• Maggie Hills

Mo’ Homework, Mo’ Problems: 4 Things You Can Do to Lighten the Homework Load

Homework. Most kids will agree it is a frustrating and overwhelming fact of life. Everyone hates it, and yet, it has to be done if we want to get where we want to go.

Is there anything that can be done?

Fortunately, yes!

Remember the purpose of homework. It is to make sure you understand what you learned just now. It is either extra practice or an opportunity to put into practice what you (are supposed to) know.

Learning to hate school—and possibly by extension, hate learning— is not what most of us want to instill in our children. Yet, if children see school as the problem, it’s difficult not to lean in that direction.

With that in mind, let’s see if we can lighten the load.


1. Syllabus Strategizing

Every first day of class teachers give out syllabuses and most kids are grateful the only assignment is to have their parents sign that last page. Few students or parents really look at the syllabuses. Why would we? Only weird teachers’ pets read through the syllabus.

Yet, I bring it up for a reason. Three reasons, actually.

a) Grade distribution

Somewhere in that packet of papers, teachers tell you how your child’s grade is calculated. Is this class weighted toward tests? Homework? Projects? Is there any extra credit offered? Home in on what matters the most academically in each class so your child can prioritize the right aspects of her study.

If there really is no prioritization, think about your child’s preferred method of learning. Does repetition really solidify understanding while tests are anxiety-inducing? Try focusing on homework assignments instead of tests for maximum cognizance. Is your child a verbal processor with a ton of questions? Maybe group projects are the way to go. Perhaps your child has great classroom comprehension but poor reading skills. Record the classes and do short timed practices to train speed with her or hire a tutor to help, then concentrate on those tests.

Every child is a little bit different. See what works. You know your child best. Do your best to help your child learn. Maybe your child even has some ideas you both could take advantage of.

b) Learning points

The teacher is also telling you what your child will be learning over the semester, usually complete with quiz and exam topics and what follows and builds on what. These are like shortcuts to the class, clear guideposts for what your child needs to focus on, and mile markers that your child can turn back to if the next step isn’t making sense.

When you and your child can see what the class is supposed to be teaching, you can more easily identify what is important and what is periphery. If a syllabus section is labeled “19th Century Inventions,” don’t get bogged down in politicians or war strategies except as they may relate to your main topic.

If your child is completely lost and tutoring is necessary, you can use the syllabus to laser in on exactly where it happened. This exam was where his grades first dropped off. It was around this time that she started complaining about how hard this class was. Teach yourself and your child to use the tools at hand to your advantage.

c) Schedule managing

If you know your child is going to have quizzes every Monday in math and a massive Spanish test every other week on Thursday, you can plan to keep Sunday and Wednesday evenings open to give your child a chance to focus on those classes. If you know Midterms are in the middle of March, you may want to rethink signing up for that theater group whose performances begin March 18.

Plan your life around your priorities. You have control over much more of the “madness” of your schedule than it seems.


2. Comprehension or Boredom?

In terms of homework, most children get lost in one of two places: either there is an understanding deficit or homework isn’t serving its typical purpose and so has lost all meaning.

In terms of the first, it’s no surprise that a child’s comprehension has gaps. There is a lot to be absorbed in twelve years of school. Just because everyone goes to school in our country, doesn’t make it any easier to conquer. Oftentimes, the new material is just so complex that it is hard to make sense of. And it just gets harder the longer you go.

Alternatively, your child may have accidentally missed something important in lower grades. Missing fundamentals are a little tricky. Foundational principles that were skipped or not well understood come back to bite. Frequently, your child only realizes there is a problem when what usually works doesn’t anymore.

Finding the knowledge gap is crucial. If you can’t figure it out, ask his teacher, either from this year or last year. Go over previous student evaluations. Maybe you didn’t pay attention to something you should have. A professional tutor can also help identify what is missing.

In terms of the second, remember what we have established the purpose of homework to be: to make sure your child understands what he learned. It is either extra practice or an opportunity to put what he learned into practice. Sometimes remembering why we do something can help your child regain perspective—and motivation.

If the homework is not serving its function, have your child check with his teacher on what certain assignments are supposed to accomplish. Have him prepare more functional alternatives ready to suggest as independent projects.

