Updated: Jan 9, 2020
Homework can be a point of contention for many families. As an elementary teacher in the US, our rule of thumb for the amount of homework assigned followed a simple formula: 10 minutes per grade level up to 6th grade. However, as children get older, the act of completing homework should be nearly 100% independent. After students enter middle school or junior high, most teachers expect that homework is for students to do on their own and parents play a minimal supporting role. This is supported by research at the highest level.
When I taught 5th grade in a wealthy Seattle suburb, it was quite often that a student would come to school with a finished project which was clearly completed by a parent. I even observed teachers crossing the line and completing their own children’s work. The temptation is real! The website Ask.com released results of a US survey of 778 parents with kids younger than age 18 about homework. Unbelievably, the survey concluded that 43 percent of parents admitted to doing their child's homework. Reasons parents gave for doing the homework were helping their child get better grades and frustration.
I must admit that I see this as an American phenomenon. Here in Switzerland, we learned early that children are to be independent from a very young age. Our first experience with this was when we were house hunting and saw two kindergarten aged girls get onto the bus on their own. This simple act of independence would result in an arrest for neglect in the US! After our daughter’s first few days of 2nd grade, I was told by her classroom teacher that I no longer needed to accompany her to school because she was capable to getting herself there. This was an early lesson for me that I embraced and agree with 100%.
Homework in the middle school years is an act of independence. That being said, independence is the goal. If you feel like your child still needs a bit more scaffolding, there are things you can do without interfering with the actual completion of their work.
1. Have your child put upcoming projects and exams on a joint calendar (either a physical calendar or by inviting you to an event they have put into their phone calendar). This helps everyone feel aware of what is coming up.
2. Ask questions such as, “How can I help you prepare?” and “What do you need from me?”. Positive prompting creates a situation in which a student must first understand the task, evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and then state what help is needed.
3. Have a discussion about the academic strengths and weaknesses of those living in your home. Have your child identify areas in which they need extra help based on current subjects or exams and set up sessions with the “experts” located right under your roof.
4. When homework seems exceptionally difficult, sometimes trying a couple different strategies before asking for help can make a big difference. Reinforce this by only offering help after being shown two ways to tackle the problem.
5. Wait for your child to ask for help. This reinforces the ability to ask for help when feeling frustrated as well as saying what they need to be successful. If you need a refresher in why it’s important to teach your child to say what they need, take a look at my blog post.
6. Do not sit right next to your child while they do their homework, but make sure they are in a communal place in the home. This encourages independence and communicates a certain level of trust.
7. Last but not certainly not least, no phones should be present during homework time. No matter how much they tell you they need their class chat to help with questions, they don’t.
If you’ve tried all these strategies and still feel that your child needs extra help in a specific subject or your relationship is suffering because of the homework conflict, contact his/her teacher to ask if they can recommend someone to provide tutoring. It is quite often that there are excellent professionals willing to help or even high school students that provide tutoring in their spare time.
April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. April helps globally mobile families as they search for the best school for their child with special needs. www.remfreyeducationalconsulting.com