WHAT KIDS HAVE long suspected and grownups won't admit is true: Parents hate homework too. While all parents want their children to excel, many fret over how much time homework takes up--and what kids are missing out on as a result. For working parents, homework is the third shift, after the office and after cooking and cleanup chores. Is it worthwhile? Should first-graders really spend an hour a night on work sheets? How much should Mom help? Some answers from experts:
•Just how useful is homework, anyway? No question, homework is valuable. It has a measurable impact on academic achievement, teaches responsibility and organizational skills, fosters study habits and shows kids that learning takes place outside the classroom. That value increases with age, so the amount of homework should increase as well. The rule of thumb: 10 min. per night per grade level.
•What if homework is taking the place of family conversation and games? Homework isn't necessarily the culprit. For children shuttled from lesson to lesson or for kids who have hockey practice every afternoon, homework is just part of a high-pressure package. "If you're going to send kids to a highly academic school or enroll them in advanced classes, you have to make that the priority," advises Michael Thompson, author of The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life (Ballantine; 272 pages). "You can't pile on activities; the child will end up a stressed-out mess."
•What's the best way to deal with a teacher who ignores school guidelines and assigns excessive homework? Approach the teacher first, perhaps after consulting with parents of other kids in the class. After all, if many students are struggling, the teacher should reassess the assignments. If the teacher remains unresponsive, consider seeing the principal.
•Is it better for a child to do homework right after school? Experts agree that it's up to the individual child based on his or her preferences, abilities and schedule. As long as homework isn't left until just before bedtime, letting children establish their own routine is best.
•But what if it's 10:30 and your 10-year-old is still toiling away? Is it better to send him to bed or have him finish? Send him to bed! A sleepy child is going to experience only diminishing returns for his efforts and will be tired the next day. Talk to the teacher, advises Aaron Pallas, who studies parent involvement at Teachers College in New York City. What are the teacher's expectations? Is he or she aware the work takes so much time? The problem could also lie with the child's study habits. He may be "doing his homework" while surfing the Web.
•How important is it for children to have a quiet place to work? Most experts say where kids do their work isn't important as long as they are comfortable and getting the work done. Having parents quietly reading nearby can foster an academic atmosphere and make children feel supported in their work.