Should kids be given homework or shouldn’t they? This is an ongoing debate with many advocates on either side. With school going back, the thought of homework might be on your mind.

So what do we think about homework here at Education Equals?

We believe homework is both necessary and useful when given for the right reasons and under the right conditions. Let us explain!

As Mathematics educators, we know that most mathematical thinking can and should be developed through well constructed investigative tasks. However, these tasks are virtually inaccessible unless students have a strong foundational toolkit of skills to call upon. In our experience, most students have a very limited set of quite rudimentary skills and are therefore limited in their access to more interesting and important educational contexts.

The only way to strengthen and expand this set of mathematical tools is through practice. As there is only so much opportunity for practice during class, the remainder needs to occur out of class. We wouldn’t expect a great tennis player to deliver excellent serves after a few lessons with an expert coach. We would hope this tennis player has learnt some invaluable tips to improve this skill, and then they would develop the skill further through continued practice. This is the same for any skill, and when we’re talking mathematics, there are many skills to learn.

So how much practice is required? This of course depends on the individual, and this is when your involvement as a parent is so important. When a teacher is responsible for the development of 30 students in one class, it is extremely difficult and often impractical to deliver individual learning programs adequately to each student. Often the homework set for a class of students is the same for all, and while this is not ideal, this is most likely based on the teacher’s best educational and professional judgement. It is up to you as a partner in your child’s education to refine what happens at home.

The better equipped you are to follow your child’s progress and to understand the skills that need further development, the more you can tailor homework to be of greatest benefit. Most teachers would be thrilled to have a parent show an interest in directing homework that supports the teacher and benefits the child. A quick email to the teacher every so often will give you some guidance on what skills your child needs to work on currently. Then check on the resources available online (or see what resources we can develop for you!) to help you and your child develop these skills.

The worst scenario is when children simply hate doing their homework, and this is usually because it is too boring or too time consuming and frustrating.

If it is too boring, work closely with your child to see whether they have already developed great mastery of the skill involved. If they have, feel free to shorten the selection of problems that they will work on, ensuring that the more difficult problems towards the end of a set are attempted. Again, good communication with the teacher about what you are noticing without imposing any judgement is useful.

If the work is clearly very frustrating for your child then they are finding the skill far too difficult to grasp, let alone master. The key here is to work closely with your child, working together on a select few questions and helping them build up this skill over a series of months. They won’t grasp it overnight, and expecting them to complete all the assigned tasks will strip their confidence and ruin any love for learning. As a parent, the more you can help your child feel supported and capable rather than alone and frustrated, the sooner the fear of conquering new skills will disappear.

Leaving children to their own devices when it comes to homework is not the best strategy. I always get a good laugh when parents say to me “Well, he has everything he needs in his room and he tells me he’s done his homework, so I don’t know what is going wrong.” As with all habits, developing good homework habits needs to be taught. Active involvement in your child’s homework, and expressing your interest and enthusiasm for their work, is the best way to get homework on track.

The days of sitting around the kitchen table with some healthy snacks and involved parents are not over. Make this scenario a feature of your family life and you will be amazed at what it does for your relationships and your children’s educational success.

We’d love to hear about homework in your household or any questions you might have about the best way to support your child. Please leave a comment or contact us.

Photo credit: apdk / Foter / CC BY