Homework: the basics
Homework can take many forms. For example, primary school children might be asked to:
- do worksheets or longer projects
- do some reading or writing
- collect interesting objects to share with the class.
Secondary school children are more likely to get different homework tasks or assignments for each subject. These might be maths activities, writing tasks, research projects, practical or creative tasks and so on.
Academic benefits of homework?
In the early school years, there’s no clear evidence that homework helps children do well academically at school.
As children get older, homework does have academic benefits – there’s a strong link between homework and achievement for children in secondary school.
Other benefits of homework
In general, homework can help your child:
- practise and get better at skills they’re learning in class
- get ready for the next day’s work
- work on longer research or creative projects
- learn to manage their time, work to deadlines, and balance work and play.
Homework has benefits for parents too – it gives you the chance to see what your child is learning about at school. And showing interest in your child’s homework is a great way to let your child know that you value learning and education.
Finding the right time for homework
For some children, the best time to get homework done will be soon after they get home from school. Others might like a break to play and unwind before starting on homework.
Young children can concentrate for only about 15 minutes at a time before they need a brief break. Even older children need breaks. When it’s break time, you can encourage your child to do some neck stretches, arm shakes and finger wriggles or play outside for a few minutes.
You might be able to motivate your child to do homework by setting a time limit and encouraging your child to do the things they enjoy, like watching TV or playing outside, when they’re finished.
No matter when your child does homework, it’s useful to have a regular time for homework each week. And it’s great if this can be when you’re around to support and encourage your child.
Whenever and wherever your child does homework, try to minimise distractions by turning off the TV and asking younger siblings to play somewhere else. One idea is to make homework time a quiet time for your whole family to read or do other quiet activities.
Finding the right space for homework
A good spot for homework is somewhere with:
- plenty of light
- good-quality air
- space to spread out with books, pens and other resources.
Younger children are more likely to work better in family areas like the kitchen table, where you can supervise and help more easily. Older children will most likely need their own quiet space.
If your child needs to use a computer, laptop or tablet to do their homework, it’s important to help your child use screens in a way that reduces their risk of physical problems. This includes making sure screens are at eye level and at a comfortable distance away to reduce neck and eye strain. You could also talk with older children about not using their mobile phones, laptops, computers or tablets for entertainment until homework is finished.
Getting organised with homework
Children often have trouble getting started on projects or coming up with ideas. You might be able to get things off to a good start by helping your child break projects into smaller parts or map out steps. Your child might then plan to do one task each night. If your child has several different assignments in one week, help them plan what to do each night.
Older children might benefit from a homework planner or planning app so they can see when assignments are due and get themselves organised with a plan and study reminders. They might find it helpful to mark their plans on a wall calendar too.
Developing a positive approach to homework
Schoolwork isn’t always easy. Your job is to help your child develop a positive approach to academic and organisational challenges.
If your child avoids challenges, encourage them to sort tasks into those they find easy and those they find difficult. Your child might prefer to do ‘easier’ tasks first to build confidence before tackling the more difficult tasks. Or your child might want to do the most challenging tasks first, before they’re too tired.
If your child is struggling with an assignment, you could help them approach the problem positively by getting them to pinpoint what they’re finding difficult. From there, you can brainstorm some solutions together, weighing up the pros and cons of the different options to find the best one. You can also help your child identify people or resources that could help them further.
It can help to think of yourself as your child’s coach. You can support your child by creating the right time, environment and approach for homework, but doing the work is ultimately your child’s responsibility. If you do the homework for your child, your child won’t develop important academic skills. They also won’t learn how to handle challenges like lack of time, conflicting priorities or tasks they don’t understand.
When your child has homework troubles, try talking with them about what they could do better next time. Always praise your child for trying and doing their best, especially on tasks they find hard. It’s OK if your child doesn’t finish things perfectly or even ‘fails’ sometimes. The attitude you both have to challenges and failures is what really matters.
Working with teachers on homework issues
Try to set up a friendly working relationship with your child’s teacher. That way, you can easily talk to each other about your child’s schoolwork and homework. If your child is in secondary school, you could start by talking with their home-room (or home-group, pastoral or form) teacher or subject teacher.
If you have concerns about homework, it’s best to talk with the teacher early, rather than giving the problem time to grow.
Concerns that teachers need to know about include the following:
- Your child is spending too long on homework. Find out how much time other children in your child’s class are spending on their homework. Other parents might be able to tell you this. If your child regularly spends more time on it than this, talk with the teacher. There might be some underlying learning issues that your child needs help with.
- Your child doesn’t understand the work. If this is the case, your child might be missing concepts in class. If you let the teacher know, the teacher can fill in these learning gaps during class time.
- Your child can’t concentrate. It’ll help you to know whether this is just a problem at home (perhaps because your child is overtired), or whether it’s also happening at school.
- Your child is struggling in one particular subject. The teacher might be able to suggest another approach to the subject. For example, you could use blocks for addition and subtraction practice, or there are many fun online educational games, which can be great for older children.
If your child needs help with a particular subject, ask the school about additional assistance. You might also want to think about tutoring, either with a professional tutor or by a trusted family member or friend.
If you’re worried about homework
If you feel your child is struggling with homework or learning, talk to your child’s teacher first. The teacher can suggest some ways to support your child’s learning.
If your child’s teacher is also concerned about your child’s learning or concentration in the classroom, it might be worth talking to your GP, a paediatrician or psychologist to look at possible reasons for the problems.
How much homework?
There are no hard and fast rules about homework. In the early years, some schools give no homework other than nightly reading. Some schools, as well as different teachers within schools, give much more homework than others.
More homework doesn’t always mean higher achievement levels, especially in primary school. If students get too much it might be overwhelming, or get in the way of other healthy activities like strong friendships, play, sports, music lessons, hobbies or relaxation. If you feel your primary school child is getting too much homework you might like to talk to your child’s teacher.
If you feel your child isn’t getting enough homework or is getting no homework at all, there are still many learning activities you can do at home. For example, you can read together, write stories or letters, research interesting topics or plan a budget for a family event.
If your child has additional needs – for example, autism, learning difficulties or disorders, intellectual disability or other health concerns – it might help to talk with their teacher about modifying homework expectations.