What Type Should Students Do
& How Long Should It Take?

Before we discuss what kind of homework students should do and how long it should take, I would like to say that, contrary to popular belief, I don't hate ALL homework!

Of course, there is plenty of bad homework, but what I dislike the most is Just Because Homework. This is the homework teachers assign just because someone (parents, principals, other teachers) expects them to send students home with something to do.

If you are interested in knowing exactly what is expected in each grade, take a look at your state's standards in each subject. Talk about some fun reading! Actually, I don't recommend that parents worry about state standards. Yes, they will know what the state wants their children to master at each grade level, but the sheer amount of information is overwhelming. Let teachers worry about state standards.

It is more important to make certain that your child can think, express herself and apply what she has learned not only in school and on tests, but in real life.

Parents, you must make absolutely certain that your children are strong readers, understand essential math concepts, have higher order thinking skills, can fully express themselves both verbally and in writing, and have the tools and opportunity to study those subjects that interest and excite them.

I LOVE any homework, activities and games that make those things happen, and there are plenty of meaningful, pro-active and beneficial activities parents can do at home with their children:

have meaningful discussions about politics, current events, literature

go places (ball game, museum, grocery store) and discuss what they've seen

do things (play a game, clean the neighborhood park, visit friends) and discuss what they've done

watch TV together and discuss the shows

go to the movies together and discuss the movie

eat dinner together and talk about their day

plan a real or imaginary trip (choose a destination, figure out mileage, study the language, food, culture etc.)

fix, paint, remodel a room, house, car

play board games (remember those?)

read to their children

let their children read to them

read with their children (recipes, instruction manuals, gardening books, musical song books)

let their children see them reading

write letters and notes (the little ones can dictate while you write) to businesses, politicians, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, Santa, etc.

That is enough to keep most families busy for years- and this list is by no means comprehensive. Once they realize that good homework doesn't have to come from school, parents are able to come up with loads of fun, helpful and positive homework activities on their own. Just think, spending time with your children, teaching them what you know, learning new things together- all of those things matter!

But, I know, you still want to know about "real" homework, right?

Homework Grade-by-Grade

Kindergarten

identify letters, colors, shapes

know letter sounds (phonics) and some blends (ch, th, sh)

recognize coins and amounts for each (i.e. nickel is five cents)

count to 100

count by 2s, 5s, 10s

express thoughts in writing (basic)

2nd Grade

read, read, read!

finish sight words and basic phonics

count to 1000

count by 3s, 4s

borrowing (subtraction) & carrying (addition)

tell time to quarter, half hour

measure objects with a ruler (inches, feet)

3rd Grade

"finish" learning to read (should know all sight words, phonics)

learn multiplication tables! (learn to count by 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s and you're done)

add and subtract simple fractions

tell time

read a thermometer

weigh objects with a scale (ounces, pounds)

measure distance with a yard stick, understand miles

4th - 5th (Intermediate) Grades:

Educators and textbook writers assume that by the time a student reaches 4th grade, he has "finished" learning to read and is now ready to Read to Learn. Tragically, millions of students are not strong (grade-level, fluent, comprehending) readers, which is why they struggle every night with homework and studying. In addition, students are expected to research topics, write papers, give oral reports, complete projects (including art) and express themselves in writing.

If your child is not a strong reader, focus on making that your Number One priority!

Educators also assume that intermediate students are "fluent" in math: they have good number sense, are able to understand abstract thoughts, and can do computation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) "lickety-split." Unsurprisingly, there are Big Problems when this isn't the case. For example, how can a student possibly understand

fractions

decimals

percentages

algebra

geometry

word problems

if they don't know the basics? The fact is, they can't. Make certain that your child has these basic, building block skills. Worksheets can wait.

