The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Homework… Family Togetherness or Disruption?

Homework has the potential for bringing a family together or
disrupting it. Since most school systems mandate nightly homework
assignments beginning with first grade, it behooves parents
to use this activity well in order to help their children grow as

Parents and teachers should consider and understand the
intended goals, effectiveness and side effects of homework
assignments. For example, assigning several workbook pages of
subtraction problems to the whole class, some of whom are already
skilled in subtraction, can be not only very boring but also may
cause some children to lose interest. This also has the
potential for creating rebellious behavior in children who fight
their parents about doing the assignment.

Homework assignments which take into account the needs of
the individual students can be helpful, however. There are some
children who need a great deal of reinforcement before they truly
understand a new concept. This reinforcement can be done at
home. There are other children who take longer to finish a
classroom assignment and rather than miss something else in
class, can finish the assignment at home. There are some
children, who, by temperament,love to do homework assignments and
will spend many happy hours working on them. Others get very
upset about doing twenty problems when they already understand
the concept. There are some children who get confused by
homework assignments and make so many mistakes that they have to
be retaught the concept. Some children are perfectionist and
spend two hours on something that should only have taken half an
hour. Other children find it hard enough to sit still in school
all day and find it even harder to sit still at home doing
homework. You should know which of these styles fit your child
and act accordingly.

Some parents feel personally responsible when children do
not do their homework. This feeling is reinforced by teachers
who complain to parents when the assignments are not done rather
than discussing the problem with the student. It is important
for parents and teachers to remember that the assignments are the
children’s responsibility. Parents can provide a quiet place for
the children to work and be supportive and encouraging, but it is
not their character that is supposed to be improved by homework
assignments, it is the child’s.

Some children do not respond well to parents attempts to
help them and everybody winds up in a screaming match. For some
teenagers, not doing homework is their only way of showing
independence. The ground is laid for power struggles with
parents. Parents face a dilemma. They may realize that most of the
homework their children bring home is busywork yet they feel the
children need the discipline of finishing assignments. What to
do? One thing that could be done is for the parents and school
to look at the whole homework mystique and devise creative
alternatives. For example, schools are very good at teaching
children the tools for learning. Very often, however, the school
does not have the time or the opportunity to put these tools to
work. This opportunity can be exploited in homework assignments.

Homes have an advantage the schools lack. Schools are
constrained by the building and the numbers of children in the
class. This is why workbooks are used and ditto sheets are given
to children. Homes are not bound by these constraints. To send
home worksheets for children to do in isolation wastes the
opportunity for creative use of the world outside of the school
building. For example, the children are taught the mechanics of
reading at school, their homework assignment could be to discover
the joy of reading at home from books of their choice. Or they
could be asked to read a story to a younger brother or sister.
This kind of assignment has the potential for bringing the family
together especially if the whole family spends the hour after
dinner reading. It also prevents dissension when one child is
told to go to his room and do his homework, while everybody else
in the family is making noise or watching TV.

Any activity imposed by forces outside of the family which
brings dissension to the family should be re-evaluated and

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