"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
October 23, 2015
Too Much Homework
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My elementary-school-aged daughter gets too much homework. She has hours of work assigned every night. It consumes most of her free time and makes it hard for her to do chores or go to non-school activities. Some of the material wasn’t even taught in class, which means I have to figure out the directions and then explain it to her.

I want my daughter to be a good student, but I can’t stand this anymore. Homework is taking over our family. It’s stressful for everyone, and I’m tired of being the bad guy.

How can I manage this situation?


Do you know the funny thing about homework? Nobody likes it. Not children, not parents, not teachers. It consumes hours of everyone’s time, causes angst and stress, and (from what I’ve read) has no proven benefit—academic or otherwise—in elementary school. And yet, hours are spent every day preparing, collecting, completing and grading homework. It consumes teachers’ time, turns parents into enforcers, and crowds out after-school activities that actually do contribute to a child’s development, such as playing, free time, chores, reading for pleasure and conversation.

Also, in my opinion, too much homework hurts a child’s ability to organize his time and make decisions. It promotes cheating (as parents just give their children the answers out of desperation—and don’t tell me you’ve never done that) and teaches children that there is no way they can get through school without their parents’ assistance. Instead of fostering independence, it imposes a schedule on children’s free time, limits their opportunity to think about things that interest them personally and takes away their social and play time.

Indeed, most of the experienced elementary school teachers I know assign very little homework besides reading. Their reasons range from, “Children need to do more than school work,” to “I want to know what my students know, not what their parents know.”

So let’s say that you agree with my assessment of homework. You think it’s the pits. Why, then, do you make your child do it? You could send in a note that says, “Please do not send home any more homework.” You could tell your child’s teacher that you don’t mind if she gets zeroes on her homework. Your daughter might gladly trade a spot on the honor roll for a homework-free life. I know people (okay, one person) who have done this. They (she) were thrilled with the result.

But if that approach seems too dramatic, you could also simply call your child’s teacher to discuss the problem.

Part of having children in school is finding the right mix of advocacy and compliance. Compliance with a teacher’s rules and requirements is familiar territory to most parents, and a good, basic rule for children. Children need to learn compliance with rules—even rules they don’t understand—in order to get along well in the workplace, in all levels of traditional education, and at church. They also need to know that crying to mom and dad about the normal difficulties of life will not excuse them from following rules or doing their work. Mom and dad will be sympathetic and helpful, but within the context of helping the child comply with the teacher’s expectations.

At the same time, parents need to observe the effect on their children of school rules and requirements, and to step in when the cost of compliance is too high. Hours of family or free time spent on homework, or a child’s extreme frustration, for example, are situations where parents should step out of compliance mode and into their roles as advocates and protectors.

In your case, your elementary-school-aged daughter is spending hours every day on homework. This is patently unreasonable. The homework is also imposing on your time; you are being told what you must do when you and your daughter are at home together. You are also the one who has to handle the crying, contention, frustration and discouragement.

In this situation, calling your daughter’s teacher to ask for a lighter homework load is perfectly appropriate. It is neither confrontational nor disrespectful, nor will it reveal you to be an overprotective nut. Rather, it is a normal, sensible thing to do.

Here is how you might approach such a conversation.

One, be prepared. Preparation will calm your nerves and help you remember all of your points. Write or think through a short script that describes your problem, and practice saying it out loud. In order to have actual information for your conversation, I suggest you start recording how much time your child spends on each assignment each night, as well as the total time she spends on homework. You should also note every assignment that your daughter says she does not know how to do.

Consult your school handbook or policies. Some schools set out a maximum amount of homework a child should have each night, based on his or her grade. Even if you think these maximum amounts are too high, they may still be lower than what your daughter is currently assigned to do, and may therefore be helpful.

You might also read up on the topic of homework. Not the books and articles that tell you how to create a quiet study space and a daily homework routine. But the books and articles that review the research and conclude that it does not improve learning, and in some cases actually hurts learning. Interestingly, most parents, teachers and administrators are not familiar with the research on homework. Many will be interested to know what you have found.

