Contrary to the belief of some kids, teachers don't give homework just to be mean, and schools don't exist solely to torture them and infringe on free time. Yes, it can seem like that at times (and even to a parent!), but homework is meant as a learning tool, a complement to the classroom.
There are numerous reasons kids get homework, though those reasons vary according to age and school and even teacher.
For younger children, homework is often about setting up good study habits for later years when homework is more of a learning tool. For all ages, homework is used as an assessment tool by teachers to see whether and how a child is learning the required material. Later in the academic career is when a child learns from the homework in addition to the learning that happens in school.
Your child's school should have established guidelines for homework according to grade level. Younger grades should have a very minimal amount of homework (no more than 20 minutes, probably), but it will build over time. By high school, your child may be spending a couple or more hours per evening on homework.
Your child's school should also have information on why homework is assigned at various levels and how it will be used. This basic understanding can help you communicate appropriately with your child and motivate both of you to establish good study habits.
No matter what grade your child is in and the guidelines for that age, set aside that time every day for homework. If your fourth grader is supposed to spend about 45 minutes on homework four times per week, clear a spot at the kitchen table, turn off the television and set a timer for those 45 minutes. If your child finishes the assigned work in less than the allotted time, he or she can read or do other school related activities until the time is up. This sends the message that the time you put into homework is important, not just that you finished it.
If your child is having difficulty completing homework in the designated amount of time for her grade level, it's definitely time to have a talk with your child's teacher. The teacher may be able to adjust the homework level or quantity, give you some ideas about helping your child become more efficient, or may say that if the homework isn't done in the specified time to please have your child stop and write a note.
Communicating the importance and role of homework without it becoming a battle can be challenging, but it will help establish study - and work! - habits for life.
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