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Homework: How Much Should a Parent Help?

Mom tries to learn the distinction between supervising a child’s work and helping too much.

As a mom of two third-grade daughters, I am increasingly grateful for the time that I, as a mom who freelances from home, is able to devote to supervising her kids’ homework.

It seems that as my children get older, the time that’s needed from me to be around for my daughters to answer any questions they may have, to track homework due dates and to keep them on track for longer projects, grows. In reading about the subject online on websites like alphamom and and parents.com, I've found that how involved to get with kids' homework is an issue with which parents often struggle.

As a parent, I’ve been able to check my kids’ homework as they complete it and sign off on it nightly, and there has even been assignments for me, like writing down my hopes and dreams for my child for the school year on paper cut-outs of scoops of ice cream and coloring them to match my favorite ice cream favors. (So I found  myself coloring in two paper ice cream scoops with colored pencils late one night to meet my daughter’s deadline.)

I’ve shared my feelings with other parents, and we’ve talked about what we’ve called “mommy homework.” We’re finding that as our kids advance in school, the input and supervision required for their nightly homework grows.

When my kids were in the first and second grade, the homework they brought home was relatively simple. I found that if I supervised them for about the first hour when they came home from school, they could easily get their spelling, math and reading homework done.

But with the third grade has come larger projects, especially in one daughter’s class. Luckily for me, that daughter has been very academically driven, so she stays on task with only a little pushing from me. She now has a monthly book report in which she must meet certain deadlines and criteria to choose an appropriate book (which can require a trip to the library together to select a book), thinking through the project, writing and typing up the report, and putting it all together in a visually appealing fashion.

Another daughter has an assignment this week in which she must report on a current event for her class. So, my daughter, who only has a limited knowledge of how to read and summarize something in her own words, has had to browse a few teacher approved kids “news” websites, find an article she likes, read and comprehend it and write up a summary of the news story in an appealing and readable fashion that can be understood by her fellow students.

Eager to complete her current event project, my daughter started it on her own the other day when I was distracted with something else, and was unhappy when I told her that she had to re-do the report. (She had read the story, and cut out a few sentences from the article that she thought were important, and had pasted them on her worksheet, thinking  that picking and pasting selected sentences from the story was as good as writing up her own conclusion about the piece.)

Later that night, when I had to attend a meeting, she took another stab at writing up the project on her own, hastily writing her conclusions in pen on her report sheet, including  sentences, grammar and some spelling that need editing.

Luckily, the project isn’t due until Monday, and I will guide her through writing up her thoughts about the article, and will show her how to type it up on the computer. (A task that requires more supervision, as my daughter only has a rudimentary knowledge of how computer programs like Microsoft Word work, since they only have limited computer time at school.)

A neighbor of mine told me the other day that her daughter, who’s in a different third-grade class at the same school, has a social studies test this week on 20 or so vocabulary words that includes tough words (for that grade level) like democracy and commonwealth. Her daughter has all of two days to prepare for the test and learn the meaning of all the words on the list. Her daughter is also very dedicated to her schoolwork, but I would think that such a huge task for a third grader would involve a lot of parenting encouragement and task driving.

With all that I have been experiencing with my daughters’ homework, I’m beginning to see how some kids, who have parents who have the time and desire to supervise their homework, have an advantage over other children whose parents may have work long hours and don’t have the time needed to go to the library with their child, answer any questions they may have about their homework and supervise their work.

I’ve also noticed how a parent could cross the line from supervising and assisting with homework to practically doing a child’s homework him or herself, with the completed work being something that obviously a child of that age could not complete on his or her own. Of course, that much input from a parent isn’t beneficial to a child (since he or she won’t be accomplishing or learning a certain task), but sorry to say, it may help a child get better response/grades from his or her teacher.

I’ve seen student reports created with the help of parents who obviously have great report-generating knowledge, with the projects including Word-processed reports with fancy charts, computer-generated images, etc. Compare such a report with one hand-written by a child who may have not had much parental supervision, and you can see the advantage kids with parents who are involved and interested in their kids’ schoolwork have.

As we get deeper into the school year, I will be learning how to walk the tightrope between lending a light, helpful hand to my kids with their homework, and helping too much.

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