Assessing the Trend toward Increasing Parent Involvement in Homework

Parents today are increasingly involving themselves in almost every aspect of their children’s lives from the sporting field and extracurricular activities through to the conduct of homework. Taking a keen interest in what children are learning is also an important responsibility that can easily be taken one or two steps beyond reasonable limits.

There is a growing trend of highly competitive parents who aggressively coach their offspring from sidelines, and this problem has reached a point where it became necessary to pass new laws banning parents who habitually cause trouble from the sidelines from attending their children’s sporting events. In much the same way, homework can sometimes become a contentious issue when over-enthusiastic parents wanting their children to be high achievers pitch in with too much help. Unfortunately this is really a disservice to the child who ultimately learns almost nothing thanks to mum or dad doing all the work, and homework subsequently becomes a pointless exercise.

Having experienced many cases of assignment work passed off as the work of a child, I discovered it is almost instantly clear to spot when parents have done the work in two ways. The first is that in knowing enough about capabilities of each individual regarding word and grammar usage in their writing style while supervised in class. Handing in homework in a totally different style is like a flashing beacon, for example: a child of ten may write something like “our field trip yesterday was lots of fun and we all learned lots of new things”. Not bad for an opening however the same child submitting “Our excursion yesterday was entertaining as well as educational thanks to some unusual new experiences.” Wow quite a piece of work from a ten year old but also clearly not consistent with class work.

The second way that identifies too much parental involvement will be quite obvious when asking a few questions to see what level of underpinning knowledge and understanding the child gained from the assignment or homework exercise. I recall a recent assignment that was quite an impressive effort written in a style that seemed consistent with the student’s ability yet something in the body language suggested all was not quite right. After complimenting the effort, I asked where all the work came from and was met with a blank stare. I then asked “what did you mean by.”, and quoted from the work. This was the revelation because the answer to my question was actually in the same paragraph yet the child had no idea what was in the text.

I then asked the child to try and tell me a little bit about some of the pictures and where they could be found once more I was met with a blank stare from an otherwise articulate student in normal circumstances. It also helped that I knew both parents were hover-flies’ that habitually spoke out on their children’s behalf over nebulous issues that would not concern most other parents.

Returning to the point of parental involvement, it is gratifying to know that most parents do take an interest and genuinely like to involve themselves in the life of their children. To these parents, I discovered a great way to establish a solid rapport is to involve them as much as possible in a positive way. Leaving a couple of comments just for mum or dad in the margin works out fine “I would like Johnny to write in his own words a description of how volcanoes erupt. He will need to explain it in class tomorrow and it will help if you would help him practice at home by listening to what he has prepared to see how it all sounds.” This example is a real one that worked to limit involvement by his parents to something more reasonable while at the same time inviting them into the homework process in a helpful way for the child.

There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for our children yet too much involvement leaves little room for learning. This is true for the sporting field, hobbies and interests and very much for homework. Parents are a valuable resource, and play an important role in the development of children into educated and successful adults. With the additional pressures of institutionalised curricula, parents like to know their children are not being indoctrinated by politically driven ideologies or dogma, and their involvement in homework provides a necessary level of assurance regarding content and material used.