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Homework overload

How to survive too much homework

Tips for parents of elementary school children

If you are a teacher or a parent who believes that lots of homework is good for children: Please stop reading! I wrote this article for parents and their children who hate homework as much as we do and who urgently need tips on how to deal with homework overload.

Primary school children in the early years are still very young and need some help and guidance. As a parent it is certainly your job to make sure that your kid understands the material properly. It is also important that kids learn to take responsibility for their learning and do as much as they can themselves. This article isn't about the normal homework load but about those years when there is simply too much homework.
Unfortunately with my kids there were years when the teachers weren't properly teaching the materials in class but gave them as homework to study. These were tough years. Here is my advice to get through those years successfully. My advice consists mainly of four points:
  1. make sure your kid passes the school year and isn't held back
  2. make sure that your kid learns the basics well (that's reading and writing properly and knowing the fundamentals in math)
  3. make the whole process more efficient
  4. bring fun back into homework, make sure your kid still enjoys learning
  5. relax and lean back, if you only manage point 1 and 2 everything is fine.
  6. think about your options for changing school or even homeschooling

make sure your kid passes the school year and isn't held back

This is only elementary school. So you shouldn't fret about grades. In a few years who will still care about your kid's English or music grade in grade 2 or 3?! Right, noone! So do what is necessary for your kid to pass the year, that's it. Be polite to the teacher at all times no matter what you think about her and if she wants to meet with you go meet her. Remember that you are your child's best defense lawyer! Check regularely if there are notes in the agenda or if you got an email from the school and reply to them if necessary. Make sure that your kid has the homework completed even if it was you who completed it and study with your child so that s/he passes most of the tests. I know that there are parents who openly fight the school and the teacher if there is too much homework. I surely admire them! But for myself I must admit that I have kind of resignated, the system is too broken to be fixed in my view so my task as a parent is to get my child through the system without too much trouble and this simply means doing the homework for them when necessary.

make sure that your kid learns the basics

I know you came here for tips on how to get homework done faster. Please read on. I know that your kid wants to come home from school and play, play, play. Still it is your responsibility to strike a balance. Let your kid play as much as possible but make sure he or she is learning the basics. Make no mistake, this is your responsibility as a parent. It's nice if the teacher works in the same direction but unfortunately this is far from certain.
Don't misunderstand me. With learning the basics I don't mean that your kid needs to spend hours sitting at the table doing busy work. With learning the basics I mean that your kid is able to read and understand the content of a book, can write a text without too many spelling or grammar mistakes and knows how to add, subtract, multipy and divide and later do fractions etc. How much or how good always depends on his/her age. If your kid knows how to add and subtract it is totally fine when you tell him/her the answers for their homework sheet in order to speed things up. At times when there was too much homework I rotated between different homeworks that I was doing while my kids did the other things. I just made sure they could do it and then we made sure we got it done as quickly as possible.
Even though I absolutely don't like homework I understand that there are times when a kid needs to spend more time learning. My daughter was studying in French so when she was in grade 3 they started doing a lot of grammar. At the beginning we spent a lot of time on it. I explained the basics over and over again (sometimes repeating myself, sometimes explaining it in a different way) and we certainly spent a little more time on it than the other kids. But after this initial slow phase my daughter never had to spend much time on grammar ever again. She shortly looked at the forms again and from time to time wrote them down again before a test and that was it. And she always got good marks on grammar tests ever after. So my message is time well spent at the beginning to get the fundamentals right can have big time savings in time later on!
I also want to emphasis that if you look over your kid's homework you need to correct the mistakes that you see. Don't expect the teacher to see them and work with your kids to improve. At least my experience is time in school is testing and not exercise time! Also if the mistakes are not corrected in a timely fashion your child internalizes them and it gets more difficult to correct it later.

  1. prioritize
  2. be organised, make a plan and work through it
  3. Focus
  4. Overcoming procastination
  5. find out when you study best
  6. Other General study tips
  7. If you are stuck
  8. deliberate practise
  1. prioritize
  2. What I mean by this is that in a year with too much homework the first objective is to survive not to pass with honour. So for example here in Quebec in elementary school only math and French are relevant to passing.

    So the first rule is that naturally you should start with those subjects. Finish homework for those subjects and study enough for the tests so that you will most likely pass without problem. If and only if there is still time left will you study and work on the homework for the other subjects with your kids. Otherwise you do it for them. Done!

    The second rule is to look what's most important. In general I would always tell my daughter to do the written homework first. For the other homework it is more difficult to tell for the teacher if you have done it or not. So normally I would work that way. However if there is a test or your kid is a bit weak in a certain subject you should study it more carefully with him/her, prepare for the test first and only do the written homework afterwards. (Again this means you as a parent just tell your kid what to write in the written homework in this case).

