Help with Math Homework – How To Prevent Overload

We love math homework

We love math homework

Here is some help with math homework from an angle you probably never expected from this website. It is not about some clever math game or other product. Do your kids seem to spend an eternity on their homework? Or is it a constant struggle to get them to complete their work on time or at all?
If this sounds like you then help is at hand.

You see, I recently read an article on the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute website about the great homework debate – this certainly includes math homework.


The Teacher’s Curriculum Institute is run by teachers for teachers and is based in California. The message in the article however, is really for everyone.

In the article the author strongly questions the need for giving homework at primary (elementary) school. I think the argument is very convincing:

“Whether it be pages of reading or a series of worksheets I’m not so sure either of these strategies promotes a homework time conducive to retention of the material and definitely does nothing to foster a love of learning in a 7 year old. Am I wrong for feeling that if content is mastered during the school day then a homework assignment is not necessary?”

This strikes a very deep chord in me. What on earth are we doing to our kids by making them do things they already know? How many children develop an aversion for learning because they are forced to go through repetitive exercises with little benefit. Our kids spend 6 hours at primary school. Then they come home and spend at least another hour or two on homework – a vast majority of that will be math.
In a class of 30, is it really beneficial for all 30 to do all the homework they get? If not, how many do actually benefit?

Practice is good, and we do that at school

We all know that practice makes perfect. But AREN’T OUR KIDS PRACTICING AT SCHOOL? Learning involves a mix of understanding and practicing. Both take place in class. Students do NOT come home to practice – they already practice in class! Wouldn’t you agree?

If kids from the age of six spend 6 hours at school, 1-2 hours of homework a day, plus meal times and getting to and from school, there isn’t a whole lot of the day left. They are supposed to move and play, which is hugely important in raising physically (and mentally) healthy children.

Checking In

If you haven’t done so yet, check with your child. Check what kind of math homework they are doing and try to see if they already have a thorough understanding of the subject matter. I frequently find two things – they already know what to do and resent doing it all over. Or they are unclear on what they need to do. Both cases point to homework that is not well assigned. Kids should be very clear on what is required for their homework and how to do it. And if they already know the subject matter, then why waste their time?

So what can we lowly parents do about this? Actually quite a bit!

Speak To Your Teacher

The teacher may not be aware of the problem and a teacher’s intention is definitely not to overload students.
You can also raise this issue on parent-teacher meetings. In fact, you will be doing everyone a favour and you are bound to find that your issues are common with the majority of people where math and general homework is concerned.

Questions To Ask

Ask about what the teacher’s attitude to assigning homework is – as in, what is the purpose of the homework, how much time it should take and how the results of the homework are used to adjust lesson content. Following that I would ask how the results of classwork are used to adjust homework.

I’d also ask if it makes a difference to the amount and type of homework whether the class is performing brilliantly or badly, and in what way I and my child can assist that process.

Write A Letter

You can also write the teacher a letter, informing them (objectively) on the issues you are experiencing at home. If your child has difficulty with the homework assigned and frequently needs your help – mention that. The teacher then needs to see how he/she can assist the student(s) better.
Similarly, if the homework appears to be rehearsing already mastered material and causes regular drama and conflict, the teacher needs to know. Of course, exercise common sense and do not tell the teacher what to do or that they are in the wrong. Telling anyone they are wrong will never lead to a good dialogue.

Ultimately, You Are In Charge

In the end, you are in charge and you have the power to even forbid your child to do homework (or part thereof). You can ask your child to choose how much math homework they do. That way would ensure that their enthusiasm for learning math is not killed off. Again, do talk to the teacher first.

Further Reading

Here is some recommended reading on the subject of homework:
the homework myth     rethinking homework

Both books are excellent reading. The Homework Myth addresses many misconceptions about homework that are great for parents and teachers alike to know. One of the main points: homework can be detrimental to children ‘s development by robbing families of quality evening time together and not allowing a kid time simply to be a kid.

Rethinking Homework is more aimed towards the teacher/educator, I find, but it nonetheless provides great insights into how homework could be reshaped into activities that do NOT stifle the desire for learning in our children.

What are your experiences – did your kids need help with math homework (or homework in general), and what were (or are) your actions?