As a former 3rd grade reading teacher and current elementary school parent, I hate homework. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to grade the homework or oversee it in my own house. It’s just that I think too much homework in elementary school is doing a disservice to children. For the record, I also dislike homework in middle school, but this post is geared more toward mamas of little kids.
If you’re struggling at home with too much homework, I hope this post helps! I’d encourage you to start by asking yourself WHY it’s too much homework for your family, and troubleshoot accordingly from there. Good luck, Mama!
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Why Too Much Homework In Elementary School is Counterproductive
First, there are certain types of homework that don’t bother me as badly.
I have no problem with a teacher reminding families to read together each evening. That’s important, and it’s not graded. But if you attach a log or a tracker to it? That steals the fun of reading, and I’m totally opposed to that.
I also think sending home guided reading books that are targeted to your child’s reading level can be helpful.
I don’t mind it when teachers send home flash cards for multiplication facts or other rote memory tasks. Those are rare these days, however.
Most homework is in the form of worksheets reinforcing whatever skill is being taught in the classroom. Worse yet, teachers sometimes send home big important projects that will be on display at school. Big projects requiring parental support sets up some under-resourced children to fail from the beginning.
It widens the achievement gap in public schools.
Homework overlooks the main purpose of public school, which is to provide each child with a level playing field, no matter their background or socioeconomic status. While private school has different goals, public school in America is meant to give each child an opportunity to succeed.
When homework enters the equation, the highest achieving kids, who are often well supported at home, continue to grow. However, high achieving students don’t NEED homework to grow. They’ll often do that on their own with parental guidance.
Meanwhile, the at-risk student population continues to fall behind their peers. It’s not just less parental support at home that causes a problem. Many students don’t even have sufficient access to technology and supplies to do quality work outside of school.
Kids have so many valuable, non-academic skills to learn at home and in their communities.
Kids have limited time in the evening. They have extracurricular activities that add value to their lives like baseball, church and ballet. There are after-school clubs that can provide wonderful opportunities to kids who might not otherwise have a chance to participate in paid activities.
Kids also really need to learn life skills, like how to do laundry, make a bed, mow a lawn and contribute to their family life. I really believe that stuff is important, because it builds kids’ confidence and makes them feel proud of how much they know how to do! When the only thing our kids have time for is school and homework, we send the message that being smart is the only value you can add to society.
Family time is so important.
No matter what form a family takes, those relationships are precious and not to be relegated to the weekend. But finding the quality time together is already hard enough before homework enters the equation. The time spent together should be fun and enriching, and homework is often not that. Families should be baking together, having dance parties in the kitchen, and enjoying the occasional movie night.
Homework is typically poorly differentiated for diverse learners.
Many teachers are required to give homework by their administration but don’t wholeheartedly support it themselves. Consequently, they assign work that is easy to grade, easy for parents to monitor, and not differentiated by ability groups. Therefore, some portion of the class finds the homework too easy and another group is overwhelmed and frustrated by it.
How much homework is too much?
The only commonly stated rule of thumb, originally prescribed by the NEA and National PTA, is 10 minutes for each grade level. They recommend 10 minutes for first graders, 20 minutes for second graders, all the way up to 120 minutes for seniors in high school. These organizations admit it’s an imperfect system, and I’d rather not see any elementary school student doing more than 30 minutes of homework at night. To be honest, I think 120 hours for high school seniors is a bit much, too.
Start by identifying WHY your child has too much homework.
In order to make a game plan for your child who is doing way too much homework, you need to figure out what’s taking so long. Skim through these possible causes before requesting an in-person conversation with your child’s teacher.
Homework is taking too long because the work is too challenging for my child.
This one is easy enough to explain. While you suspect the work is appropriate for some portion of the class, your child is getting frustrated, not understanding the directions, or unable to read the content or perform the operation.
These kiddos do need extra support to catch up with their classmates, so adults in their lives should be adding extra help to catch them up. Simply offering on-grade level extension activities the child can’t complete independently serves no real purpose. This child needs work that is more targeted to their current ability level. The parent needs to replace the assignment with work that fills in the gaps.
If the homework is for math, the child likely can’t complete the work because there’s a missing building block. Perhaps your child can’t figure out long division because grouping never really gelled in their mind or their facts are weak. That gap needs to be filled immediately.
If the homework is for reading, your child is probably struggling because the reading level is inappropriate. Kids who are spending too much energy decoding what they read don’t have enough mental energy left over for comprehension.
Occasionally, teachers will send home test prep in the form of old sample tests or portions of old tests. Some kids will have great comprehension and ability but are just poor with analytical reasoning. These kids need help learning how to take a test and sort through each answer choice.
