Homework For 4th Graders Too Much

As a teacher and mom of 4, ok, as of August, a former teacher, I HATE homework. My daughter was in 4th grade in WI she had so much homework, she was often up well after bedtime. teacher insisted it shouldnt even take an hour. Well, lets see, read a couple chapters-sometimes 50-70 pages, answer some questions, read a science or social studies packet and answer questions, a couple pages of math, and 20 minutes of independent reading. The funny thing was, when it was their testing time (equivalent to EOG here) they brought home a note that said "get plenty of rest" but she was doing homework until 11:00 and still didn't finish. We could NEVER do anything on a school night-not even run to a store, because she did homework from after school until bedtime, minus dinner time.
Last year, (our first year here) in 5th grade, she had many nights that were similar and she couldnt get it all done, and a LOT of it was busy work-packets the teacher gave out in class for early finishers. It wasnt part of any curriculum (I would know) and yet the teacher said she had to do it or she's spend recess walking laps. I actually emailed the teacher and asked if these were required (stacks of worksheet packets) and she said they were. I really don't understand the need for all of the homework. They are in school all day, give them time to be a kid.
I had parents complain if they felt I wasn't giving enough homework, and of course there were kids that did none of it. I can see if your child is struggling in an area and needs extra practice, but piles of worksheets every night is overkill, IMO.
Now with 2 in middle school, sometimes they have a ton, other nights are not so bad. My DH wanted to go out to dinner last night (his only night off this week) and DH cried because she would never get all of her worksheet packets done if we went somewhere. The best part is the packets are science and social studies questions, but they are not allowed to bring books home, so they have nothing to reference to answer the questions, do the darn crossword puzzles, etc.

Timothy, a fifth grader, spends up to thirteen hours a day hunched over a desk at school or at home, studying and doing homework. Should his parents feel proud? Now imagine, for comparison's sake, Timothy spending thirteen hours a day hunched over a sewing machine instead of a desk.

Parents have the right to complain when schools assign too much homework but they often don't know how to do so effectively.

Drowning in Homework (an excerpt from Chapter 8 of The Squeaky Wheel)

I first met Timothy, a quiet, overweight eleven-year-old boy, when his mother brought him to therapy to discuss his slipping grades. A few minutes with Timothy were enough to confirm that his mood, self-esteem, and general happiness were slipping right along with them. Timothy attended one of the top private schools in Manhattan, an environment in which declining grades were no idle matter.

I asked about Timothy's typical day. He awoke every morning at six thirty so he could get to school by eight and arrived home around four thirty each afternoon. He then had a quick snack, followed by either a piano lesson or his math tutor, depending on the day. He had dinner at seven p.m., after which he sat down to do homework for two to three hours a night. Quickly doing the math in my head, I calculated that Timothy spent an average of thirteen hours a day hunched over a writing desk. His situation is not atypical. Spending that many hours studying is the only way Timothy can keep up and stay afloat academically.

But what if, for comparison's sake, we imagined Timothy spending thirteen hours a day hunched over a sewing machine instead of a desk. We would immediately be aghast at the inhumanity because children are horribly mistreated in such "sweatshops." Timothy is far from being mistreated, but the mountain of homework he faces daily results in a similar consequence- he too is being robbed of his childhood.

Timothy's academics leave him virtually no time to do anything he truly enjoys, such as playing video games, movies, or board games with his friends. During the week he never plays outside and never has indoor play dates or opportunities to socialize with friends. On weekends, Timothy's days are often devoted to studying for tests, working on special school projects, or arguing with his mother about studying for tests and working on special school projects.

By the fourth and fifth grade and certainly in middle school, many of our children have hours of homework, test preparation, project writing, or research to do every night, all in addition to the eight hours or more they have to spend in school. Yet study after study has shown that homework has little to do with achievement in elementary school and is only marginally related to achievement in middle school.

Play, however, is a crucial component of healthy child development. It affects children's creativity, their social skills, and even their brain development. The absence of play, physical exercise, and free-form social interaction takes a serious toll on many children. It can also have significant health implications as is evidenced by our current epidemic of childhood obesity, sleep deprivation, low self- esteem, and depression.

A far stronger predictor than homework of academic achievement for kids aged three to twelve is having regular family meals. Family meals allow parents to check in, to demonstrate caring and involvement, to provide supervision, and to offer support. The more family meals can be worked into the schedule, the better, especially for preteens. The frequency of family meals has also been shown to help with disordered eating behaviors in adolescents.

Experts in the field recommend children have no more than ten minutes of homework per day per grade level. As a fifth- grader, Timothy should have no more than fifty minutes a day of homework (instead of three times that amount). Having an extra two hours an evening to play, relax, or see a friend would constitute a huge bump in any child's quality of life.

So what can we do if our child is getting too much homework?

1. Complain to the teachers and the school. Most parents are unaware that excessive homework contributes so little to their child's academic achievement.

2. Educate your child's teacher and principal about the homework research-they are often equally unaware of the facts and teachers of younger children (K-4) often make changes as a result.

3. Create allies within the system by speaking with other parents and banding together to address the issue with the school.

You might also like: Is Excessive Homework in Private Schools a Customer Service Issue?

View my short and quite personal TED talk about Psychological Health here:

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Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

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