HomeAcademics & ActivitiesHomework

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.

Comments from readers

"sweet article"
"Adults work approximately 8 hours per day. Should we also go home and do 2-3 hours of more work? I don't think so. I don't think any child should have more than 1 hour of homework unless they are failing a subject."
"Hello, I'm an English teacher as a foreign language in a bilingual school. In my opinion homework has to be studied carefully before sending it. As we plan our lessons based on the aims, we have to plan the tasks to be done at home following an aim too. these aims can be academical or within the family environment. Reading a book for pleasure, for example has to be an aim, since they are losing this skill since the computer (very helpful according to the usage) has invaded us and especially them. I send every Friday a short chapter written by a fabolous writer as Roald Dahl was to be read during a week, they have plenty of time to do it and parents get involve in it too. We have found that they find it really exciting my aim at the beginning was to have fun reading and then once they had had found their fun I started to change my aim. Something that happened to two girls in one of my classes was, their mothers and sometimes fathers were very involved with their tasks and the! se girls were proud of it since their family was with them, their marks were excellent and very good respectively at the end of the year. however I don't think they could have done it if their family wouldn't be there with them. It is clearly reflected accademically when the family backup their kids and when it doesn't.the homework has to have an aim a solid one and I think the basic is to create responsibility and develop their independence as well as having their family get involve in it too, in order to not forget their kids need them more than any other person in the world."
"I agree they should do the work in school so they can spend quality time with their families"
"There needs to be a middle ground. Our grade school hands out homework, probably equivalent to the '10 min per grade' scale or less, and it's usually with a deadline of 2 to 3 days. There are a few nights that it is a little hard with the once a week music lesson, religion class and once a month 4-H, but I think we're doing good with it. But there are parents that complain it's too much. One parent has her child in dance, karate, girl scouts, and sports. Many of these require up to 3 nights a week. There are many nights with back to back events. Who is really loading too much on kids? Often it's the parents."
"My fifth grader gets so much HW that she often refuses to complete certain assignments. I admit, I often agree. What is the point of writing spelling words 5 times each? Why does she need to complete 30 math problems? According to my daughter, the math problems are not reviewed. Whenever I bring this point up, I have to hear about children needed to reach their potential. Give me a break! "
"I believe in homework, just not every night of the week. 2 or 3 times a week would be enough, thereby allowing for a couple of evenings to watch something educational on television or play a game. All work and no play is no fun for anybody."