Last month’s article explored the contentious topic of homework in the elementary school years. Many researchers, educators, parents, and authors assert that premature and improper homework can hinder the development and academic growth of children under the age of twelve. However, there are conditions under which homework can provide positive and valuable benefits for elementary school children and their families.

First, not all homework is created equal. Benefits prevail when an assignment includes a clear purpose and a connection between the school and home relationship. Homework should invite parents into the process of a child-lead activity, so that the child is sharing information rather than learning new information at home or practicing rote memorization skills. An example would be reviewing the parts of a lesson that have been taught at school, requiring parents to hear about it and discuss its content at home. This type of sharing creates dialogue between families and allows the child to drive the process of sharing the information.

Some progressive schools send home pictures of lessons from the day and require families to discuss the topics from a teacher-generated topic list. These discussions are sometimes accompanied with activities to do in the local community that further enhance the educational experience. As an alternative to overloading young students with homework, there are many things that teachers and parents can do to make sure that students are motivated and open to learning more.

We can start by encourage fun reading. Reading has a clear purpose and can be shared with family members. Parents and teachers may find subjects that kids are interested in and either stimulate them to read themselves or read out loud and let them listen. Although personalizing this activity for each child will require more effort than homogeneous homework, the benefits of fun reading will be noticeable. The “Ten Minute Rule” known by many educators, recommends children spend about 10 minutes on homework per night for every year they are in school. That would mean 10 minutes for a first-grader and an hour for a child in the sixth grade. Those ten minutes can be spent reading for fun, sharing topics from school with parents, or finding museums and community events that connect to the content of a child’s class.

Homework that is age and time appropriate, includes a clear purpose, and invites families to connect over it has lasting benefits. Homework that is meaningless and not appropriate in time can cause disruption in the home and hinder the intrinsic motivation to learn. Investigate your child’s homework; do you clearly see the purpose in it? Is it time appropriate? Does it serve to invite families into the learning process? If your answer is no, meet with your child’s teacher to find out more about his/her homework policy and its intention for positively enhancing the school/home connection.