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September 2011

School Counselor's Corner

Healthy Homework Habits

By Erin Mantz

This month, I talk with Robin Cooper, elementary school counselor at Beverly Farms in Potomac, who believes that healthy homework habits, parent-teacher communication and parental involvement can help families better manage stress, struggles and squabbles at home.

Q: Based on what you see at school and in the education arena, do elementary school kids seem stressed out about homework? If so, what are the signs, and at what grade does the stress seem to start?

A: Yes, students seemed stressed about homework. Some students might show it by crying during homework time, taking longer to do their homework, seeming overwhelmed or resisting doing homework when it was not a struggle before. Third grade is thought to be the year when students start receiving more homework and class work.

Q: Do you think parents are stressed out about homework their kids receive? If so, why? Is it too much, too difficult, too unclear or are there other reasons?

A: Parents do seem stressed about homework as well. Sometimes they feel the directions are not clear or that their child does not know what to do. Parents may not be patient during homework time and get frustrated more easily with their children. Parents should contact their child’s teacher if homework really becomes a struggle. The teachers will have suggestions for parents and can be a supportive resource. Parents should remember that homework should be a review/practice of what happened in class that day, and if doing 20 math problems for homework is too much, the teacher can adjust the work load

Q: Does the beginning of the school year bring homework concerns right away, or do the worries build as the school year progresses?

A: At the elementary level, I think it builds as the year goes on. Teachers are very diligent about pacing the students with homework. In third, fourth and fifth grades, there is more homework, but they try to ease students back in.

Q: How much homework is too much? The National Education Association and the National PTA recommend 10 minutes per grade level per day (i.e. 10 minutes for first grade). Do most parents/teachers feel this is right?

A: Yes, teachers feel this is right. The teachers at my school tell parents that if homework is taking much longer than these guidelines, they should write a note on the assignment indicating how long the student worked and this is all he got done. A number of parents suffer in silence, but they need to contact their child’s teacher so a plan can be designed to make homework time easier for the student and the parents.

Q: How long have you been a school counselor, and have you noticed any changes regarding homework’s impact or issues over the years?

A: I have been an elementary school counselor for 22 years and have seen an increase in the amount of homework and the stress it causes students and families. There is a different societal attitude now than there was 10 years ago. There is a lot more pressure today on students to succeed in school and to accelerate in different areas of study, like being in the highest math or reading group. People realize there is even more pressure ahead, for students to take advanced classes in middle school and Advanced Placement classes in high school.

Q: What are some healthy homework habits elementary school students can use?

A: As an elementary school counselor, I talk to students about organizational skills, time management and study skills. Counselors do this in a classroom setting and in small groups. Teachers also do a wonderful job helping their students with organizational skills and study skills, especially in the older grades. I think good study habits should start at a young age. It will make it easier for a student as she gets older.

Q: How involved should parents be in nightly homework?

A: In the younger grades, parents need to be more involved with the homework process, sitting with their child and going over the homework. In fact, I think parents of elementary students should check in every night. They can help their kids develop good study habits at a young age, and hopefully by the time the child is in middle and high school, she can work independently on homework.

In older elementary grades, kids often want to do more on their own, yet parents may want to know what they’re learning, check in and stay in the know. As students get older, they should be able to sit down and do their homework on their own or with little assistance. However, parents should check in with their child and help her study for quizzes and exams if she needs assistance (and it’s also a good way to see what she’s learning). For example, parents can ask their child every afternoon what homework she has and check in with her throughout the night. Communication is so important, and establishing good communication with your child at a young age is key.

Q: Can you provide some examples of classroom programs school counselors may run regarding homework?

A: Lessons with the older elementary students may center on organization, time management, study skills and stress management. Even second graders may have lessons on stress management and explore how to deal with things that make them nervous or worried. Sometimes that involves homework.

Q: What can homework help instill in kids?

A: A sense of ownership and self-motivation, especially when parents support and encourage their kids in some of the ways mentioned here!

Erin Mantz is a writer in Potomac.