Sample Script for the Parent/Teacher Meeting
Begin by scheduling an in-person meeting. So much poor communication and frustration is borne out of a badly written email or terse text message. Just meet in person, even if you feel nervous or worried about it. Your child deserves for her parent to have a good relationship with her teacher. You can’t afford for the conversation to go sideways through written communication.
Do realize that a third person will likely be in the room, and this is usually standard procedure and nothing to feel weird about. Don’t be intimidated by that.
In person, say something like this:
“Thanks so much for meeting with me. I’m really getting frustrated with homework. It’s taking us so long to complete, and it’s causing problems for our family. The work is too challenging for him. I really want him to succeed and catch up with his classmates. Can we work together to figure out an alternative assignment for him that will fill the gaps? I want him to grow quickly, but right now, the work is so challenging that we’re both feeling defeated.”
I can promise you that every teacher I’ve ever met (and I’ve worked with a lot) would happily accommodate the request.
Homework is taking too long because my child is unfocused or unmotivated, even though s/he is more than capable of completing it.
Sometimes really capable kids are just OVER IT at the end of the day. In fact, most of them feel that way. If your child is dragging out homework for ages, staring into space, fighting with you about it, or taking too many breaks, this may be the problem. If it appears to be an assignment that your child should finish quickly, it’s not really about having too much homework.
You should be able to eyeball the homework and know approximately how long it should take your child. Teachers in the classroom set timers for every assignment, and your child definitely needs a timer and an incentive to stay focused. Kids are used to seeing a digital timer in their classrooms like the one below. I recommend these be used for homework if kids are struggling to stay focused.
Make sure your kiddo has an after school snack, some outside time if possible, and time to just chill and have fun with family. Don’t fall into the trap of insisting that homework be done immediately after school. It’s normal for kids to need a lengthy break or physical activity. I would avoid screens after school, though. Many students spend a lot of time with technology during the school day.
Move homework closer to bedtime, preferably after dinner. Let them know if they complete quality work before the timer goes off, they can have a reward of some sort. This could be video game time, movie time, etc. Consider adding extra rewards for one week of quality homework.
Of course, you can allow a few extra minutes (within reason) if your child was focused the entire time and you simply underestimated the length of time to complete the work. Resist the urge to correct the homework at the end. Elementary school homework is rarely consequential. If your child tried hard, just let it go and enjoy the rest of your night.
My child is capable, focused, and hardworking, but it’s still just way too much homework.
Sometimes this becomes a real problem as kids get into the upper elementary years and grade levels get departmentalized. The reading teacher thinks it’s no big deal to require 30 minutes of a reading log every night. Unfortunately, teachers from math, science, social studies and specials pile on from there. Before you know it, your third grader has 60 minutes of homework a night. It’s unreasonable, but give your teachers the benefit of the doubt. Try to find out why so much homework is being sent home.
Sometimes, teachers just don’t realize that they’re not communicating well with each other about homework until a calm, reasonable parent walks through the door to address the situation. Teachers sometimes operate in silos, or simply don’t discuss the nitty-gritty of their assignments in meetings. There’s a good chance your child’s teacher doesn’t realize how full the backpack is becoming.
Schedule an in-person meeting with your child’s homeroom teacher rather than spouting off with an angry email.
Sample Script for the Parent/Teacher Meeting
“Thank you for meeting with me today! I wanted to discuss homework with you. I wondered if you’re aware that many nights each week, Tommy is struggling to complete his homework in under an hour each night. I’ve been supervising him, and he’s working really hard. Is it possible that the teaching team isn’t aware of how much is being sent home from the different classrooms?”
Allow the teacher some time to answer the question. If she feels the amount of homework is justified, there’s no need to argue about it. Here’s how you might respond.
“Thank you for clarifying that. We have so many things we need to do together at home as a family: chores, games, and extracurricular activities. I really value education, but the amount of homework is hindering family time.
“I respect your decision to continue sending homework. However, I’m going to set a limit on homework time each night and make sure he works hard for the duration. He will do 30 minutes of homework at night, and we will rotate subjects as needed.
“I hate for his grades to drop, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice while he’s young. We really appreciate how hard you work, and I know you have such a tough job to do. I hope you can respect my decision to protect our family time and sanity.”
Follow Up Email Suggestion
Anytime there’s a disagreement between a teacher and a parent, I recommend you follow up with a quick email to smooth things over if necessary. Try something like this: “Thank you again for taking the time to meet with me. I know you’re probably always short on time. I’m sorry we don’t see eye to eye on (insert issue), but I am grateful for the opportunity to talk and for the way you’re investing in my child.”