Article / Published Aug 30, 2016

How Much Homework is Too Much?

A letter to parents from second-grade teacher Brandy Young recently made homework a national news story. “There will be no formally assigned homework this year,” she wrote. “I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.” The internet went wild.

Ms. Young has a point. There’s very little research to suggest that students benefit from loads of homework, particularly in elementary school. My daughter just began first grade, and I’ll be concerned if she starts bringing home a backpack full of homework every night. But I do want her to have some homework, for two big reasons:

  1. Homework helps kids build healthy learning habits and skills: I’m talking about skills like self-discipline, persistence, and independent problem-solving, which are important to success not only in school but in life. They take time and practice to master, and starting to develop those skills early, outside of the classroom and in reasonable amounts, makes sense to me.
  2. Homework gives me a window into what’s happening at school: I like knowing what my daughter is working on. Seeing what homework she’s doing, and how she’s doing on it, helps me understand what she’s learning, how I can support her, and what I might need to talk to her teacher about. (In a follow-up note, Ms. Young explains that she offers parents some of this insight with technological tools like Class Dojo; I think that’s great, but in my view there’s no substitute for seeing your child actually do the work.)

Let me be clear: I’m firmly in the pro-family dinner, outside time, and nightly reading club. I want my daughter to love learning and have fun at school, and to have time at home for all the other things she’s interested in, from soccer and Legos to painting and Harry Potter. I’m looking for the Goldilocks portion of homework; not too much, not too little – just right.

So how much is too much? There’s no exact amount of homework that kids should or shouldn’t be doing. However, the “10-minute rule” is a reasonable way to set homework expectations. The rule is that homework should take no more than 10 minutes per grade level per day, across all subjects. In other words, a second-grader should have at most 20 minutes of homework per day (2 x 10 minutes), while a sixth-grader should max out at about an hour (6 x 10 minutes).

It’s worth noting that most parents say their child has the right amount of homework, according to a national poll released just this week. Only about 1 in 5 say their child has too much, and about the same percentage say their child actually has too little. If your child seems to be spending a ton of time on homework on a regular basis, it’s worth asking a few questions to dig deeper:

  • Is your child routinely struggling? Homework can be frustrating for kids if they are having a hard time reading independently or understanding the core concepts they are supposed to be practicing. If that seems to be the case, your child may not be getting the support that he or she needs in class. Set up time to discuss the problem with the teacher.
  • Is your child practicing smart study habits? Homework can take a lot longer if your child is doing it while distracted by the TV, dozing off while completing homework in bed, or being pestered by other siblings.

Sometimes, of course, the overall amount of homework is really just too much. If you think the amount of homework is excessive, talk to your child’s teachers. Beforehand, you may want to sit next to your child as they do their homework, so you can see for yourself what takes them the longest or where they tend to get confused. Then go outside and kick a ball around, read a great story together, and tuck them in for a good night’s sleep.