Getting a Handle on Homework

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Get a handle on homework with these savvy tips from Life as MOM contributor JessieLeigh.

Getting a Handle on Homework

Is it just me, or are they handing out homework at younger and younger ages these days? I may just be old, but I don’t remember getting nightly assignments until I was in middle school.

These days, it’s common for first graders to have both math and reading homework each night. Some schools expect kindergartners to handle homework and some issue science or social studies projects on a regular basis.

It can be a lot for these little people!

And let me be real with you– it can be a lot for the big people, too. With children as young as five or six, you obviously have to be very involved in the whole homework process.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years to help ease the burden a little bit:

Have a designated spot.

With little kids, I find a kitchen or dining room table typically works best, especially if you have more than one child. You need to have space to sit down and help them and, if they’re close to the kitchen, you can sometimes accomplish a few supper tasks once you get them started on a section.

Make sure you have any pencils, crayons, rulers, calculators, scratch paper, etc. within easy reach. Have the table cleared and ready for when your little people descend on you.

Rare is the child who really thrives in a cluttered space.

Figure out your child’s ideal work time.

Some children do best just getting their homework done and out of the way. Others really need a few minutes to decompress and unwind from the school day. I’ve known a few who truly did their best work first thing the next morning.

Just like grown-ups each have their own rhythms and peak times, children have varying needs. Don’t assume that, since your eldest did great going right to work, his siblings will do the same.

Work together to find the best time for both of you.

Snacky Lunch 2

Make sure they’re nourished.

School lunch times grow ever-shorter. While forty-five minutes was once common-place, many children have less than a half hour to choke down their mid-day meals these days. Some of them might be missing out on key nutrients.

In my home, I have one child who’s likely to carb-load and ignore the protein and veggies in her lunch– I need to make sure she ingests some of them before we even attempt homework! I have another who is prone to extremely low blood pressure. I need to get electrolytes in that kid right away.

If you notice excessive fatigue, fidgeting, or crankiness, make sure that hunger or thirst isn’t the culprit.

Praise independence.

Little ones need help with a lot. They may not be able to read the directions on their own. They likely won’t be able to spell every word they want to write. There will be words in their books they don’t know and phrases that are unfamiliar.

While it is definitely important to provided needed support, make sure you give them the high-five for trying to figure it out independently. Learning to use outside clues and cues to solve puzzles and decode words is a super valuable life skill.

I am always thrilled when my child attempts to write a word, rather than asking me to spell it before she even tries. We can fix the errors later; I want her to know it’s great that she’s using her mind.


Know when to throw in the towel.

If you’ve explained a math problem ten different ways and he’s still staring at it after twenty minutes, it’s time to let it go. If her first grade book is taking her more than a half hour to work through, it may be time to quit for the day.

There is nothing wrong with writing a note to the teacher explaining how long you both worked on a problem and that he’s still confused. Ask for clarification regarding how long a reading assignment should typically take.

Communicating these struggles to the teacher– rather than just giving the answers to your kid– will help him or her better meet the needs of your child. You provide valuable insight when you share missing skills or weaknesses you’re seeing unveiled during homework time.

If I follow my own advice, homework time is generally pretty painless around here.

What tips do you have for easing the hassle of homework?

– A mother of three, including a 24 week preemie, JessieLeigh is a determined advocate for even the tiniest of babies. She can be found celebrating life’s (sometimes unexpected) miracles and blessings at Parenting Miracles.

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  1. Homework was such a tricky thing starting out! This post would have been so helpful back then. In 1st grade we were doing 30-45 minutes of homework several nights a week! We talked to the teacher and found that was not her intention. It was more a result of our perfectionistic tendencies. Whoops! So we scaled back and gave her some more breathing room and independence. Somewhere between 2nd and 3rd grade she was able to absorb most of the HW responsibilities and it was less taxing for us. My husband and I definitely have different approaches and sometimes we have to trade off before things get too intense. The kids normally do their HW after dinner which usually is fine. On some nights it backfires because as the kids grow tired- patience and understanding grow thin.

    1. Oh, thank you, Amy, for mentioning those different approaches/styles as parents– that’s such an important consideration! My husband and I are like that, too, and sometimes we really have to make sure we get the “right” person on the job or let the other try to explain something. 🙂

  2. My girls started having homework once a week at age 2! And at ages 3-4 it was twice a week.
    At first I thought it was crazy but then I saw it was all “fun stuff” for them to get used to the concept of doing school “work” at home, setting a place and a time for it….they LOVE it, they keep asking for more 🙂

    1. I have a nephew whose daycare/school gave homework at age 2, too– since he has older sibs, he thought it was cool that he could do homework, too. 🙂

  3. One thing to remember is that the homework is not about YOU – it’s about the child. I have learned that communication with teachers is essential, as has been stated more than once above.

