I hesitate to answer this week’s question, which comes from Suzanne from Iowa:
I feel like we have a lot of homework every night. How long should homework take for my 3rd grader?
It’s hard to take an authoritative stand on this one because every culture, every school system, and every organization declares something or wants something and expects everyone to just follow it. Basically, there are no set rules.
According to NEA (National Education Association), “the National PTA recommendations fall in line with general guidelines suggested by researcher Harris Cooper: 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth).
National organizations of parents and teachers suggest that children in kindergarten through second grade can benefit from 10 to 20 minutes of homework each school day. In third through sixth grades, children can benefit from 30 to 60 minutes a school day. In seventh through ninth grades, students can benefit from spending more time on homework, and the amount may vary from night to night.
High school is even more difficult to come up with a recommended time, as college-bound students are expected to carry a different workload than other students. According to the NEA, “High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take.”
What I feel is more important is how your child reacts to homework. We’ve talked about finding the right place and breaking homework into chunks, but when it comes to time, different children need different things. When I was a classroom teacher, our district had a policy of 10 minutes per grade level plus reading time. Reading didn’t count as “homework” because everyone was just expected to read. I liked that.
I told my second-grade parents that if homework takes longer, to just stop their children after 20 minutes. However, it was important to note that the 20 minutes needed to be actual work time. That did not include getting up to sharpen pencils, taking a break to run around the house, or staring into space while mentally putting together tomorrow’s pretty outfit. Homework time was expected to be time on task.
A very good friend’s child had over 20 minutes of homework every night in Kindergarten. She was fine with that because it was the expectation at the school. But children that age don’t need busy work* homework, let alone 20 minutes per night. They’re too young to be expected to sit that long and what should be enforced at that age is parent-teacher-child communication and the home-school connection. This can come from learning responsibility by remembering to bring a show and tell item once a week or working with a family member to create a family tree over a period of time. Nightly homework has very little effect on a young child.
What to do if your child has too little or too much homework
Know the school homework policy
So, what do you do if you feel your child has too much or too little homework? First, check for a school or school district policy. This should be noted in the school’s or district’s parent handbook, but you can also ask your child’s teacher or principal for the information.
Talk to the teacher
Before you do anything else, talk to your child’s teacher. Share your concerns. There may be an attention issue affecting your child or the topic may be challenging to your child.
If it’s too little homework
I’m a big proponent of “there’s no such thing as too little homework” because kids can always do more. They also can always play–and playing is a huge part of learning and growing. If your child wants more homework, then, by all means, suggest practicing math facts, reading a book, writing a journal, playing on the computer, or cooking dinner. All of these are fabulous ways for your child to enrich the homework experience.
If it’s too much homework
If the homework is taking more than the suggested amount of time, your first step must be to talk to the teacher. You’ll likely need to work together to try new routines and practices. It also may be taking a lot of time for your child’s classmates, and feedback from all the parents is helpful. If that’s the case, hopefully, the teacher will adjust. But if no one says anything to the teacher, she won’t know that it’s too much.
I’m a big, huge fan of projects for homework. I far prefer them over nightly busy work. Projects are often meant to be completed in addition to the nightly homework and are done over a longer period of time. If, for example, your child is in 3rd grade, try to set aside 5 minutes of each night’s homework time to work on the project (2 weeks of 5 minutes per night and your child is spending 40 minutes to an hour on the project.) But there’s also nothing wrong with investing one hour of time to work on the project only. It’s a great way to help your child to understand time management and to focus on and get excited about the project, his creativity, and the expectation of doing his best work.
*we’ll discuss busywork homework in a later post in this series.