What schools do with homework and how parents can help

Just one look at your child’s face after school and you know you’re in for a long night struggling with math homework, answering questions about past and present tenses and giving advice about what angle might be most interesting about narwhals.

The debate over homework is ever present.

Some parents and even teachers believe students get too much; some parents want more. When it comes to some of the best schools in Chicago, some send kids home with no homework while others believe homework has great value to mastering the lessons in the classroom.

So we asked schools for their opinions and how parents might better support their school’s philosophy on homework.

HOMEWORK PHILOSOPHY VARIES

“At Chicago Waldorf, our younger students have a vigorous day in school and so we don’t assign homework, allowing time to rest, play and be ready to learn fully again the next day,” says Jason Greenberg, director of marketing and communications at the school.

“Time out of school should encourage your child’s growing independence and individualized interests, while supporting their academic growth. Homework should advance a spirit of learning, be student-directed and promote a balanced schedule,” says Clare Heath, elementary program director at Chiaravalle Montessori in Evanston.

“Beacon teachers utilize homework to enhance learning. The purpose is to contextualize and deepen the learning that happens during the school day. We avoid arbitrary assignments and busy work in order to make homework a meaningful intellectual exercise,” says Jeff Bell, head of school at Beacon Academy.

“We assign homework strategically to help students learn the importance of time management, organizational skills and content development. In our no-grades environment, thevalue of homework is to encourage student expression, exploration and curiosity,” says Pamela Freese, director of administration at The Children’s School in Berwyn.

At the Chicagoland Jewish High School, “Homework is considered extended learning, that is, the application of the day’s lesson to real life contexts. Students become motivated when they perceive they are actively using what they have learned to create something meaningful,” says Bruce Scher, academic dean, and Roger Stein, dean of faculty, at the school located in Deerfield.

“Homework allows students to have one-on-one time with the subject matter they are learning in school. It gives parents a chance to see what their kids are learning,” says Annette O’Donnell, art teacher at Roycemore School in Evanston.

“We think the purpose of homework should be to provide independent practice of concepts and skills covered in class; teach important life skills of responsibility, time management, and organization; and inform parents of school curriculum, their children’s progress, teachers’ feedback and to guide instruction and future assignments,” says Lisa Moser, director of teaching and learning at the Baker School in Wilmette.

“By making learning fun, children are engaged and motivated to complete their homework. Homework also helps to strengthen the home/school connection by getting parents involved in their children’s education,” says Karen Palmer, of The Goddard School in Hawthorn Woods.

“Science& Arts Academy teachers provide engaging and purposeful homework that extends upon the day’s lessons in a creative way, so students are motivated to practice their newly acquired skills,” says Mindy Keller, director of admissions and marketing at the Des Plaines school.

“Our instructors and parents encourage children to practice their academics with homework just like practicing a musical instrument or athletic skill. A little every day makes a difference in your performance,” Liz Bowman, director of Eye Level Learning Center of Northbrook.

“Tadpole Academy joins parents and 3-year-olds in conversation and play experiences that stimulate creative and complex thinking in the areas of math, science and language arts,” says Ann Gadzikowski, early childhood coordinator at the Center for Talent Development.

HELPING YOUR KIDS

Sometimes it might seem easier just to do the kids’ homework yourself. Fight that urge, say educators, because they are learning more than just the lesson in front of them.

“Parents need to let their children struggle a little bit with homework,” says Kathy Irvin, director of the Early Childhood Program at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka. “It’s OK to fail at homework.

Faith in your child is one thing, resiliency is huge. Allowing your child to make a mistake and not see it as a failure is really important” so that when the big struggles come, they have practice and can handle them.

One way to help your kids is by listening to their ideas, says Karla Lanza, mathematics tutor at dTalented.com. “Find out what interests them. Find a way to incorporate their interests into their homework so it becomes something fun and engaging.”

Another idea comes from Mary Pat Fox, eighth-grade teacher at School of St. Mary in Lake Forest: “Take a few minutes each night to review the lesson of the day, even if nothing is specifically assigned. Note any questions you want to ask in the next class.”

Latin School Middle School Director Deb Sampey offers these tips:

  • Plan for the week ahead. At the start of each week, have your child carve out the necessary time for homework each day. There is evidence that breaking homework into chunks, changing the location, etc., is beneficial.
  • Make sure they get enough sleep. (Middle school students need 8-10 hours per night, for example). The research is clear that not only does sleep benefit physical and emotional health, but adequate sleep is critical to learning and memory.
  • Go “old school” on social activities on school nights. Middle school students benefit from a routine that allows them ample time to do their schoolwork, participate in cocurricular programs, relax and get enough sleep during the school week.

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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