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Helping Kids with Homework: Yes or No?

Helping Kids with Homework: Yes or No?

By Amalah

Confession Time: If I’d tackled this topic a couple weeks ago, I would have come down pretty hard on the “no helping your kids with their homework” side of the argument. I mean, I’ll play the two-person math games my first grader comes home with, I’ll buy the art supplies for the geography project, and I’ll do my best to help if a particular homework assignment seems to be stumping or stressing my child out. But other than that, hands off, no hovering or micromanaging, homework is THEIR responsibility to complete, and it’s important to let them turn in their mistakes so their teachers can see what lessons need review/repeated.

And then…report cards came home.

You guys. My children weren’t doing their homework. 

Oh, they were doing SOME of their homework. My first grader would happily complete the math packet that came home on Monday, but was consistently leaving his vocabulary notebook or additional assignments at school and then fibbing to me about it.  “Oh we don’t have that this week.”

My fourth grader was GREAT about the “read for 20 minutes every night” aspect of his reading homework, but was skipping the accompanying comprehension worksheet, and was reading the same couple books over and over again. Any math or science assignment he deemed too difficult was simply not getting done. Entire assignments were getting turned in without a single correct answer to be found. And his grades were suffering as a result of both his failure to complete homework and his refusal to admit that he needed extra help across several subjects.

And I felt like an idiot, and a really lousy parent. A lot of the stuff they were (and weren’t) turning in required a parent’s signature, and they just…ignored that part, and I had NO IDEA. How could we have been so clueless?  How did I not realize my oldest son is struggling academically, when he’s so cheerful about going to school, full of good reports each day, and most of all always perfectly willing and even HAPPY about heading to his room for homework? How did I get duped by a 7 year old?

Turns out the level of independence I thought was reasonable and appropriate was not, at least for my kids, for right now. They skated through a couple months without major consequences and thus simply didn’t care. I certainly wish their teachers had maybe sent an email about the consistent homework shirking, but I guess they assumed we either knew or didn’t care. Both of which couldn’t be further from the truth.

It was a very humbling moment. And we’ve drastically changed our approach to homework now. It’s done at the table, not in your room. I want to see your list of assignments and I’m going to check for completeness. If I see something blatantly incorrect or sloppily done I’m going to ask you to take a second look, and if it’s clear you have absolutely no idea what’s going on we’re going to Deal With That Appropriately.

And yes, kids, I know you liked the old way better. So did I! I really believed my completely hands-off approach was the right one. And maybe one day I won’t have to supervise quite so strictly, but I do think I learned a lesson as well. “Helping” kids with their homework takes many forms. You certainly don’t want to complete homework FOR them, or provide so much “guidance” that you’re basically leading them to the correct answer they wouldn’t get to on their own.

But by not being involved in the homework process at all (beyond just telling them to “go do it”), I was missing out on crucial AND CORRECTABLE information. My oldest has severe ADHD and takes medication…one look at his homework, comprehension and organizational skills would have signaled that he’s had a growth spurt and needed his dosage adjusted. (We did that, and the difference was immediate.) We’ve also called for an extra meeting to make some changes to his IEP and figure out some better teacher/parent communication expectations.  Likewise, my first grader needs more accountability and better strategies to keep him organized and help him remember the various notebooks and and folders he needs to bring home. (AND ALSO HEY DON’T LIE TO ME, CHILD.)

Find more Back-to-School Ideas here!

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Christy

    November 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I guess I’m pretty hands on with the homework. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and I don’t do it for her but I am pretty engaged. It seems to me that things just ARE different than when we were little. I didn’t have homework in grade one, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have much in grade four either. The way that things are taught now, the way we expect kids to learn..they have to do stuff at home, and I think for the most part, most eight or nine year olds don’t really have the mental organization and focus to know how to tackle it. So for my almost nine year old grade four kid, doing homework with her might look like reading it over together, making sure she gets how to tackle it, and then backing off and cleaning up the kitchen while she works on it and chats to me while she does it. That way I get to see how she’s working it out without being all up in her grill about it, and I can help her in the areas she’s struggling with (and I know what those are because she will talk about them more while she works). It’s hard in a house with four kids because goodness knows it’s not quiet here….but we make it work, either by working after the younger three are in bed or by getting up early and spending half an hour together before the other crazies get up. It’s evolving for sure…every year I’m able to back off a bit more and let her take the reins more, and I hope that continues. Will see I guess. 

  • yasmara

    November 18, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Our school uses mandatory grade-level planners and I LOVE THEM. Their assignments (or “no homework”) are supposed to be written on each day. There’s something for *me* to look at to verify what they are supposed to do and by when. They also do their homework at the dinner table, usually after snack & before dinner (often while I’m cooking). I’m there & available, but they mostly complete it themselves & then show it to me for review. So far it’s working pretty well as a system.