    However it’s also important to send it that ‘wrong’ homework – there are certain things I simply will not go over with my youngest [who struggles the most academically] because I feel it’s more important that the teacher see what she gets right and wrong [in reading comprehension for example] than what I can nudge her towards. It doesn’t help her for me to do that!

    Another tip is that for math, instead of always explaining, sometimes I just erase the wrong answers and say ‘try those again’ – especially if some are right [so they DO know how] and I might go over the example at the top again – and often they can do it right the second time around. Another thing to point out is to just circle the wrong problems, and let HER figure out where she’s wrong – she learns so much better with these methods!

    Last tip – for many subjects the way they teach has changed drastically since I was a child, and some have changed since my next oldest was in that grade! Often I find it helpful to talk with the teacher or at least make sure the notebook comes home so that I can see the language they’re using, the tools they’re teaching, and use the same vocabulary with my youngest. With my eldest [14] I often say, ‘I know this is the right answer but I don’t know how to show you how to do it’ – and she’s mature enough to then work her way backwards and then understands. With the younger two I find I add more confusion than help if I try to show them ‘my’ way!

    1. Thanks for sharing your tips, Cherie! You have more years of homework experience than I do, yet– I appreciate your weighing in! 🙂

  4. I HATE first grade homework!!! Between reading and worksheets, we spend about 2 hours a night doing homework. She is so frustrated and angry that it ends in an argument at least once a week. She loved kindergarden last year (in a different school district), but she now hates school and hates reading. She is doing so well, too, but the school is so focused on their test scores that they don’t do anything fun anymore. Its terrible. I don’t even know what to do!

    1. Oh, Lindsey, this breaks my heart! 🙁 Surely the district realizes that frustrating children into hating school isn’t going to help their scores in the long run, right? If you haven’t already, I would definitely talk to her teacher. I can’t imagine they expect a first grader to be spending two hours on homework each night. If you’ve already tried that, I would do to an administrator. I am being totally honest when I tell you that just two days ago, I talked to my first grader’s teacher and explained the struggles we were having with a certain type of homework and we were able to fix the problem in less than five minutes. You have every right to ask for a meeting or conference to help support your daughter’s learning and JOY in school.

      1. I think this school kind of prides themselves on it; they have the best test scores in the district! I’ve mentioned it to the teacher a couple times. She had a mid year survey, which was the last time I wrote her about it. The principal is very strict and prides herself on the fact that the school is so academically rigid. The work isn’t necessarily hard for her, its just time consuming. At this point we have only 2 months left and I just want to get through it. I’m kind of thinking about homeschooling, but since she’s my step-daughter, I’m not sure if that would work against us in court if her mother attempts to get custody back. Maybe second grade will be more fun for her…

  5. I am a teacher and a parent. I wish homework was eliminated. There are better ways to teach responsibility and you as a teacher never know who did the work. I give my students some minimal homework only to keep them from being at a disadvantage later for not having the homework experience. Tooooo much homework is given, too much time is expected for extra curriculars, and concepts are being taught way too early. When do kids get to be kids and families be families. Sorry for the rant. I get very frustrated both personally and professionally.

  6. I am a NC public school teacher (5th grade) and the parent of a preschooler (Christian school). So far my little one has not brought home any homework.

    As for my students, I typically assign a Spelling assignment each night, but we have a list of about 10 different activities that they get to choose from. It doesn’t matter to me what they choose as long as they practice their words each night. I also usually send home a math assignment, and I encourage them to take home their math notes from class, which ALWAYS include several examples of how to solve the problems. I also give them “tips and tricks” to help solve problems more easily. However, if the students didn’t catch on to the new skill during class, I usually forgo the HW because I don’t want them to be discouraged, or worse yet, practice doing the problems the WRONG way. I rarely give more than 15 problems (and it’s rare I give that many). I also encourage nightly reading, especially for my ESL students. Thanks to recent technology added to my classroom (a laptop for each student to use at school), our projects get completed in class…rarely sent home.

    I’ve always been of the school of thought of “10 minutes of HW per grade level”…so that’s 50 minutes (AT THE MOST) for my students. If it takes longer than that…..parents should call me b/c something is amiss. 2 hours for 1st grade HW is ridiculous.

  7. Jessie,

    For younger kids, a half hour for math should be the maximum of time for homework. After explaining many different ways, if the child still doesn’t understand, you should DEFINITELY send the teacher a note. Email communication is best so that you can have a record of your communication. If the teacher doesn’t respond or help your child, you will have the emails that you can take to the principal. This works really well for private schools, hopefully public schools work the same way. Last night, WE spent 1.5 hours studying for a middle school math test. For regular homework nights, I have my son try all the problems, then we go over them together and make sure he understands why the problems are right or wrong. Good luck!