I can recall numerous meetings with parents on the subject of family life and responsibilities versus schoolwork, which includes homework. Many parents expressed how upset they were on the amount of homework that their child was receiving and the considerable amount of time they had to devote to helping their child plod through their assignments.

Parents would ask: “Who is teaching whom? My children return from school and I need to devote endless hours of sheer “torture” to get them through the vast amount of work that they must do. Oftentimes I feel as if I am doing the teaching! The homework time is the most stressful time for my family, as emotions run high, and I feel as if I am losing control. I resent having to pay vast amounts of tuition for my children to attend day school when essentially I end up teaching them myself.”

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These words echo the feelings of many parents as they go through the pressures of balancing the responsibilities that they have for their child’s education with that of family life and the essential role that the home plays in the upbringing of a child. As one educator put it, “home work is not ‘homework’ but ‘home wrecker’.” You cannot help but sympathize with their feelings as the situation causes tension and upheaval in their family life.

Schools should realize that a child’s life is composed of multifaceted experiences, and schoolwork and homework are only one small part of the equation.

How important is homework? Is it really necessary as a vital support to the educational process, or is it just busy work that teachers load on their students to help pass some of the long and arduous hours of teaching? Do the teachers just use these assignments when the children return from school the next day as another way to pass the time? What are the parameters of good and meaningful homework, and what defines meaningless “waste of time” homework?

I have always believed that the younger elementary grades, i.e., kindergarten through fourth grade, were defined as the years in which children acquire the foundation and basis of their education. During these years, teachers develop in their students sound work habits and introduce them and fill them with the passion to love to read and write and to marvel at the wonders of math and science; to fill them with the beauty of our Jewish heritage and the vast and beautiful traditions that we have.

It is during these formative years that the teacher must develop in the student sound work habits that will propel them to the next stage of their education – middle school. These middle school years then become the years that are the “application” years, in which a child applies the basic skills that he/she should have acquired during his/her elementary school years to take them to the next level of “higher learning.” A school that is not accomplishing this in the younger grades is just not doing its job correctly.

The younger grades homework must be specific and directed with a definite purpose and format. Teachers who plan their homework properly will often give the children, especially in the Hebrew subjects, “homework helpers,” designed to allow children to accomplish their homework with minimum parental help, thus alleviating somewhat the tension in the home during this time.

Parents should help guide their children during homework times, but not directly teach the concepts learned in the classroom. This is the teacher’s responsibility. Parents should see that the skills that the children are learning will develop their good study habits which will help them in the future. Parents should expect approximately 15-45 minutes of homework, depending on grade level.

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at ravmordechai@aol.com or 914-368-5149.