  • Tara

    November 18, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I don’t know if this is true in the “real world”, but I had a friend who was studying to be a teacher. They advised them to assign homework on topics that had not been covered yet as well. The theory was, 40 percent of kids with involved parents would teach the material to the kids, which makes it easier for the teacher to cover more material, because they don’t have to teach everyone. Also the 40 percent could help the other 60. So, maybe they were paying attention, but the material really hasn’t been covered yet.

  • Jen

    November 18, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    I can’t answer the poll since none of the responses quite fits.
    First, I am anti- homework in elementary school since the research doesn’t support it. Meaning, there is no proven benefit.
    My first grader attends a school in your old district that has a “Reading Only Homework Practice.” My 4th grader has many assignments with various due dates, mainly in Google Classroom. The piece she needs help with is time management; other than that we are totally hands off unless she needs project supplies.

  • AMC

    November 18, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    My son is in first grade.  I read through his entire homework folder every Monday.  There are always things he has to have my help with – dictation of words and sentences, having him read me a story, using words in sentences.  He does his math homework on his own, but I always check it to be sure the teacher can READ what he wrote (his penmanship sucks) and make him re-do it if I can’t read it.  Homework isn’t graded, per say, so he’s not really getting this feedback from his teacher.  And I’m not sure for a first grader that the whole “this is my grade” thing is really going to sink in.  So I don’t do things for him.  But I am always right there.

  • Jennifer B

    November 18, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    We were very hands on in elementary school. We have a “smart but scattered” kid who is probably borderline ADHD. She struggled to focus in class unless everyone was doing the exact same thing, and often forgot assignments at school etc.

    So we monitered pretty closely. She’s now a high school freshman, and doing really well in her classes. But her time management skills are awful. I can’t figure out how to let her figure some of this stuff out on her own. Do I just let her do it and struggle through the missed deadlines until she starts getting the work done sooner? Or is there a better way?

    • d

      November 18, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Have you thought about submitting to the tweens/teens problem column? 

      • Isabel Kallman

        Isabel Kallman

        November 18, 2015 at 2:48 pm

        Thanks, “D” for the shoutout on Mir’s (yet unnamed) advice column.

        Jennifer B.: Here is an example of a Q&A from Mir’s biweekly advice column about a high school freshman girl with ADHD and homework struggles. Read through and feel free to submit a detailed question to Mir at the email she lists. Hope we can be of help.

  • Kate

    November 18, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    I too am anti-homework because as another poster mentioned it has no proven benefits. From what I’ve read homework to review a concept (which is what we traditionally think of homework as) is completely useless and when it causes stress or takes time away from an activity with actual benefits (like running around outside, imaginative play, or family bonding) it’s actually detrimental. Homework that introduces a new concept/new information (as another poster mentioned) isn’t something that most early elementary kids (and even some older kids) can do on their own. That’s why we have teachers in the first place; if every 6 year old could learn on their own we’d just sit them in front of a stack of books and worksheets. Kids still shouldn’t be doing most of it because it’s better for them to get some down time but if you’re not willing to fight your school about banning homework then you have to help your kid.  

    That being said my 1st grader loves worksheets (I assume it’s related to being on the autism spectrum). His math worksheet generally takes less than 5 minutes and I do check it because 99% of the time if the answer is wrong it’s because he’s rushed and gotten sloppy(like not noticing that a list of problems switched from addition to subtraction). Since this is a problem that’s showing up when he takes tests as well I think the reminder that it’s better to slow down and do it right the first time is good. Coming up with answers to his writing prompts requires a lot of assistance from me and that’s definitely related to his autism. If he was neurotypical I’d think they were stupid and wouldn’t care if my kid did them or not (My “favorite” prompt so far has been “How do you think turkeys feel this time of year? Would you like to be a turkey for a day? Why or why not?”).

  • Cheryl S.

    November 18, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I’m very hands on. I don’t do the work for her, but I do check it and make sure that if there are a bunch of answers that are wrong that either she corrects it because she was being lazy, or that we try to figure it out so she understands it.   

    I really think that kids need their parents to know that they care about school.  You WILL do your homework because it’s important.  If mom doesn’t even care enough to check, why should a kid bother? (I know that wasn’t the case in this situation, but it certainly could be easily misunderstood by little minds!)

  • Filiz

    November 18, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    This is all so weird to me. In the Netherlands, where I live, there’s no such thing as homework in primary school. Kids might have to do an oral presentation about once a year which they’d have to prepare for at home. But that’s it. Kids have to play. That’s how they learn.
    Just the concept of homework at such a young age already doesn’t seem right to me, and I gather from your replies that they even have to do several subjects a day! My goodness!

  • Melissa

    November 18, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    As a kid I totally pulled this crap on my parents. I was a bright 2nd grader who needed to test the limits and simply stopped doing homework. Why? Honestly, I didn’t feel like it and no one noticed for a while. Eventually they did notice, consequences were had and a little more supervision was put in place. But it was mostly hands off, checking for completeness and practice spelling words. From that incident I actually developed better study habits that served me well over time. Having grades suffer in elementary school is far better than in high school.

