Queer Mom Chronicles: I Have Mixed Feelings About Homework

It’s hard to believe we’re already more than 100 days into the school year. Spring Break is only a few weeks away, and then it’ll be a hop, skip and a jump to summer. I say a hop/skip, but really it will be a slow crawl over thorns to get to the end of the year, and for one major reason: homework.

Y’all, fourth grade math will be the death of me. This is where things got hard for me when I was a kid, and holy shit, it isn’t any easier a second time. Math and I are not friends and never have been — and now there are new ways to do math?! And it’s so confusing?! My son will try to explain stuff to me, and I tell him to stop because it’s not going to make sense no matter how slowly he tries to go over it. If I was a different kind of person, I might be embarrassed my 10-year-old has to try and explain math to me, but I am not. I knew this day was coming, but I was not as prepared as I thought I would be. But he’s definitely not at the age where he doesn’t need help.

My kid is pretty good about doing his homework — his teacher always praises him at conferences for being one of the few kids in the class who consistently turns in his assignments daily. Homework was one of my few real chores as a kid, and I created a routine for my kid that worked, but it still feels like a chore…for him and for me.

I also have a confession: As a parent who is making a concentrated effort to teach my child boundaries when it comes to helping manage burnout, homework doesn’t really fit in with that. Elementary school kids are in school for eight hours. Then they come home and are expected to do anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour (or more!) of homework four days a week. The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association endorse the “10-minute rule,” which says that kids should get 10 minutes of homework per grade level, which means my fourth grader would get 40 minutes of homework. He definitely gets more than that, although how much varies based on his understanding of the subject matter.

It’s not just my kid’s school either. A 2015 study in The American Journal of Family Therapy found that most elementary school kids were getting up to three times the recommended amount. In second grade, which was his first real year in school after a year and a half of virtual school, he was doing 40/45 minutes of homework.

I understand why kids need to do homework. It helps their little brains remember all of the things they’ve learned during the day and reinforces concepts. But in the last six or seven years, there have been studies conducted that show that homework for kids in elementary school, and even in lower middle school, isn’t really the most effective way to learn.

“We really need more work on subject matter, on homework quality, on the level of inquisitiveness that it engenders and the way it motivates,” Harris Cooper, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and author of The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents, told NEA Today in 2017.

My kid is only in fourth grade, and I’m already seeing the burnout. Yes, school gets progressively harder as you get older, and he’s not being asked to do anything developmentally inappropriate. But I see his face when it’s seven o’clock and he has to sit down and do his homework. Sometimes even a snack can’t ease the fatigue. I’ve drawn boundaries about my working hours for this very reason, and it sucks that our kids don’t get the option to do the same.

Cooper is right that we need to rethink homework. My son has never been a reader, and school only seems to be making him dislike it even more. Every week, he brings home a reading log and is expected to read 30 minutes a day and summarize the book. It’s supposed to help with reading comprehension, but it just doesn’t feel like the most effective way to do it. I’ve always been an avid reader, so it was weird enough to have a kid who wasn’t a reader, but now we fight over him getting new books or me trying to attempt to get him to read for pleasure. His teacher suggested I read to him or with him, but if I do that, he will for sure tune me out. And he gets too flustered to read aloud to me.

“Homework plays a critical role in developing and maintaining a connection between home and school,” Janine Bempechat, clinical professor at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, told me via email. “Homework assignments serve as regular communications from teachers to parents and family members about the learning that is occurring in the classroom.”

While this makes a lot of sense, we have to keep in mind that not all grownups are around to help their kids with homework. And so many of us are burned out that even if we are around, helping with homework or checking it feels like a chore.

A lot of parents work a job that requires their kids to go to some sort of after school care. Many kids get their homework done there, and I’ve seen the ratios of instructors to kids. Most kids aren’t getting the kind of one-on-one attention that homework can require. And because parents know their children are getting their homework done, they may not think about checking it once they get home because they have too many other things on their mind. They’re worried about feeding their kids and themselves, making sure kids take baths or showers, and getting them to bed at a decent hour. Because you know, elementary school aged kids should get at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep.