You might also read up on the benefits of free time and unstructured play, both of which are essential to a child’s development.

Two, call the teacher. You could also send an email or make an appointment to meet with her. Start by saying something nice about how the year is going, or something that you appreciate about her. Then, in a friendly but concerned tone, say that your daughter is having trouble with her homework. Explain that it takes your daughter 90 minutes to do her assignments, which you believe is too much. Explain the stress or other negative effects you have observed, and that she has little time for other forms of learning and recreation. Tell the teacher that your daughter does not know how to do some of the assignments, and that you do not feel that she should be teaching herself new material. You can also mention that the amount of time she spends on homework is much higher than the student handbook allows

Now, do not let your mom pride dissuade you from saying your daughter is “having trouble.” There is no shame in having an elementary-school-aged child who is overwhelmed by too much—or any amount—of homework. It does not reflect badly on you or on her that she does not want to sit and do homework after a full day of school. It does not mean she is not a good student or not bright. In fact, spending hours on homework is, by definition, “having trouble,” even if the actual assignments are easy for her.

Three, listen to the teacher. After you explain your problem, listen to what the teacher has to say. Many teachers will say, “Oh, my. That’s far too much. Let me see what I can do.” The assignments will be reduced and everyone will be happier.

The teacher may also have information for you. For example, your daughter might be reading novels during class instead of completing her work. Or, perhaps an assignment was taught during class, but your daughter was too embarrassed to tell you that she did not understand it, or that she was not paying attention. Or, the teacher may candidly tell you that she doesn’t like homework either, but the principal has mandated that students have it every night.

It is, of course, possible that your daughter’s teacher will not be receptive. She might say, “Well, it shouldn’t take her that long,” as if it is your child’s fault that she cannot complete assignments quickly. Or “Well, it’s not fair if your child doesn’t have to do it,” as if you were asking for special treatment instead of trying to solve a genuine problem. Or, “Testing,” as if that were a reason to send home assignments without first teaching the material.

If you do not get a positive or helpful response, be patient, but do not give up. Your daughter’s homework load is too heavy and you are concerned for her well-being. Do not be discouraged because this first meeting did not seem successful. Also, remember that this person will be your child’s teacher all year. Treat her with the same professional respect and courtesy you would want for yourself if you were in her position.

Four, talk to the administration. If you are unable to work with your daughter’s teacher, or if the teacher tells you that the homework is a school policy, take your concerns to the school administration. Schedule a meeting where you can explain again how much time your child spends on homework every night and the effect it is having on your child and family.

You may feel worried about getting your child’s teacher in trouble. But this cannot deter you from expressing your concerns about your child. Also, the administration needs to know if a teacher is assigning inappropriate amounts of homework, especially if those assignments were not covered in class.

Five, do as little homework as possible. If you are unable to have your daughter’s homework load reduced, you may decide to set your own limits. Especially with a very young student, you will probably be able to skip some of the activities without her noticing. If something doesn’t need to be turned in, don’t do it. If something was not taught in class, don’t do it and email the teacher explaining why. If something takes too long or is too difficult, stop after a reasonable attempt and email the teacher.

This approach, however, might stress your daughter even more than the homework did if it puts her into open conflict with her teacher. As your goal is to promote her well-being, you should be sensitive to her feelings. You should also remember that by your example, you are teaching your daughter how to appropriately address a problem. Therefore, you should strive to be calm and fair even as you make a strong case for your point of view.

Finally, help and support your daughter’s teacher. Speak kindly of her in front of your daughter. Express appreciation for things she does well. If she is running low on classroom supplies, send in pencils. Let her know that you appreciate her work, and that your concern about homework is only one concern in the midst of many other things you like about your daughter’s educational experience.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

Bookmark and Share    
About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
Copyright © Hatrack River Enterprise Inc. All Rights Reserved. Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com