Every night, Kelly Hall’s family gets home from work and day care, and her two children sit down to do their homework at the kitchen table before they head to basketball practice or Boy Scout meetings or simply relax for a few hours.
Within 15 to 20 minutes, Hall’s sons are done with their worksheets and reading assignments from Pleasant Crossing Elementary School, and then they can move on to the rest of the night’s activities.
At Josh DeArmitt’s home, his Custer Baker Intermediate School sixth-grader sometimes has 30 to 45 minutes of work to do, which is what he would expect since the workload should increase as children get older.
Both families are OK with the amount of homework their kids are getting. Each day after school there’s just enough time to finish their homework, eat dinner and then get to basketball practice, Scout meetings or church groups.
That kind of balanced schedule is important, especially for younger students, Northwood Elementary School Principal Katie Crites said.
“We want them to be kids. We want them to be involved in sports. We want them to go to the library. We want them to play outside,” she said.
But that hasn’t always been easy for families to achieve.
DeArmitt remembers nights when his daughter, Abby, had 45 minutes to an hour of homework as a third-grader. And several years ago some teachers at Clark-Pleasant schools sent students home with assignments that they hadn’t yet been taught to complete, curriculum instruction specialist Cameron Rains said.
So in 2005 a committee at Clark-Pleasant met to clarify how much homework elementary students should be assigned each night, with the times ranging from about 15 minutes for kindergartners to about 40 minutes for fourth-graders. Clark-Pleasant officials still regularly discuss the assignments being sent home with students to ensure that kids aren’t being overwhelmed and aren’t being given homework that hasn’t been taught in class, Rains said.
Last year, Northwood’s teachers met and created similar homework guidelines meant to ensure students practice the lessons they were taught at school but aren’t being given more than they can handle, Crites said.
Parents of elementary school students don’t want their children spending an hour or more each night completing homework assignments, and neither do their teachers.
Northwood began reviewing the amount of time students were spending on homework last year. Several parents had contacted Crites, concerned because their children were regularly spending an hour or more working on assignments after school. Some of those students either had fallen behind or had miscommunications about the homework from their teachers, Crites said.
Once students reach middle and high school, families can expect that they’ll have at least an hour or more of math, language arts or other assignments to complete each night. But younger students typically can’t focus on homework for that long, especially after a seven-hour school day, Rains and Crites said.
That means even if they spend hours on homework after school, they likely aren’t going to remember or master much of what they’re working on, Rains said.
“You reach a point of diminishing returns,” Rains said.
Northwood teachers started with a research-based formula that took the age of the students in each grade, doubled it and added two, which equals about 15 minutes for kindergartners and 30 to 40 minutes for fourth-graders. Teachers also want students and parents spending 10 to 20 minutes each night reading, Crites said.
Crites and teachers don’t necessarily expect all of a student’s homework and reading to happen at once. Parents may break it up, so that some of the work is completed immediately after school, and the rest is finished before bed or the following morning, Crites said.
“Every family has their own schedule and routine. This just allows a framework for them to alleviate stress and concerns,” Crites said.
The routines for the Hall and DeArmitt families begin almost immediately after the kids are released from school.
DeArmitt’s son, Noah, and Abby typically start their homework as soon as they get home.
That frees the rest of the night up for basketball practice in the fall and baseball in the winter, DeArmitt said.
Hall’s sons, first-grader Grayson and third-grader Braden, go to day care after school, which gives them a few hours to play and clear their heads. Hall picks them up and has them home around 6 p.m.
As she prepares dinner, the boys complete their homework. The goal is for the boys to get their work done before basketball practice on Mondays and before Boy Scout meetings on Wednesdays, Hall said.
“It doesn’t always happen. It kind of depends on the moods that they’re in, even. Sometimes their minds are just tired, and they don’t want to get right on it,” she said.
Balancing homework, family time, sports and Scouts seemed harder when the boys were younger, Hall said. But it’s gotten easier as Grayson and Braden have learned to start their homework as soon as they get home, Hall said.
“Maybe we’re managing it better now,” she said.