How much should you help with homework in third grade?

Your 8-year-old will likely need some homework help -- but how much?
Your 8-year-old will likely need some homework help -- but how much?
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With each new grade level comes new responsibilities. In kindergarten, students rely a little bit less on mommy, daddy and teacher and more on themselves; in first and second, there are more opportunities for independent and peer-group work; and in third grade, there's homework.

Your child may have had homework as early as first grade, but that was likely a kind of "training homework" -- quick, fun activities intended more to introduce the idea of self-guided learning than to test or reinforce class-taught academic skills. In third grade, while that lesson in independent learning still very much applies, homework starts to be work.

Math, reading, writing, social studies and science will all be coming home to be completed at the kitchen table, or thereabouts, and you'll be right there. After all, your child is 8 years old. He or she will almost certainly need some help. But it can be difficult to know how much of your help is productive and how much is actually detracting from the overarching lesson in self-guided learning, not to mention the math and language practice intended to build a deeper understanding of important material.

So, how much help is too much? And are there specific areas of learning that call for your assistance more than others?

As homework starts to pick up, lots of parents struggle with the line between helping and doing. It can get a little fuzzy at times, no doubt; but for the most part, establishing appropriate homework boundaries is pretty straightforward. It's about knowing where your assistance serves to further the learning process and where, instead, it short-circuits it.

Striking a Balance

At 8 years old, homework help is warranted. Your child is learning higher-level math, writing book reports and brainstorming scientific hypotheses; directions are more complex; completing assignments requires more steps, and therefore more thoughtful planning. There's nothing wrong, and mostly everything right, with providing assistance.

That assistance, however, should be in the form of support and guidance, not answers. Completing multiplication problems and dictating a book report are, obviously, not going to help your child learn a thing (except maybe how to delegate, which is arguably not a critical skill in third grade). Even explaining the teacher's directions for the assignment can be counter-productive.

Explaining how to break down those directions into manageable chunks, on the other hand, is productive. That type of open-ended guidance teaches your child how to fish, so to speak:

  • To use reason and logic
  • To take apart a project that seems too large in order to grasp it as a series of smaller ones
  • To trust his or her own ability to take on unfamiliar challenges and succeed
  • To take a risk that such success might mean learning from a mistake as opposed to being right

Each of these lessons will make tomorrow's homework, and next year's, easier to complete.

In general, if your child is struggling in any of these areas, your assistance will probably help:

  • Understanding complex directions
  • Planning, organization and time management
  • Dealing with frustration
  • Getting motivated and staying focused

If, on the other hand, your child is struggling with 12x9, it's more helpful for you to encourage self-sufficiency and problem-solving: "Maybe there's an explanation in your text book -- did you remember to bring it home?"

If you're sitting next to your child from each assignment's start to finish, gluing pictures onto the science-project board while the scientist watches TV, or checking and correcting every answer to every math equation as he or she goes along, you're doing more harm than good. Guidance makes the next equation easier to solve; hovering, telling and doing makes it even more daunting.

For more information on third grade and how you can support your child's education, check out the links on the next page.

Author's Note

Third grade is an academically challenging year, and my research revealed a trend toward even greater challenges of late. Perhaps in response to high-pressure government standards, some elementary schools have been assigning a lot more homework (and some are assigning none at all -- but that's less common). There have been reports of young students coming home with hours of work to do, and while I only touched on this briefly in this article, it's worth looking into further if your child's homework level seems extreme, as many education experts recommend against the trend.

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Sources

  • Gisler, Peggy and Marge Eberts. "Homework and the Third-Grader." Family Education. (June 26, 2012) http://school.familyeducation.com/third-grade/homework/41157.html
  • Herrell, R. Kim. "Ask an Expert: How much should I help my daughter with homework?" EdNews Parent. Jan. 11, 2011. (June 26, 2012) http://www.ednewsparent.org/teaching-learning/2766-ask-an-expert-how-much-should-i-help-my-daughter-with-homework
  • How much homework is too much? Great Schools. (June 26, 2012) http://www.greatschools.org/students/homework-help/slideshows/1941-grade-by-grade-homework-guidelines.gs