How much should you help with homework in third grade?

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.