Homework, How Much Should Parents Do
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.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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.Published February 4, 2011. Last updated June 24, 2018.