If the teacher is unyielding, reflect on whether or not your child’s homework proficiency could be further developed. Perhaps homework has never been his strength, but now it’s worth fifty percent of

his grade. Luckily, doing homework is a skill that can be trained. There are many strategies to increase speed and effectiveness. Try different approaches and see what works. If you run out of ideas, you will find an endless supply among teachers, tutors, and online resources.


3. Lighten the Schedule

One of the most common issues students face isn’t that they can’t grasp the concepts, it’s that they are run ragged trying to DO everything. Sports, Girl Scouts, community service, ASB, there are so many activities available to students today. As a parent, of course you want your child to have a broad range of experiences—to see what’s out there, what’s possible. Most kids want this too! That’s why it’s so hard to manage a schedule well, let alone multiple schedules.

However, we find that a life lived well does not usually find us utterly exhausted every night and resenting the alarm clock every morning. Few of us can enjoy life lived under a crushing schedule, no matter how interesting or critical certain activities may seem.

Consider some of these options when putting together your child’s schedule this year:

a) Prioritize what is important, cut what’s not

Many activities are more or less valuable than others. Some your child truly delights in. Some present an important challenge you want your child to overcome. Some are habits we have gotten into after five years of ballet or seven years of basketball. See if you can choose one or two things your child truly enjoys and one or two new things he or she would like to try.

b) Set limits

Does your child have to go to community service projects every weekend? Does every rehearsal for that play have to be attended for the full length of time? See what needs to happen to keep a life that is lived well as opposed to a life that is exhausting.

c) Push it to another year

Does it have to happen this week? Or even this month? This year? Keep the big picture in mind. Your child does have some time. See what can be shifted to another semester.

As a side note, remember, summers are a great time to catch up on extracurriculars if the school year is just packed too tightly. Additionally, new activities can be explored in weekly or weekend camps without massive commitments.


4. What to Do When Your Child Gets Overwhelmed Anyway

This is inevitable. High school is hard. Classes are more challenging than they’ve ever been on top of peer pressure, the physical changes that come with puberty, and the scramble for proper emotional regulation. Add that to life’s regular curveballs and you can see it’s only a matter of time before one or both of you break.

The first thing you have to do is manage yourself and your emotions. Your child can’t even manage her own internal complexities, let alone know what to do when you, a parent, lose control. You are an adult. You cannot add to whatever mess your child has gotten into. In order to be there for your child, you have to keep yourself under control. Do whatever you need to do in order to make that happen. Take a

walk. Leave the room and cry for a few minutes. Run to the gym and hit a punching bag. You know what works for you.

OK! Now that we are calm. Let’s look at your child. At this point, you would think that the solution would solve everything.

Wait.

Your child is struggling with a problem that she has never encountered before. It may be the current limits of her intellectual capabilities. It may be an unfair grade from a draconian teacher. It may be that the stars aligned and her math, biology, AND English teachers are all giving tests on the same day. Whatever the problem is, recognize the importance of the situation to your child. Humans don’t panic over things that aren’t important to them. Take time to acknowledge the difficulty of the circumstances that your child has found herself in. Show her you are both on the same team. Her pain is your pain, and you will work through this together.

Next, take a step back and examine what is happening. Is this a one-time occurrence and it will be over once we can make it through Hell Week? Or has this same thing been happening every few days for a month?

In the first case, teach your child how to slow down. Give emotions free rein for a few minutes for processing, then get to the solutions. Prioritize what needs to be done and when. Help her draw up a plan of action then cheer your child on as she checks off each step.

Later, when it is all over, go back and see where your child went wrong. See if there was anything one or both of you missed so you can avoid this problem next time, or at least be more prepared for this possibility.

In the second case, there is either an absolutely unreasonable teacher or your child has one of the two problems under “Comprehension or Boredom.” If it’s the teacher, go to bat! If it’s the others, you know what to do.


Being there for your child is a journey. This may be the first time you take a more active role in teaching your child how to be a student. In the process, other lessons come up: how to control yourself, how to be brave in the face of obstacles, how to accept a challenge, how to succeed, how to fail, and the list goes on. We at Spark Tutors are proud to come alongside you and your child in this journey, discovering solutions and learning new skills as together we make our way through your child‘s education. It’s a challenge but the result is worth it.

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We hope this outline has provided a glimmer of hope for those of you whose children feel like they are never going to make it through high school. Death by homework is never the way to go. Take these tips and embark on the odyssey of helping your child succeed in school! We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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