Who "Owns" Your Kid’s Homework?

falling asleep at homeworkSome teachers think that parents are responsible for their kids’ homework. Most parents think they are too. I disagree.

I’m not saying that homework is unimportant, or that kids should get a pass.  But once children have been in school for a while, the responsibility for homework needs to shift over to them.

But what if my child fails because she doesn’t do homework? The child should be taught that doing assignments will help help her get better grades. If the child realizes that the homework is irrelevant to her test scores, or that she doesn’t care about the grades, that’s okay.

Don’t children have to learn to follow instructions and do things we don’t like? Sure, in most jobs or in the army they will need to do meaningless tasks just because someone says so. I’ll give them credit that they’ll figure it out when the time comes. But meanwhile, the energy saved on homework enforcement can go to other things.

All of us have to do paperwork, housework or other boring, repetitive tasks almost every day. But there are consequences when those things don’t get done (overdraft, lack of a paycheck, no clean dishes).  As a parent, I don’t want to impose artificial consequences on my children for not doing homework. If the school wants to impose reasonable consequences, like a lower grade, that’s okay with me. Then it’s between the child and the teacher, the way it should be. But if the teacher in charge of the material can’t motivate children to do their homework, how can the parents?

What about more substantial homework assignments like research projects? I’m glad to help my kids with these, except that the teacher never explains to the kids what they have to do, step by step (the way I was taught). In every case, the teachers give a general outline and leave the rest up to the parents.

When kids are starting out in school, they need help with how to organize their books and their time. And some kids will need more help than others, and for longer. At times, all children need help with homework. But the message ultimately needs to be that the child is responsible for keeping track of assignments, bringing home the right materials, allowing enough time, and so on.

I found a couple of interesting discussions on the net when I googled "My kid won’t do his homework.":

  • Garden Web discussion. See the responses regarding kids with both very high and very low academic ability, both arguing against homework.
  • Talentism
  • Note: Comment Luv has upgraded their commenting system. Bloggers, let me know how you like it.

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Photo: apdk


  1. I don’t have any kids at the homework age yet, but I’m a bit confused. Are you saying that sometimes the teachers do not penalize the kids for failing to do their homework? Don’t they get in trouble?

  2. What is your response to a teacher who attacks you for your kid’s irrisponsibility? Do you have your own consequences at home if your kids don’t do their homeowrk or lie, saying they don’t have homework or a test?

    • I don’t think I would call it attacking, but I try to explain. I don’t think the teachers care that much whether the kids do homework or not, as long as they aren’t disruptive. I don’t have consequences for not doing homework. I haven’t encountered them lying about the issue.

  3. I entirley agree with ensuring children are responsible for their own homework. We made aliyah last year, when my son entered kittah Aleph. He obviously needed a lot of help with homework, since he (and I!) were both learning the language- however, as soon as he was reading fluently we worked on him being independent for organizing his bag everyday, making sure he had the correct books. It was a steep learning curve for him, as he is not naturally organized and we had to make our own tick chart and reminder alarm so it gets done the evening before, not when the school bus is outside the front door.
    If he ever forgets and book and brings home the inevitable note from his teacher, I always reply and explain that he is responsible for making sure he has everything he needs, since I really feel he has the skills to do this and therefore needs to take the responsibility. The same way children need to be taught to organize themselves in the morning, so that they have time to eat breakfast, and not graze on cookies or a bag of dry cereal like horses, as they walk to school….

  4. I let my kids “own” their homework. I don’t get involved with it at all, just like me parents didn’t help me with mine, and that system seems to be working great just like it did with me and my siblings. Though this week my daughter had to turn in a long report, and it was full of spelling errors, and the teacher was angry at that my daughter hadn’t gotten help from US! I think parental assistance is more assumed in Israel…great topic, thanks hannah!

  5. Hi,
    I am a dad from Petach Tikve , passionate about parenting and education

    We have a responsibility to negate the negative impact of homework on a child’s love for learning



    • Allen, yes, that is really what it is all about. What impedes or encourages love of learning?

      • Allan Katz says

        Alfie Kohn has lots of articles and books on education. Unfortunately school is driven by grades and tests which undermine the love of learning. When kids can participate in deciding on what they learn , they have the opportunity to generate choices and the the environment is one of cooperative learning promoting a caring community of learners we foster a love of learning

        A teacher who is leading the way is http://joebower.org

        Besides the problem that kids hate homework , there could also be other problems that are getting in the way . Instead of just leaving it for the kid we can collaborate with them to find mutually satisfying solutions

        here are some video clips of the cps process

        shavuah tov

  6. I gradually made my daughter responsible for her homework last year which seemed to work great. It didn’t seem to work this year, in second grade. She started claiming that she did her homework in school or that she didn’t have any but we found out at the last set of conferences that that wasn’t really the case. 🙁 We got refocused for the last few months of the year so hopefully we’ll start on better footing next year.

  7. I agree that kids are ultimately responsible for their homework. I let my kids do their homework themselves and I do not correct their work because I think it’s really important that the teacher can assess what kind of work they are doing. My girls (9 and 11) do generally their work although I do need to gently remind them to start their homework each afternoon. They care about their grades and what their teachers will think if they don’t hand in their work.

    My 15 year old does not have the same work ethic that my girls have. I still need to keep in touch with his teachers to make sure that all his work is being done (and done well) and handed in on time (especially in math!). Thankfully when he begins to slack off all we need to do is have a talk with him and he gets back on track. I also try to be on top of his test schedule to make sure that he puts in enough study time. He has come a long way over the years. Some kids just need more help and guidance than others. If we had not been actively involved with his school work we would have a 9th grader with bad grades and no work ethic. We are not willing to put his future totally in his hands. Kids do not always have the ability to see how todays actions will affect the rest of their lives.

