Shimon quickly shoveled a forkful of rice into his mouth, while attempting to scribble the right math equations into his workbook. “(2 x 34 -11)2” he said between mouthfuls. “Mommy, I got some rice on my paper, but I have to finish this before it is time to go in the shower,” Shimon choked out.
“Just relax, Shimon. Take your time. And, I really wish you wouldn’t do homework at the table,” his mother said.
His mother watched him trying to finish his math homework so that he could move onto his Mishnayos memorization, Navi questions, and then to his English reading. She knew it was going to be a long night for Shimon – and for her as well. She hated that he was doing homework at the table, but she didn’t really know what else to do. It just felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day to finish. This wouldn’t be the first time that she would end up reading aloud to him before he went to bed because he was just too exhausted to do it himself.
What’s the point of homework?
Recently, a lot of parents have been asking me: what’s the point of homework? Why do we need it? And why do we have so much of it? Well, there are some really good reasons for homework:
Practice: Homework gives kids an opportunity to master skills that they learned in the classroom. They can learn how to solve problems more quickly and efficiently.
Preparation: In some cases, teachers might assign new material or reading for homework. This can help students prepare for the next day’s lesson. In education this connects to the idea of “Velcro.” When a student is aware of a concept before and then learns it more in-depth, he has the mental Velcro to attach it to in his brain. This helps him remember it better in the future.
Diligence: While perhaps the most hotly contested “benefit” of homework, diligence still makes the list. Homework teaches children to sit and manage their time in order to complete tasks within an allotted timeframe.
Parent-child interactions: Because homework is done at home and parents are often somewhat involved in the process, it allows parents to communicate how important the learning process is. Through this interaction, children can recognize that learning is not only a value in school, but at home as well.
How much homework should your child have?
There are many benefits to homework. That said, often problems arise when there is too much homework or very difficult work is assigned.
The National PTA and the National Education Association suggest that children get 10 minutes of homework per grade level. That means that first graders should have about ten minutes a night, second graders 20 minutes, third graders 30, and so on.
Parents of children who receive more than this amount of homework, like Shimon’s parents, are increasingly finding themselves stepping in to help out. In fact, one Brooklyn parent, Nancy Kalish, became so alarmed by the amount of homework her daughter was being assigned that she wrote a book entitled, The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It. The book includes research and interviews with parents, educators and students surrounding the idea of homework. In the book, she argues that too much homework does not allow kids to be kids.
Do and Don’ts of Homework
While perhaps Kalish’s book is a bit extreme and in some senses impractical, here are some tips for how to help your child through his nightly homework:
Encourage. Let your child know that you are proud of him for working with distractions or for solving difficult problems that he didn’t think he could.
Let your child fail. If the homework doesn’t get finished that night, let your child go into school without it. If you want to talk to the teacher about why the homework was not finished, that is okay. But, you shouldn’t be the one to punish your child for not having homework completed. Homework should be evaluated by the teacher.
Give into tantrums. Help your children without doing the work for them. Otherwise, they learn that when things are difficult, they can just give up.
Nag. The homework needs to be important to your child, not important to you. If you are constantly nagging him to do it, then it becomes a battle between you and your child, rather than a learning tool.
Badmouth the teacher or the assignments. Your child needs to respect his teacher. Therefore, if you have an issue with the homework, talk about it with the teacher, not your child.
Even with all of these careful calculations, children who are school age will occasionally feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted by their homework. They might throw their book bags or rip out pages of their notebooks. Alternatively, they might simply cry about how they just cannot do their assignment. If these meltdowns occur every now and then, this is normal and a symptom of our pressurized school systems. However, if these meltdowns happen on a consistent basis, there is something larger at play.
What You Can Do:
Regular routine. If your child does his homework at the same time and in the same place every day, he will be more likely to feel in control and at peace. Set aside a separate area and time for homework nightly.
Sleep. Children who do not get enough sleep will not be able to concentrate and will therefore be more prone to being overwhelmed by homework.
Get tested. If your child is struggling with work on his grade level, consider having him evaluated. He might be having meltdowns because a learning disability is preventing him from comprehending the assignment.Rifka Schonfeld
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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