inability to cope, it is endemic. Why cant we hear them? This is how I grew up - in a poor country where vast amounts of homework was dished out to compensate for lousy teaching and us! eless curriculums. The burnout experienced by a good 30% of us is endemic in the level of unemployment and lack of motivation amongst our generation of middle aged adults. You have a responsibility, as a health professional, to consider the psychological impact of this on the child. Do your job. "
03/9/2011:
"I am at a loss regarding this homework issue. My daughter's classwork is so boring / simple for her that she finishes it before the teacher explains what to do. But the homework she brings home takes thirty minutes to an hour sometimes. Last night she had to write twelve complete sentences about a story I read to her. Twelve sentences. In kindergarten?? Are you kidding me? She now loathes school because 'it's boring' and loathes homework as well (I would too if that's what I was faced with at age 5!!). I'm beside myself!"
12/15/2010:
"Experts say that homework in kindergarten has not been proven to improve academic achievementin later years. There should be no homework and the research shows tha thomework has no benefits for kindergartners and the most may have neative consequences. However, my son gets lots of homework in kindergarten as well. They have no clue anymore in education and this is why all is abnormal and the results are so poor. They do not even care about what experts say, edcuators behave like totla non-professionals and do all they wish, with disregard with research and studies that prove what is beneficial and wha tis not, what works and what does not work. There is no concern for quality education, unfortunatelly American teachers ar ethe ost anti-education people of all. They do not wish to be accountable and it doe snot matte rthey mess up generations of children."
03/4/2010:
"A Kindergartner shouldn't be doing homework."
01/25/2010:
"Your child is receiving homework assignments in kindergarten? I don't care how you slice it up, children should not be getting homework so early in life. That is cruel and unusual. I would consider switching school immediately. You are robbing your son of his childhood"
08/5/2009:
"My child has becomed lazy he is now in first grade but eversince he got in kinder he seems unmotivated, lazy and tends to ignore. He waits untill i raise my voice react(i get really mad)to. I ask why does this have to happend for him to react did he just got use to me getting mad to react. I don't like getting mad. I try talking, playing games, He just goes to lala land and ignores me and waits for me to get mad. I don't know what to do. No even a rewards chart helped.How can i get him not to be lazy and not to ignore me (block me out)"
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