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Whose Homework is It?

Are you doing your kid's homework? If so, find out why you aren't doing them any favors, and get tips on how to strike a balance.

Many parents weather a daily struggle of how much help to give with homework. Families must find time between parents' work schedules and kids' after-school activities to tackle assignments – and sometimes it's just easier for mom or dad to take over. In fact, according to a survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan public policy research group, one in every five parents admits to having done just that.

But while the shortcut may save some time and headaches, educators say it comes at a cost. Read on to learn why – and how to strike a healthy balance.

The case for homework

That scheme probably isn't going unnoticed, warns Sue Dankovich, a second grade teacher at Forest Elementary in Farmington Hills. "We can always tell when kids have gotten too much help from mom or dad," she says. "Heck, sometimes the work isn't even in the child's handwriting!"

Dankovich stresses that although second grade homework may not seem crucial now, it helps establish good habits so students will know how to study solo by the time they're in high school – when stakes are higher.

Indeed, homework can have many benefits. In addition to reinforcing lessons learned in school, experts say it fosters positive character traits, like independence and responsibility, and teaches children how to manage time.

Unfortunately, when it isn't properly assigned and monitored, homework can have negative effects. Parents and educators alike worry that students will grow bored or frustrated if they're required to spend too much time on homework, and that it can interfere in leisure activities – such as soccer with friends or baking cookies with mom – that also teach important life skills.

Parents must find a comfortable compromise between supervising and doing.

Walking the line

Teachers generally appreciate when parents take an active role in homework completion, but worry that over-involvement can interfere with learning. For example, a parent may confuse a child by using techniques different than those the child's teacher uses – especially common in math, where approaches have changed in the decades since parents were at the desk.

"I'd rather have parents review the work after it's completed than have them talk them through each problem," says English teacher Amy Sokoloski with Southgate's Davidson Middle School. "You might say, 'I noticed No. 4 is wrong. Can you see why? What's a better way to approach it?'"

Sokoloski believes parents have good intentions, even when they overstep their boundaries. "But sometimes it's the student's minor struggles over homework that create the educational experience."

To head off problems, Sokoloski and her eighth grade teaching contemporaries aim to limit homework to 20 minutes per subject, for a total of around an hour-and-a-half a night. This falls in line with the popular rule of thumb, which calls for 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Sokoloski also posts assignments on the school website and encourages students and parents to contact her when problems arise.

She notes that homework supervision gives parents insight into how their children are progressing. Involved parents will be quicker to realize when their children have missed a basic concept that they should have learned months or years ago, and respond by calling the teacher, voicing concerns and developing a plan of action.

A happy ending

"I'm a parent myself, so I know how stressful homework can be," says Brighton high school English teacher Mike Messmore. "There are times when you need to step in and say something like, 'This paragraph is not organized properly.' But then you also need to say, 'Go ahead and figure out the rest of it on your own.'"

Messmore says that by the time students arrive in his 11th and 12th grade classrooms, problems with parents doing their kids' homework have tapered off: "A bigger problem is kids plagiarizing off the Internet for their papers."

The 30-year teacher says that if a parent writes a paper, the student isn't going to learn a thing. But if that same parent were to go over the paper with her child once it's finished, "That's one-on-one instruction, and that's awesome."

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