Care and Feeding

My Second Grader Gets Way Too Much Homework

How do I reduce his load without sending him the message that he doesn’t have to do assigned work?

A boy sitting in front of a laptop, head in hand, leaning over, looking down.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

My second grader’s teacher is giving out an hour and a half of homework a night: homework packets, math worksheets every day, reading assignments (not reading for fun, but reading assigned academic texts), essays, projects, etc. I’m so done with it. My 7-year-old is already having such a hard time with the pandemic, and those assignments often take several hours per night because it’s hard for him to focus when he gets bored or frustrated. He’s seven; he should be using his time after school to play and relax and be a kid, not be spending hours working through homework packets. He often ends up in tears because he doesn’t want to do it and cries that he wants to go play. The worst part is that sometimes between getting him home, dinner, and getting ready for bed, the homework takes up the whole rest of the time.

I don’t know what the protocol should be. I want to reduce his load by not making him do so much homework, but at the same time I’m worried about the message I’d send by telling that he doesn’t have to do assigned work. I also don’t know where to draw the line—like, which assignments would I still make him do and which things can I let go of. I also worry it will be hard for him to start doing homework again once he gets into higher grades and is used to lighter loads.

—Too Much Homework

Dear T.M.H.,

There’s a fine line between teaching your child to respect authority and the rules of school, and teaching them to accept the unacceptable. It sounds to me like your kid is getting an unacceptable amount of homework and since he is not old enough to advocate for himself with the teacher or administration, that’s where you come in. Let him know that you feel his frustration and that you, too, think he’s being sent home too many assignments to complete outside of school, and that you are going to work to create a better situation for him.

Speak to his teacher and see what she has to say about your concerns. Perhaps she has not fully recognized how long it takes to complete these assignments. If it doesn’t seem that she is helpful—and helpful doesn’t simply mean cutting down the amount of work; she may be willing to simply accept that students will not complete everything she assigns, especially if some of these tasks are for no credit—take your concerns to other parents and find out how they are feeling. I’d find it hard to imagine they’d be any more enthusiastic about this workload. Ideally, with the support of other families, you can then approach school leadership if you aren’t able to get a resolution with the teacher directly.

If there isn’t going to be a direct impact on his grade for a particular assignment, you can decide if it is worthy of your son’s time (remember, this is in the context of a kid whose been overwhelmed with work, not one who simply has come across some projects that he’s struggling with) and allow him to skip things when it feels right. You’ll have to explain to him why you are making such a choice, that other parents may not make the same one, and that it is a complicated one. Explain that authority figures are flawed as anyone, and that includes teachers, and that you are willing to defend and support him when he needs it in situations like this, but that you won’t be bailing him out whenever things get uncomfortable. Clarify the difference between uncomfortable and unreasonable and why this situation qualifies as the latter. I hope the academic gods smile on him more favorably next year with a better teacher!

—Jamilah