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Homework, How Much Should Parents Do

Feb04

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The bane of my existence is homework. The sheer volume of the homework assigned, the amount of “help” that many parents give their children, to the discomfort I feel in allowing my children to do their homework themselves, all these things stress me out to no end. The last one I finally let go when I realized I was not doing my children any favors by doing their work for them, even though deep down I feel as though I am judged when my children hand in less than perfect homework assignments.

The phone rings. It is the mother of one of my son’s classmates.

Have ya’ll figured out math problems 3 and 5 yet?

Uh, I don’t know if my son has done finished yet.

Well, we can’t figure out what to do. My husband and I disagree on how to solve the problem. I was hoping you would know.

And herein lies much of the problem that I see with homework. The parents are doing it, not the kids.

Recently my 4th grade son had an extensive homework project that was supposed to be worked on over the period of a couple weeks. For a variety of reasons the project was way too difficult for a child that age to complete on their own. All of the parents I spoke with were essentially doing the project for their child. When the assignment was done and turned in I was the only parent who spoke up and admitted that had I not helped the project would not, could not, have been done. I am not sure why none of the other parents were willing to admit this. Maybe they were afraid that it was only their child unable to do the work? I don’t know.

It seems so much more intense than I remember from when I was a kid. My parents never helped me with homework or projects. School was always my job. Now with my own children I notice that parental involvement is all but required. And the line between helping and doing is blurred, at least for some parents.
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For my own sanity, and the well being of my children, I refuse to outright do their homework, projects, or assignments. I am forever saying that I have already done 4th, 6th, 7th, fill-in the blank grade and I don’t need to do it again.

I consider myself more of a homework facilitator. These are my rules.

I will provide an environment conducive to doing homework. For us this means no tv on school days, with the rare exception, and a hearty snack after school before the witching homework hour.

I will provide all the materials that they need to complete a project. This means I have scissors, glue sticks, markers, colored paper and poster board on hand.

I will be a sounding board for ideas, mostly this applies to my oldest kids who are in high school and writing essays and papers.

I will be as knowledgeable as I can about the subjects they are learning. When my older kids read novels, if they aren’t ones I have already read, I will read them also. This way I can discuss the books with them. If they are genuinely stumped on a problem or concept I will help them look it up in their textbook.

I will let them fail, so that they might succeed in the long run.

The last one is the most difficult for me. I suspect it is also the most difficult for all parents which is why they get sucked in to doing their child’s homework. None of us likes to see our children do poorly at anything.

My eldest son had a huge multi-disciplinary project due this week. He had known about this project for at least a month and yet chose to wait until the night before it was due to begin working on it. At 7pm that night he had asked me if I would help him.

Help you do what?

I don’t know, just help me.

Well, once you write your essays I will be more than happy to read them over. But I’m not staying up all night. And I am not helping you write anything.

Fine.

It would have been easy to do the work for him, to write the essays, or to spoon feed him the answers. I wanted to help him. I wanted him to get a good grade. I also want him to be capable, independent, and confident in his own abilities. In the end I went to bed and left him sitting at the kitchen table working. I was confident that it would be a good learning experience. It would teach him why he shouldn’t procrastinate. At 4am I went into the kitchen to get a drink and there sat my son, still working on his project. He did not go to bed for another hour.

That morning as he left for school, tired and complaining, I asked him what he thought he could learn from this experience. I fully expected him to answer that he would begin working on his projects as soon as they were assigned and not put it off until the last possible minute.

Next time I will start as soon as I get home from school… or maybe even the day before that.

Baby steps.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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16 Responses to “Homework, How Much Should Parents Do”

  1. Professional Twin Mommy Feb 04 at 10:03 am Reply Reply

    Before I was a mom, I taught 9th grade for many years. When this question came up, I always said that if the parent picked up a pencil to “help”, that was crossing the line. In the e-era, I’d say that if a parent is adding any content to a document, that’s crossing the line.

