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Elementary Homework Philosophies

by Steve Cox, October 9, 2002

Over the last few years, I have talked with many parents about their philosophies toward homework. The spectrum is wide and I find it fascinating to explore even the most extreme arguments.

Consider the “time punch” philosophy. This one starts out with the statement, “My child has to sit still and learn for five hours a day. Let them enjoy the rest of their free time the way they choose.” They have a good point— kids need to have some time to unwind. Unfortunately, I am not able to get by the fact that they lack the one-on-one help that other students are enjoying. Also, they are not learning how to research, develop their study skills or to know what it feels like to be prepared. These skills become extremely important as they get to higher grades.

On the other side of the continuum, there is the “night school” philosophy. This parent questions the pace of learning in class and may decide to implement their own curriculum over and above the classroom content. This parent boldly claims, “My child is not being challenged, they are wasting valuable time and losing ground.” They also have a good point - parents know when their child is taking in all they can or when they are coasting. Unfortunately, this child is often driven excessively hard and tensions in the family can be high. The child’s attitude and outlook can seldom be described as active or fun-loving. Our children need plenty of play and creative times for normal development. 

Somewhere else on the spectrum, there is the “support” philosophy. This parent has no starting point. They approach me at the beginning of the year and asked how they can support their child’s education at home.

Different models work for different families. I was able to work with all philosophies but for me, the last model was easiest. Their children always seemed to be more prepared and eager for a new day of school. They build their homework plan based on what will support the classroom environment best.

Common with each philosophy, I asked each parent to help their child set aside a particular time and place each day, eliminate distractions and ensure they stayed within recommended time limits (see below). I also encouraged the parent to look in once in a while. They could then ensure that at some point of time, their child used all four of the homework disciplines:

  • Practice (Spelling words, verse memorization, writing, reading, etc.)
  • Preparation (Studying for tests, looking up info for essays, prepping for projects, etc.)
  • Extension (Ask questions and look up more info if they are still interested. Enjoyed the magnet unit? Find a magnet and a library book with things to do.)
  • Integration (Try to use what they have learned in every day terms – studied the stars this week? Go outside at 10:00 pm and look up…)

My recommended homework time limit for elementary: ≈ up to 10 minutes of work per grade. ie Gr. 3 = up to 30 minutes, Grade 6 = up to 60 minutes.

Steve Cox