Is it helpful to step in and takeover homework for your kids? It’s a contentious topic. We asked two parents and an expert.
YES by Liz Hastings
My husband built a boat, ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’ when Hanna was in Grade 2. It held the most pennies out of all of the other boats constructed by similarly eager Dads and earned our child an A+. It was no secret to the teacher (who I had earlier asked how I fared on my pioneer village project) that my husband was the ship’s captain.
We knew we weren’t fooling anyone by helping our kids with their weekend projects. If they weren’t able to finish their work in the six-plus hours they spent at school, we made ourselves available so our evenings and weekends could be used enjoying family time and extracurricular activities.
For every study that implies helping your kids with homework may interfere with future achievement, there is an equal number encouraging families to get their kids outside, promoting healthy living. How can we accomplish both if our kids are stuck at a desk at home building a ship filled with pennies?
According to a study by the Canadian Council on Learning, “homework appears to have little or no effect among elementary school students.” The Alberta Teachers’ Association recommends no more than 30 minutes a night. Another common benchmark is 10 minutes a night per grade, both a small enough amount of time to preserve family dinners and reduce stress and anxiety at home.
Dr. Linda Mahood, a University of Guelph professor admits when her kids were young, she spent a disproportionate amount of time colouring maps because she felt her children’s time was better served riding their bikes or playing a game with their family. She still feels their family was robbed of bonding time due to a seemingly increased load of weekend assignments.
Today, I might offer to type a paper for one of my kids provided the project isn’t marking their typing skills but instead speeds up the process so we can move onto other more important things—like living.
NO by Kate Winn
Doing homework without a parent constantly by your side builds independence. I learned this lesson early, with the medieval castle fiasco of 1987—my teacher parents refused to build me one. While I was temporarily traumatized, I appreciate it now. “What if kids don’t understand the work?” you ask. Of course you can read over instructions or clarify something, but I’ve seen many capable students (perhaps one who shares my DNA) con their parents. While students with special needs are of course an exception, don’t believe every tear-filled plea that your child neeeeeeeds heeeeeeelp—though if the struggles are sincere and ongoing, definitely let the teacher know. It’s also important for kids to face the consequences of incomplete work. My nine-year-old had a weekend to research five facts about a plant and forgot, and I had no desire to save her.
Homework done independently also gives the teacher an idea of what your child can do. If my girls truly don’t understand something, or I feel they’ll be wasting their time without a nudge, I’ll do a “drive by”—lean in, give support, walk away—but then I write a note to let the teacher know (e.g. “needed a refresher on how to carry the 10”).
Teachers can usually tell if a parent has done the work. When I taught French I quickly recognized the use of a verb tense the student hadn’t even learned. And kids are very honest: “I don’t know how I got that answer; my mom wrote it after I went to bed.” True story.
There are many ways you can help with homework: provide supplies, teach organization, have conversations about their learning, and give your kids the gifts of responsibility and independence that come with doing the actual work themselves.
People for Education, an independent parents’ group working to support public education in Ontario, shares some homework management tips:
Parents and caregivers can help students with their homework, but not by doing it.
Unless it is a project, homework should be a review of what students are learning in class, so students should be able to do their homework on their own. If your child doesn’t understand the homework, ask how the teacher taught the lesson. This may help your child remember what was learned earlier and how to get to the answer. Let your child know that it is okay to ask the teacher for help if he or she doesn’t understand something.
Help your child choose the best time and place to do homework. By having a regular homework time, it becomes part of the routine and reduces arguments. Encourage your kids to get their homework done earlier in the evening, when they have more energy. This also allows time to relax before bed.
Encourage older children to use their school agenda to keep track of assignments and tests; you can also help set up a work schedule or even a calendar for larger projects. Make sure students have all the homework supplies they need—pencils, rulers, markers, paper.
If your child is getting frustrated or upset, have them take a break, and try again a bit later.
If your child can’t complete the homework after trying his or her best, send the work back to school incomplete, with a note on the homework or in the agenda explaining why it isn’t finished. This helps the teacher understand the problems, and see that you are involved in your child’s education.
If your child is consistently unable to do his or her homework, make an appointment to speak to the teacher.
Originally published in August 2015. Adapted with permission from peopleforeducation.ca.