    If there is too much homework I really think it is legitimate if parents do the homework for their kids or if your kid shares solutions with his/her friends. However you must make sure that you don't deceive yourself. While the objective certainly is to speed up homework you still need to make sure that your kid knows the material well enough so that s/he can survive any tests too.

    Another strategy I have used with my daughter is to let her stay home for a day or two. This gave her time to digest the material while she could still play. Usually when the teacher gave to much homework there didn't happen much teaching in class and so missing some days of school didn't result in any missing of important concepts. I recognize however that if you are working full time this isn't always possible. A friend of mine once worried that the school would cause problems if her kid was missing class so you have to use this strategy with care to see how your school reacts. In my experience mostly schools don't say anything as long as the test results are not affected.

  3. find out when you study best
  4. People have different times when they learn best and for how long they can learn. Some learn best starting directly after they come home from school while others prefer to play for a while first. Likewise some like to do homework in one row while others need to take a break after a certain time interval or before starting homework for a different subject. Also for example my daughter rather liked to work overtime during the week but didn't want to touch the weekend for homework while some of her classmates prefered doing a big junk on the weekend and only do repetition work on weekdays. Here you must decide by yourself what works best for you and your kid.

  5. be organised, make a plan and work through it
  6. Some teachers like to give the homework for the whole week on Friday while others give it out everyday. No matter how they do it write down what you have to do and make a realistic plan when you will do what. With realistitc I mean that you have to estimate how long everything takes. If it's a presentation also plan some time for unexpected problems as well as rehearsing the text. It's always good to start as early as possible.
    So make a plan what to do when and in which order and then put all distractions away and go to work.

  7. Focus
  8. Especially if your kid has lots and lots of homework or you are working on homework you and your kids don't really like to do you shouldn't allow yourself and your kid to waste anytime with watching tv, or checking facebook even though this seems very alluring. If you do homework you do homework and nothing else. It's better to reward you kid with this after you have finished your work. This doesn't mean however that you can't use a computer. As my daughter goes to a school in French which is not my mother tongue so we often had to refer to the internet to find out the meaning of certain words or the correct conjugation etc. And for other subjects it's a great source of knowledge or idea generator as well.
    Some people find it helpful to have mucic playing in the background because it helps them to focus while it can be a big distraction to others. See how it is working for you and then adjust your working style.

  9. Overcoming procastination
  10. Many people like to procastinate and only do the work in the last possible moment. I think it is important here that you show your elementary school kid that it is better to do the work at once and then enjoy the rest of the time without having to worry about unfinished school work. Make a realistic plan and try to stick with it (of course sometimes there are times when there are things out of our control like sickness, unexpected loss of power etc. happen. I am not talking about those times). Maybe you can give your kid a small reward for doing things early like an extra activity s/he likes etc.

    If the task is too big to do in onw row split it into smaller more manageable junks. Start with the easy parts. Then your child sees that the task is already half done and will have more confidence that s/he can do it.

  11. General study tips

  12. Depending on the type of learner you are you might learn better one way or the other. After learning for some time you will probably know what kind of learner you are. However no matter what kind of learner you are it is never wrong to learn with as many senses as possible. So make mindmaps, build models, draw pictures...

    Try to make as many connections as you can find between the material you are learning, even between different subjects. It helps to stick better in your head.

    Try to make learning as much fun as possible.

    You need to be positive about studying and about making mistakes. When my daughter had a teacher who would always highlight the mistakes they made and gave it back with the words: "now do it again" for a while she really became very afraid of making mistakes and it took us a bit to persuade her again that mistakes belong to learning like a pair of socks belongs together. Finally she understood that she is not stupid for making mistakes but that it is a simple byproduct of learning.

    Create a nice area where to do homework. Some kids learn best in their own rooms while other prefer company. So adjust your place accordingly.

    Sometimes you need help. If you are not sure about what the assignment really means you need to fix this immedaitely as you can't possibly go on working otherwise. So call the teacher or a friend but keep it as short as possible and then go on working.
    If your kid can't find a solution, try to give her /him some hints first before giving out the perfect solution. Teach your kid how to search the internet for solutions. Usually it is preferable that your kid finds the solution by him/herself but sometimes when time is scarce it is also okay to solve those excercices together and explains them. The important thing is that afterwards your kid understands the exercise and could solve it and similar ones by him/herself without further help. If not then try to ask more questions. Sometimes it takes more time to sink in and sometimes some things that seemed clear aren't clear again the next day, then go back, give a similar excercise and let your kid try to solve them again.

