Let’s talk about the dreaded H-word: Homework. There, I said it. Did you shudder? Because just hearing the word alone sends shivers down my spine.
Few things get parents as riled up as homework, and for good reason too. Our kids spend 7-8 hours in school getting their learn on, only to come home with pages of extra work that we, their exhausted and stretched-too-thin parents, need to guide them through. I don’t know about what goes down in your house, but homework usually ends in tears, screaming, or slammed doors – or all three.
Until now, that is.
My middle-schooler has an optional “homework club” after school where he can get extra help or do his work in the company of his peers. An extrovert who thrives in a group environment, this is perfect for him. If he doesn’t go to homework club, he’ll often get together with a friend or two after school when they will do their homework together. I’m sure that the percentage of talking, texting, and TikTok-video-watching vastly outweighs the amount of time they actually spend on homework, but as long as the work gets done, fine by me.
My elementary-aged child, on the other hand, still needs a bit of supervision and hand-holding when it comes to homework. In years past, there was whining, nagging, tears and everyone ended up angry at each other. Even though the homework only took about 20-30 minutes, those were the worst 30 minutes of our day. And don’t even get me started on the absurdity of reading logs.
Our kids spend 7-8 hours in school getting their learn on, only to come home with pages of extra work that we, their exhausted and stretched-too-thin parents, need to guide them through.
But this year, our school seemed to be doing something different without actually changing the “homework policy,” per se. At the outset of the school year, teachers sympathized with the homework struggle. They agreed that they, as parents, weren’t necessarily a fan of it either. And then they described homework as something else entirely.
It’s a communication tool, several teachers said at curriculum night. That’s all, a communication tool between parents, students and teachers. It’s a way for teachers to communicate to parents in a concrete way what their kids are working on. (Because let’s be honest, we all just skim those weekly email updates, amirite?) It’s a way for students to communicate whether they understand the material or need some extra help. And it’s a way for parents and their kids to communicate with each other about what they’re learning all day.
I’ve gotta tell you, when I heard it explained that way, a light bulb went off.
Homework doesn’t need to be a pain in the ass. Well, at least not such a pain in the ass. If a child is struggling with a worksheet, there’s no need for crying; just return the sheet with a “needs extra help” written at the top. There is leeway and flexibility when homework doesn’t get done. After all it’s about communication, not completion. Or perfection.
On more than one occasion this year, when my son was struggling with a math problem, I’ve told him, “Skip it. Don’t do the homework. We’ll just tell your teacher you don’t understand this and you can practice it in school tomorrow.”
“Really?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes, really.” And then he tried again and actually finished the worksheet without difficulty. Because sometimes some flexibility, having a way out, is all a kid needs to actually get through the challenge. He was able to relax, and that happened to be what he needed to push through.
This “homework as communication” approach can also help those parents who may not have the time, resources, and ability to help their child. According to Healthline, research found that family fights about homework were 200% more likely when parents didn’t have a college degree. Here’s the reality: Not all parents speak English as a first language or have a college (or even a high school degree). And let’s be honest, even those who have graduated high school or college still don’t know what TF is happening with those “new math” problems nowadays.
The other critical factor is that homework is minimal. According to Healthline, “both the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) support a standard of “10 minutes of homework per grade level” and setting a general limit on after-school studying…But the most recent study to examine the issue found that kids in early elementary school received about three times the amount of recommended homework.”
This “homework as communication” approach can also help those parents who may not have the time, resources, and ability to help their child.
10 minutes per grade. That’s it. I have a fourth grader, so that would be about 40 minutes of homework, and currently we are falling well below that time. He often does his homework in the 10-minute car ride to after-school activities or while I’m finishing up end-of-the-workday emails at the kitchen table. There is also bedtime reading, but that is done without monitoring and solely for pleasure – as it should be. We don’t count the minutes or pay attention to whether the books they are reading are at (or below) grade level. Whatever brings them joy is just fine. And one of the really cool things about having a middle schooler is that he can now recommend books that I might like to read. Win-win.
Listen, as parents we fight a million battles every day over everything from teeth brushing and getting pee in (not on) the toilet to not being an asshole to their brother. Homework shouldn’t be one of those battles. And maybe it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing issue either.