  8. My kids are all in high school and should be able to “own” their homework. Two out of three do (one is excellent the other gets by), but the third, with ADD does need [not so] gentle reminders.

    I find here in Israel much of the learning at least in one of the ulpanas my girls attend, there’s alot of do-it-your-self learning. They’ll have a test on 5 chapters in the ezrachut (civics) book, but will only have covered 3 chapters in class. This happens again and again. Drives me nuts–hope it’s not a nationwide phenomena.

  9. sylvia_rachel says

    Parents who do their kids’ homework drive me nuts. Seriously, what is being learned by anyone? The kid is not learning anything about whatever the homework was supposed to reinforce; the teacher is not learning anything about the kid’s progress (or lack thereof). OK, correction: the kid is learning that his/her parents do not consider him/her capable of doing the work him/herself. Which is even worse.

    We go back and forth re: helping with homework. SP (who is finishing grade 3) mostly does her own; she’ll sometimes ask for help with math, usually when a question doesn’t make sense to her. (Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to us either :P.) But remembering on her own to do it, not always. But if it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t. The teacher sends home spelling on Mondays, a short writing assignment on Fridays, and sometimes a maths worksheet on Wednesdays, which makes it fairly easy to keep track: I ask her after school if she has homework, and if yes, I remind her to do it. If she says no, I don’t inquire further – thus far we haven’t encountered the problem of lying about homework. (At least, I don’t think we have.) But we make an effort to make sure she “owns” her own homework. And for the past 2 years the teachers have been very good about making sure that projects are done at school, by the kids, and only small discrete pieces of work come home. (Also, they tell the kids they have to read something for at least 20 minutes each evening, but I’m not sure how much that’s checked — in SP’s case the problem is to get her to stop reading, and her teachers of course are aware of this.)

    I too worry that homework will destroy SP’s enthusiasm about school. She’s not in any danger of being labelled “gifted” ;), but she’s a bright kid and generally does well at school. I worry about unnecessary reams of frustrating busy-work, and we had a bit of that in grade 1, but since then homework hasn’t really been a problem. Our school board actually adopted a policy several years ago explicitly limiting the amount of homework, especially in the primary grades (JK-3), and while I gather that implementation has varied among schools and among teachers, SP has definitely benefited from it…

  10. We try to manage a balance – the kids are most definitely responsible for their own homework, but then again, they are also able to own the responsibility in general. Though we suffer from the not writing down what your homework is in the yoman phenomenon – once the teachers stop supervising that step, my boys stop doing it 🙁

    That said, I do try to keep tabs on the situation – by checking their bags with them from time to time and by asking most days ‘do you have homework to do’ as a reminder.

    We do have some in house consequences to not doing your work – namely computer privileges for fun are earned in my house and homework, along with chores, are part of what needs to be done to get the fun.

    If I i get notes home about missing work and/or hear from the teacher about it in conferences, the consequences are more severe – we had that one time and never again. My son didn’t earn back computer time for a full week until his teacher told me that he did all the assignments that week (I called to check).

    One important thing to me is that I never do their work for them – i’ll remind, I’ll assist and answer specific questions but not do it for them. Which means my kids have the sloppiest looking projects around which are age appropriate (vs those that show how talented their parents are). I help them select materials but they do it all themselves with their ideas – and they take pride in it.

    My 6th grader reports very low homework compliance in his class – in part, I think, because his teacher seems not to care. This frustrates me to no end as I try to teach him about responsibility. His teacher does heap praise on him at the parent teacher conference for how he is always doing his work on time but the fact that she seems not to penalize anyone else doesn’t really help.

  11. I think that there’s a shift that happens: in early years, parents are responsible for their kids’ homework, and as time goes on, kids become more and more responsible for their own homework. No two kids are the same, and as such no two kids will transition the same.

    For starters, why should parents be responsible for their kids’ homework at an early age? This is a rather easy question to answer – because at an early age, kids need lots of structure. If there is no structure, there is nothing. Homework is just like anything else – if parents don’t care about their kids’ homework, well let’s look at a hypothetical situation where parents don’t care what their kids do with their free time, because the parent is working or is a poor parent or what have you. Such kids end up, by and large, raising themselves with everything that means. I can guarantee you, all the horror stories you ever hear about teenagers getting drunk and/or pregnant has to do with parents thinking that they can just leave their kids alone because their kids will make mistakes and learn from them.

    Put simply, it’s important for parents to be responsible for their kids homework at an early age because parents are their kids’ greatest role models. If its not important to the parent, its not important to the child. If parents simply left kids to nature’s forces then only the exceptionally brightest kids would see value in doing homework.

    At the same time, eventually kids need to learn to be responsible for themselves because Mommy and Daddy won’t be with them forever. It is the parents responsibility to make sure that their kids develop the proper work habits before the time comes to wean them off of parental support.

    Look at the Halachic parallel – at age 12/13, our kids become Bnai Mitzvah. They become responsible for their own actions, and we cut them off from having their parents be responsible for everything they do. But does that mean that we can let our kids do whatever they want until Bar Mitzvah age? Absolutely not! We raise them with the structure of Taryag Mitzvot because it is only through the imposition of this structure at a young age can they actually acclimatize to it as they need to by the time they turn of age and actually properly take responsibility for their actions according to Halacha. The thought, on this parallel, that our kids should just make mistakes and learn from them is tantamount to saying that it’s OK for our kids to sin chas v’shalom because a lightning bolt will come down from the sky and teach them who’s boss. The absurdity of this concept should be clear to everyone.


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