  13. If your kid is are stuck
  14. You need to get to the root of the problem. When my daughter started grade 3 at first the grammar she needed to know for her weekly tests seemed overwhelming. Before she had always understood things really quickly and didn't require much explaning from my side. But in that year the amount of homework was quite a lot AND she and the teacher were a bad match, it seemed she never had a clue what the teacher was talking about. I also noticed that somehow she had forgotten much of the grammar that had been taught the previous two years. So for 4 weeks we did grammar excessively. It involved a lot of explaining over and over again from my side and making lots of additional worksheets where she could practice. But after that 4 weeks it had clicked and for the rest of the school year she was just breathing through grammar. What I had done was explaining to her that grammar is important to understand the structure of a language, to explain all the basic vocabulary starting from words like singular and plural to more advanced words until she could not just remember them but talk about and with them comfortably as well. Then I gave her lots of practice so that she would excel her tests which boosted her self-esteem. And finally I made a lot of effort to talk about the connections between the different concepts and vocabulary. So while it seemed to be overwhelming at the beginning after working for it for a while the mist went away and she could see more clearly.

    In math I also have found that it helped a lot to focus on developing her number sense first. Of course we never lost sight of the subjects she had to study each week. But I made some worksheets that reinforced the basics or even taught her some of the basics the school had omitted. I also let her play some computer games as I found that her general problem solving skills were a bit weak and playing computer games was fun for her while it helped her just to try something out and not be too afraid of making any mistakes.

    If your kid has problems and is stuck with his/her homework you need to find the root cause and find a solution. Maybe s/he only didn't undertand a single concept or maybe the problem has deeper roots. If it is math you have to ask yourself: does s/he know the basics or are there any other underlying issues? When I went to school I sometimes had problems with certain geometry excercises as well as some others but it took years until I realized that I simply had to play with lego to improve my spatial viewing skills and much to my surprise all the problems I had had with those exercices suddenly were gone as I could suddenly to my big surprise kind of see things and then the solution suddenly became very easy.

    One last thing: If you find that your child doesn't understand a concept easily don't be afraid to teach it in a totally different way to your child. Teachers mostly only explain a concept one way. Usually the way that is en vogue at the moment as they still look to find the one best method to teach. I don't believe that there is one best method with which you can reach everyone. People are different and so they need different methods to learn efficiently and well. Keep that in mind. Just because someone is a teacher doesn't mean they can explain it better than you can. You know your child so it's up to you to explain it in a way that your child understands best. Just repeating it the way the teacher explained it over and over will often not result in your kid ever understanding it and even if s/he finally does it would have been a lot more time efficient to explain it a bit differently.
  15. deliberate practise
  16. Deliberate practise means that you don't let your kid repeat a task mindlessly but that you focus your attention on those areas where s/he still needs more practise.

make the whole process more efficient

The things that I described above should all already help to make your homework time more efficient.
In grade 5 my daughter had lots of homework where she needed to find words in the dictionary and write their definitions down. What a boring task. Just busy work. At first we looked up a few words together both in a real paper dictionary and on the computer. Then we split the remaining words and I did half of them. We did this from then on for all this homework. It was still a big waste of time but now only half the time as before. The important thing was that she learnt how to do it.

If there are too many math excercises that are repetitive and you know your child can do it you can also share the exercises. If your child hates it but still needs practise you might still find it more enjoyable to fill them out for your child quickly and then find a computer game for your child to practise.
Sometimes the way a teacher explained and teaches a subject doesn't make sense to your child. Help your child as much as you can to get done with the homework as quickly as possible and then teach the whole subject in a way that makes more sense to you. I already wrote an article on how to help your child to learn to read in French. Do what you see id working for you and toss the rest out. Once your child has a better understanding of the matter you can shortly come back to the teacher's way if you find it necessary.

bring fun back into homework, make sure your kid still enjoys learning

For spelling words you can invent games where your child is jumping between words or is creating works of art with the words.
Sing the individual letters of the word, dance them, jump them, write them with your finger into sand or in the air. These are all ways to improve your memory as you are including more senses and it is much more fun.
Take turns and let the kid play teacher while you are the pupil writing the test.
For math drills you can shout the question e.g. 4 + 4 or 6 * 7 and first let your kid run or jump before saying the answer. Throw balls and let the kid catch the ball before answering.

relax and lean back, if you only manage point 1 and 2 everything is fine

Most kids feel very bad when they are held back. So if you help your kid get through the year you have already accomplished a lot. If your kid can read books and do some basic math s/he can teach her/himself everything else. These are the building blocks. Most people don't like a lot of homework but if you weren't always efficient and it wasn't always fun that's okay. To have to overcome some adversity actually is good for your kid. And while it is up to you to teach your kid good study habits your kid also needs to learn to take responsibility for his / her own learning. So the older your kid gets the more s/he needs to find solutions for her/himself.

think about your options for changing schools or even homeschooling

If the homework overload situation is not just certain years but every year I think you should think about changing schools. Think about the advantaes and the disadvantages. If your personal situation allows you might even want to think about homeschooling for a while. There are many homeschooling families now so there might be a network in your hometown too.


Don't let too much homework make you feel bad and helpless. Take action and responsibility and hopefully you will see that it won't consume all your time and effort anylonger. There are always a million suns behind the clouds!

Copyright © 2004-2018 Katja Socher, tuxgraphics.org