CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: The Homework Question

by Samantha on October 9, 2013

boy doing homework
Say the word and it evokes a myriad of emotions in both parents and kids.
Depending on who you’re speaking with, you may get a very positive response to the idea or one that’s not too pleasant. You see, the topic of homework is one that’s divisive, to say the least. There are so many different factors to consider when discussing this topic. Some of these include:
  • The appropriate age or grade to start giving homework to kids
  • The amount of homework that is to be completed each night
  • Homework standardization - Should all classes receive the exact same lessons and grading systems?
  • Should homework be given at all?

Being the parent of children in elementary school, the topic of homework is not one that’s going away any time soon. It’s a subject that we all have to consider and come to terms with, regardless of which side of the fence we’re on.

I returned to CBC Fresh Air to discuss the topic and provide my viewpoint on some of the points noted above. To listen to the full interview, click on the link in the box below. Following the link are some of the questions and answers that I provided as well.

1. First…do we all agree that there should be SOME homework?
I think that homework is a great tool for reinforcing learning in kids, but frankly don’t agree with the recent trend of Kindergarten kids getting homework. I think it’s much too young. C’mon - they can barely tie their shoelaces or write their names…A measured approach is what I think should be taken. I love the idea of sharing what the child has done in class during the day with the parents so that it can be discussed at home; that said, homework should be left to bigger kids. How big? I’d say Grade 3 and up.

2. Let’s talk about the role of parents—how much help is appropriate?
Parents should always be there as a resource for their children, to answer questions, to be a sounding board for discussion, to stimulate thought. That said, the amount of help provided should be age-appropriate and measured. Clearly, a child in first grade will need more direction than a child in 9th grade.The key is that parents should let children know that they support their efforts, are there for them if they have any questions and that they will do anything they can to encourage learning.

3.  What kinds of signals should parents send to their kids about the importance of homework?
What we as parents need to remember is that we set the stage for how homework, school and education in general is perceived. If we put a high level of importance on doing well at school, studying and working hard, our children will take away this philosophy. Conversely, if we show our kids that homework and studying are inconsequential or unimportant, those are the messages that we will instill in our children. If we want our kids to take learning seriously, we must show them, by our interest in their lessons.

4.  What’s the line between  truly helping your children with homework…and DOING it for them?
It’s so easy for us as parents to just jump in and do it for our kids, isn’t it? For many of us, it’s our first instinct: to “fix” it and make it better, if we see our child struggling. What we need to remember as parents is that we’re not doing our kids any favours by doing their homework for them. Discussion and making sure that the child understands the particular concept behind a particular lesson is important; by getting them to understand the bigger picture, they often “get it” at the micro level and are able to finish the project themselves.

5.  So it’s really important to make them aware of WHY you’ve changed something?
It’s one thing to get the right answer - after all, both kids and parents want their kids to be right. It’s another thing for kids to understand why their answers are right or wrong, which I believe is the real lesson. How did a child come up with their answer for a particular math problem? Why did the teacher give your child a lesser grade because of grammar issues? It’s of paramount importance that kids understand how and why they’ve arrived at a certain answer as well as why they got the marks that they did. Without going through process and understanding every step, our kids are not truly learning.

6. What about communication between parents and teachers over homework—is it really necessary? 
Oftentimes, homework gets relegated to the bowels of a child’s knapsack, never to be seen again. The old “dog ate my homework” is a classic, that’s for sure. I’m a huge advocate of digitizing the classroom and assignments so that this excuse could disappear altogether, but understand that there are considerations to doing so as well. It is, ultimately, all about communication and the doorway between parent and teacher should always be open. Whether it’s through digital means or not, there must be a connection there in order for the child to be successful. Think of it as “checks and balances” on both ends - the kid is aware that they are accountable to both parties…and both parties know that they can work in concert to assure the success of the child.

7. And then there’s the Importance of finding a balance between homework and other post-school activities…right?
Well, as you know, I’m a proponent of balance for kids, as difficult as it may be. I was here recently speaking about overscheduled kids - those who are booked into after-school and weekend lessons more than 2 or 3 times per week. Part of the stress that kids feel is the need to complete lessons and do well, as well as excelling in extra curricular activities. I feel that schoolwork and studies should come first, and extra-curricular lessons second. And to that end, there should be a limit to the amount of afterschool activities that kids are signed up for. There’s no way that any child can excel in school when they’re downright exhausted due to all of the activities that they’re participating in during the week.

8. What about  when students enter secondary school—should parens still be on homework patrol?
Parents who are raising tweens and teens are in a particularly sensitive situation as we all know how kids of these ages respond to any suggestions or help from their parents. That’s why it’s so important to set the foundations of learning and studying early, when the child is younger. With this foundation, kids who are going through the challenging tweens and teen years will be better able to cope with their lessons as they are assigned. As well, having established the child/parent connection vis-a-vis homework early on will make it much more easier for kids to continue the habit and to do well at school.

9. Final question…what do you do if one teacher believes in plenty of homework and another takes a more lenient approach—that can be confusing for children. How do you make sense of that for your kids?
Again, this goes back to the parents knowing what their child is doing in school and being comfortable that the assigned tasks are at an appropriate level, not only in terms of content but in terms of volume as well. When a parent is fully aware of the curriculum at the outset of school, that is the time for them to voice any concerns about the planned work being too much or too little for their child. If the parent is on board with what is to be given for the term, what other kids in other classes are doing should be of no consequence. If the child has their nose out of joint because of the amount of homework they are expected to do, the parent should sit down with them and explain that they believe the volume to be appropriate and in their best interest to complete. Again - it’s all about having that open dialogue with your child as well as having set expectations with them and their teachers beforehand.
 

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 Image courtesy of www.sheknows.com

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