6th - 8th (Middle School) Grades:

Studies indicate that it is not until middle school that homework (assigned by a teacher) provides any real benefit to students, but it is exactly at this time that most parental involvement in homework should be coming to an end! Yes, parents can still have discussions with their children (good luck getting them to talk back!), answer a few questions, help them now and again. But, no, parents should not be sitting down with their middle schoolers every night, checking planners, cleaning out backpacks, checking every math question, writing papers, doing projects.

By middle school, students should have the reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic BASICS from elementary school completely mastered- along with homework organization and discipline.

Why is this so important? Compared to elementary school, middle school homework is harder, moves faster, and there is much more of it. Plus, students are now dealing with multiple teachers, changing classes, keeping track of more homework and assignments, and studying for finals. (I won't even get into social, emotional and physical challenges!)

High school homework actually matters (compared to elementary and middle school). Homework and studying affect both grades and test scores- both of which determine college acceptance. Unless you are a glutton for punishment or a high school teacher, most parents cannot do more than stare at their child's high school homework! It's hard! It's different than you remember! It's important!

High school is not the time to wait and see if your child will pull his grades up. It is also not the time to give up.

How Long Should Homework Take?

You know what else drives me crazy about homework? The idea that it should take the same amount of time each night. Not only is this ridiculous, it's impossible. One night, a fourth grade student might spend an hour reading about Bulgaria; the next night, she might spend half an hour drawing and coloring a map of Bulgaria; the third night, she might cook a Bulgarian stew with her father for two hours. What sense would it make to insist (or worry) that she spend exactly 40 minutes each and every night doing homework? Which brings me to my next question (where's Bulgaria?):

What's The Big Deal with the 10-Minute Homework Rule?

Sometimes people latch onto a new idea, and then suddenly it becomes gospel- accepted and unquestioned as right and sensible. This is exactly what has happened in the education world with the 10-Minute Homework Rule. It's the Latest Thing, the Hottest Celebrity Diet, the New Religion of the Rich.

The 10-Minute Rule states that each child should have 10 minutes of homework per grade level: 10 minutes in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, 30 minutes in the third grade, etc.

First of all, show me two students that spend exactly the same amount of time on an assignment, and I will show you a dreaming teacher! We balk at assigning individual homework, but it is impossible to have one homework assignment take the same amount of time for 30 students. Students are at different reading and math levels; they have different types of help at home; they focus- or don't.

Secondly, what's with 10 minutes, anyway? Not one study anywhere indicates that ten minutes is the magical (sensible, beneficial) amount of time for students. It's just a random number, suggested as a guideline, and educators have latched onto it like a pack of dogs with a bone.

However, I will say that the 10-Minute Rule is better than having no homework policy at all. (Believe it or not, only one third of school districts have a homework policy. Shameful.) The 10-Minute Rule definitely reined me in when I taught 3rd grade. Not only did my district have a homework policy, my principal actually enforced it. I couldn't give my students more than 30 minutes of homework each night- and 20 minutes of it had to be reading! That left 10 minutes, so I usually let students start their math homework in class. I can tell you that without that homework policy, I would have assigned much more homework.

And that is why, after talking so badly about it, I actually recommend following the 10-Minute Homework Rule! It keeps teachers from going Homework Crazy. Ideally, elementary school students should have zero homework most nights, but if they are going to have homework, let's keep it as "reasonable" as possible. 10 minutes per grade level is a start.

Okay, okay, how long should SCHOOL homework take?

Kindergarten Homework: 0 minutes

First Grade Homework: 0 minutes most nights, 0-10 minutes

Second Grade Homework: 0 minutes most nights, 0-20 minutes

Third Grade Homework: 0 minutes most nights, 0-30 minutes

Middle School Homework: 0-90 minutes (1 1/2 hours)

High School Homework: 0-120 minutes (2 hours)

These are guidelines, which you may or may not choose to follow. However, if your child is regularly spending more time doing homework on a regular basis, let your child's teacher know! Do not suffer in silence!

And, remember what I said earlier?

More important than any homework is making certain that your child can think, express herself and apply what she has learned not only in school and on tests, but in real life.