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How to help kids struggling with their homework, and what to do if it’s too much

Homework is a big part of a child’s school day, whether school is composed completely of remote instruction or a hybrid of in-person and online learning. If your child is struggling to adapt, providing a supportive environment and establishing a productive routine can help them thrive.

When school has shifted to home, everything feels like homework, said Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Suc-cess and senior lecturer at Stanford University Graduate School of Education. That’s stressful for everyone: parents, teachers and students.

“It’s more important than ever to think critically and thoughtfully about the purpose of homework, especially given the blur between home and school and the educational inequities facing so many kids right now,” Pope said.

The right amount

Challenge Success recently released an updated version of its homework white paper, “Quality Over Quantity: Elements of Effective Homework,” that highlights the elements of effective homework and offers questions for both parents and educators about how homework can be improved. A key finding is that homework, which is work done outside a teacher-directed “classroom,” should be purposeful, meaningful, high quality and engaging.

Students shouldn’t be doing hours upon hours of homework. Too much homework can increase stress and interfere with sleep, downtime, family time and other activities criti-cal to student well-being, Pope said.

The amount of time spent doing homework doesn’t translate to academic success in middle and high school, and there is no correlation at all between homework and achievement in elementary school — except for self-directed reading, research found.

Create the environment

The educational landscape may be fluid and changing, so it’s important for parents to provide a stable, supportive environment for children to learn in, Pope said.

“Keep the big picture in mind. What’s important is not getting all As or 10 out of 10 on a quiz. Make sure to value and build up your relationships so children feel unconditionally loved. Focus on your health and well-being,” Pope said.

Lessen the homework hassle by creating a routine that includes a daily homework schedule with built-in breaks for snack and exercise, Pope said. If possible a student should have a consistent space to learn that’s relatively quiet and free from distractions.

“There’s good research that routines are calming,” Pope said.

Come up with the plan together. Let your student take part in creating the schedule and get them to “sign off” on the plan so they take ownership, Pope said.

Make your expectations clear, because when students feel able to meet parent expectations they are less likely to be worried and stressed about homework, she said.

Take a step back as a parent. To use a sports analogy, you buy your son or daughter soccer cleats, get them to the game on time, then take your place as a cheerleader on the sidelines, Pope said.

“Parents often have a hard time figuring out their role,” she said. Resist doing their homework for them, and that includes editing or checking.

“Doing so may rob them of the opportunity to develop resilience, persistence and problem-solving skills,” Pope said.

A missed or poorly completed assignment likely will not impact your child in the long run, she said.

When it’s too much

If homework becomes a problem, it should be the teacher, not the parent, who intervenes.

If you’re concerned about your child’s homework, initiate a respectful dialogue with the school, Pope said. Older students can advocate for themselves and start by communi-cating with teachers directly about homework challenges they are facing.

For more suggestions and home-work help, visit challengesuccess.org.

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