  • Jeannie

    November 18, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    I agree totally with Amy, on principal. I really think homework is my kid’s responsibility. But. He can’t. He is a similar “bright but scattered” kid who needs to be kept on track and reminded of things. 

    He does the work himself as much as humanly possible (I occasionally scribe for him when there’s a lot to be typed, but he dictates.) but I’m still nearby, keeping him on track and helping him keep track of his time. It’s a lot of work, and I really wish there was less of it, but it’s a good way to teach him those executive skills he’s lacking!

  • Alison

    November 19, 2015 at 1:13 am

    My daughter is in grade one and doesn’t have homework. They take home a book everyday that they are supposed to read and they are rewarded when they fill up their reading sheet but there aren’t consequences for not doing it. She also has a folder of sight words to practice, but again, it’s not required or enforced, just encouraged.

    I’m glad she doesn’t have homework yet. I didn’t have homework until grade four or five. I wonder if it’s just her school, or if it’s a Canadian thing.

  • Claire

    November 19, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Different system here (UK) but I am going to be *that* parent. The one teachers dislike. I was a teacher and even then I disagreed with the notion of HW. If, when my son starts school next September he starts coming home with stacks of the stuff I will be arguing the point. I will read/practice numbers etc with him – stuff we already do. But honestly, what homework does a 5/6/7/8 year old need?! I only really see it as necessary when the hit upper secondary and have coursework/revision that needs doing.

    His school will hate me!!

    • Amanda

      November 19, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      This may be different in the UK, but here in the US (especially in public school), the classroom teacher often has very little control over what homework is assigned. That is often mandated by the school or district. Definitely speak up if the amount of homework is inappropriate, but keep that in mind.

      • Claire

        November 20, 2015 at 7:38 am

        It will be part of the schools framework, and to be fair, the government likes to stick their oar in too. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be having a go at the teacher and go in all guns blazing, but I will be having conversations to see how/why it is being given. Homework that is being given simply because Tuesday is homework day and they *have* to take something home is different to ‘x was talking and being silly and didn’t complete his work in class today’ homework. We shall see anyway. All hypothetical currently!

    • Caro

      August 28, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      More schools are letting parents opt out of homework for early grades. There are no measurable benefits to homework while play is where the real learning happens.

  • Hillary

    November 19, 2015 at 10:30 am

    My daughter is in kindergarten in an inner city public school with “poor performance” based on standardized tests. These tests are hugely important to the school and it is frustrating that they’re trying to raise scores on tests that are notoriously unreliable in non-white student populations. Needless to say, I get the school’s motivation for homework and “teaching to the test” even in kindergarten, but it is causing an enormous amount of anxiety in my 5yo. She is very worried about not turning her homework in on time so it gets done right away but she also wants to do it together and is afraid of making mistakes. I hate homework. And standardized tests in elementary school.

    • Kim

      November 19, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      Almost the exact same boat here. My kindergartener has a ton of homework (which the county does require), and she also gets upset if she thinks she has messed something up. She was almost to the point of tears this week because she accidently colored something wrong and since she couldn’t erase it, she was afraid she was going to get a bad grade. It’s sickening to me that a kid should be saddled with that kind of anxiety at such a young age.

  • Trish

    November 20, 2015 at 8:09 am

    I have a kindergartner that may have some attention issues. I have to supervise homework pretty closely. 1. There are directions on the pages to be followed that he can’t yet read. 2. It takes a lot of positive reinforcement to keep him focused. I do correct him as well. 

  • Meaghan

    November 24, 2015 at 11:23 pm


    If you are still checking back. Her’s my $.02. Homework in K is purely practice and should have not negatives associated with it. For him OR you, in my opinion. Ours always came back marked, but I think that was just to show a child what was expected. It doesn’t count. It shouldn’t count. Set a timer for 15 minutes. The guideline is 10 per grade, but my kiddo is also distractible, so
    I give her a little extra. Once it stops being fun, it is time to stop.

    But, to make it more fun, point out the stars he gets from his teacher and be super enthusiastic about those. (Super low key about errors).
    That way the onus for positive reinforcement isn’t entirely on you.

    And if it is a real problem, talk to he teacher. No one wants a child to be
    turned off by school in K.

    Ultimately my view of homework in the early grades is that it sets a precedent for school work as a responsibility that is actively supported by parents. Just starting from scratch, to be reinforced in the coming years when it is more important.

  • jess

    February 22, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    As a kid, i remember being too clever for my own good. and i think my classmates were the same. in first grade over a quarter of a way through the year my mom found about $50 dollars in change in my room! my mom and my teacher came to find out i had a nice little side business doing homework for several of my class friends:)