  2. suziejd Feb 04 at 1:45 pm Reply Reply

    I edit, and I help study for tests and quizzes.  Sometimes my older daughter can get herself worked into a lather over how much she “can’t do!” the homework, and in those (increasingly rare) instances, I will help her break down a problem/project into its component parts so she can breathe again. 

    I was going to say I have *never* done a project for them, but it’s not true.  When my older daughter was in 6th grade, she had an electricity project, where she made a game with a complex buzzer/light mechanism.  My father helped her in the beginning stages, leaving her with an almost-unworkable framework.  She fought and fought until it worked, but then, just as she was going to bed, it STOPPED working.  My husband and I were up until 1 a.m. fixing it for her.  But it was definitely the exception to the very strict rule.

  3. Jo Feb 04 at 4:43 pm Reply Reply

    You are so right on with this!  

    “It seems so much more intense than I remember from when I was a kid. My parents never helped me with homework or projects. School was always my job. Now with my own children I notice that parental involvement is all but required. And the line between helping and doing is blurred, at least for some parents.”- YES!!!

    I have 3 kids- 2 girls and a boy.  The girls excel in school and I rarely if ever help them.  The boy, well he struggles in school ( 3rd grade) and its a whole different ball game.  I am struggling with this very topic myself.

  4. Vera Feb 04 at 8:12 pm Reply Reply

    I went to a french immersion elementary school, and none of my relatives spoke french, so they were not so much unwilling as they were unable to help me complete projects. I was home schooled through middle school and I was very behind for a very long time simply because I didn’t dedicate myself to doing the work. Still, my parents never did my work for me. When I was 17 I went to live in a different country to train for a sport and I did correspondence. Nobody could help me, but my parents, over the phone, explained things in different ways, with different examples from the problems I needed to do, so that at the end of the day it was always my work. Learning that other people doing my schoolwork for me doesn’t teach my anything was one of the most important lessons of my life. If my parents had helped me I would have gone to university and been overwhelmed by the amount of work with no help. As it turned out, I went to university and while everyone else spent freshman year drowning in schoolwork, I was able to hold down a job and get all of my studies in, and I credit that to my parents leaving it up to me to do it. Now that I am a mother of school aged children, my husband and I have decided to take a similar approach. It pays off in the end. 

  5. Beth Feb 05 at 10:36 am Reply Reply

    I so agree with you – way too much parential involvement. I have 6 kids and live in a smallish town. The teacher/principals all know that I won’t “do” my kids homework because I already graduated from the very same schools they’re attending – and I show them my diploma as proof! Kids need to succeed and fail on their own, and while I struggle with the failing part, I also know that is also a success for them, just a little different.

  6. Pogita Feb 05 at 1:35 pm Reply Reply

    I teach at the university level. I am constantly amazed by the students who cannot even follow the directions for the simplest assignment. This is the first time that these students have been on their own with schoolwork. They are not prepared for the responsibility. This puts them at a great disadvantage compared to the students who have a sense of responsibility.  Parents who do the work for their kids or even help them plan the work are doing them no favors.

    Alternatively asking elementary aged kids to complete a full day at school and then spend a couple hours on homework is ridiculous. 

  7. Anna Feb 05 at 7:46 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a college student now, and my mother reads over my essays for spelling errors. I also have friends do this for me and in turn will do it for my friends. 

    She does things like, goes with me to Goodwill to look at inspiration for my ceramics projects. But she doesn’t draw the sketches for me or sculpt the clay for me. 

    I know some kids in my classes whose parents STILL do their homework. I also know one girl whose mother held her hand all through high school and sat at the table and helped her do all her work. When she got to college, her Mom stopped doing that….

    That girl failed out. 

  8. Sid Feb 08 at 9:03 am Reply Reply

    I second the opinion that asking kids to spend all day at school and then several hours on homework is serious overkill. Perhaps if parents start refusing to do their kids homework it will become more apparent that it’s too much. For example, in the case Chris mentions about the 4th grade project. When my daughter starts school I intend to push back when I think the volume of homework is excessive. I don’t take my work home with me, why should she have to?