And then there are the ways afterschool activities impact time available for homework. Yes, I know those are optional, but kids having interests outside of school, even if it’s just going to the playground for a few hours, is important. My son has his afterschool music program four days a week, which means on those days he’s not getting home before five in the evening. He needs time to decompress and eat dinner before he gets his homework started. Some days, he also has to do additional cello practice at home to prepare for his private lessons or weekend institute program. If he doesn’t get home until 6:30, he’s got a lot to cram into two hours.

I don’t have a solution yet, but I am definitely all for rethinking homework. If you have a school aged kid, how do you feel about homework?

Queer Mom Chronicles is a biweekly column where I examine all of the many facets of queer parenthood through my tired mom eyes. 

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 128 articles for us.


    • I’m a 3rd grade teacher and every year I change my homework policy, I keep hearing new perspectives that change my opinions. It’s really complicated! I used to be firmly in the no-HW camp my first year as a teacher. I was surprised how many families were upset with my choice, saying they felt disconnected from what their student was learning or how it was going for them. Now in my 5th year, I have HW that i incentivize, but don’t penalize for. I get maybe 25% of them doing it. It happens frequently that students make break throughs in new math subjects based off what they practice at home with parents, especially because how multiplication is different from addition is such a big part of 3rd grade that some students struggle to grasp.

      When I making it I try to make the math numbers only so families don’t have to be able to read in English, goal is for it to all be done in 30 minutes or less, and families know that I’m OK with students practicing any strategy – not only the ones we practiced in class.

      I wish students had long recess and lunch breaks during the day and the school day was kept the same length, it would make it easier for the family if students weren’t sitting still 90% of the day!!! They deserve more play!

  1. We’re not school aged yet, but when we get there we will be opting out of homework at *least* through middle school. A totally viable and legal option for public school students/families, and your kid can’t be penalized for it!

    The practice can be read in super racialized ways (brave white parents and lazy/uncaring Black/brown ones) but if you’re willing to fight upstream against that it’s definitely a fantastic option. There are plenty of better ways to get involved in and support your kid’s education than the daily homework grind.

  2. I also have complicated feelings about this. I’m not a parent (and never plan to be) but as a private tutor, I am so so so worried about kids. They’re both overwhelmed/burned out AND way behind with learning/development, and I can’t help feeling like we as a society have already failed them. Even by the time I get them in elementary or middle school, I often feel so helpless to make any difference in their actual learning, because they’ve “got to keep up” with assignments and grade advancement despite being horribly behind. And y’all – I am not talking about low income/underprivileged kids. I’m talking about rich white suburb kids! Even with every advantage, they are struggling so badly. And it’s not because they’re stupid or lazy or fundamentally shitty humans – it’s because we haven’t prepared them AT ALL for the world they’re going to face. I don’t know what the answer is, but I have so much empathy for everyone involved – parents, kiddos, teachers, etc – who are trying to balance way too many unreasonable demands at any given moment.

  3. I have 2 kids, 5th grade and 9th grade. The older one had a small amount of homework when she was in elementary school and we never really had a problem with it, mostly because she always did well in school and it wasn’t difficult for her. She did 6th grade remote. In 7th & 8th grades, aside from online math practice most nights, she didn’t seem to have homework unless she needed to finish something that she didn’t have time to complete in class. Now that she’s in high school it seems to be the same, although to be honest she’s a pretty studious and motivated kid so we don’t really need to monitor her school work. She’ll do what she needs to do to maintain good grades without much prodding from us. (I know we’re lucky in that respect.) As a freshman she’s also not in super rigorous academic classes yet, so we’ll see what happens next year when she will probably be in honors or AP classes for some subjects.

    The younger one, on the other hand, hates homework and it’s a real struggle to get her to do it. We make her do the math, because she struggles in math and needs the extra practice, but we stopped making her read/fill out a reading log or do the busywork writing prompts. She reads well above grade level and excels in writing so it’s not worth the fight to make her do these things. Also, despite almost never picking up a book at home, her teachers told us that she reads constantly at school (usually when she’s supposed to be doing something else, but we were still surprised.)

    All this to say, I think homework has its place – as extra practice where needed, or to finish an assignment from class, but I don’t agree with assigning homework just because it’s school policy or whatever. I also despise reading logs and think they kill the love of reading in so many kids. It turns reading into a chore instead of something done for fun/pleasure.

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