  9. meredith Feb 08 at 11:45 am Reply Reply

    I won’t do any homework for my girls, but if they want me to quiz them on a subject for an up-coming test, I will….IF they have already reviewed the subject. If I start asking them questions and it becomes clear that they haven’t even looked over their lesson, I send them back to their room to study it by themselves first.

  10. KerryQ Feb 08 at 1:43 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, is this post timely. My second grader has a project to turn in (in addition to her daily hour of homework), and completely lacks the planning and organizational skills to do it alone. This has taken approximately 20 hours of work over the last couple of weeks. Completely inappropriate for her age, I think. It’s also frustrating when you don’t know what level of work the teacher expects.

  11. Mary Feb 08 at 3:07 pm Reply Reply

    For my 10th grader I’ll help by editing or give an occasional hint (Masters in English) on where to look in said reading /writing project.   But I have rules – there MUST be a typewritten rough draft and prewriting essentials – like an outline and note cards – before I will edit and I will not edit the day off. I need it two days out.  

    I will mark grammar mistakes and offer advice on sentence wording  (He’s AP/Pre AP and NONe of this is done at his school) and give ideas where to add what.  

    For the younget two I’ll try to answer what questions I can only after there has been an attempt.   With my middle son he had a project due on kites.  we offered to help him with construction but he insisted on figuring out himself.  When I took him to school I saw many kites that were amazing.   He came home from school saying he got a 98 – the highest in his class – because his looked like he did it himself.  A lesson for both of us.  

    What gets me is how many assignments they are given and how unclear the directions are.  

  12. JCF Feb 16 at 11:21 pm Reply Reply

    As a former high school English teacher, I spent a lot of time discussing “homework management” with parents. If you know your child is having issues staying organized and completing homework, maybe you need to work with your child at home to learn how to keep a weekly calendar. Maybe you need to check your child’s homework every night for completion. Maybe you need to quiz him/her the night before a vocabulary test. But you don’t need to write the essay, answer the questions that go along with the book, etc. I had a couple of instances of very upset parents when an essay didn’t receive an A, and I suspected the hurt feelings were because the PARENT didn’t get an A on the essay they wrote for the child. It is a tough line to walk for parents, I know. And it is also a tough line for teachers to walk in how to grade assignments that were so clearly not done by the student alone. I’d much rather receive a phone call from a parent to discuss why a child is incapable of completing the assignment than to receive an assignment completed by the parent.

  13. Debby May 18 at 9:40 pm Reply Reply

    A friend of my son’s (in high school) has always refused to do his homework, with no consequences from the school or parents. His mother mentioned to me one day that she had to do a big project for her son that weekend since he hadn’t gotten it done. I asked why the heck she was doing her high school student’s homework. Her response: You don’t understand! If I don’t do it for him, he’ll fail!

    You think?

  14. Heather Aug 19 at 12:46 pm Reply Reply

    Side note from a teacher: when it’s more than obvious that you’ve done your kids work, guess what, I don’t grade it. I drop it from the grade book and pretend it doesn’t exist. That doesn’t help your kid either. FYI, I know what your child’s handwriting looks like!

  15. Wendy Mar 18 at 5:15 pm Reply Reply

    When a parent does their children’s homework, they are essentially CHEATING! My son recently wrote his own college applications. They were not perfect. I was surprised to find out later that a neighbor “basically wrote” her daughter’s essays and didn’t think twice about it. In this case, the parent-written essays literally might take opportunities away from my son because the mom did the work – not the daughter. Parents doing their children’s work is a form of deception. It is a form of plagiarism. Basically your children takes the credit for the parent’s work (it doesn’t matter that they give permission for them to do so – it is still plagiarism).

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  1. How much should parents help with homework? - Jan 08

    [...] some parents, helping their children can mean allowing them fail.  In a post on alphamom.com, one mother blogged about an incident in which her eldest son waited until the night before a [...]

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