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Homework: Too Much, Too Soon?

Most children are used to getting homework, but these days, it seems like they're getting more of it -- and at a younger age.

It's not uncommon for kindergarteners to be assigned homework every day, according to Helene Mandell, director of professional services for the University of San Diego's School of Leadership and Education Sciences.

"It's appalling," Mandell said. "It cuts into family time, especially when it's every night.

"In very young children, it can be too much. It ends up robbing them of time they need to develop hobbies, interests, sports and activities."

According to Mandell, studies show that there is no benefit to giving children homework at a very young age.

"What is really important for kindergarteners is to read and be read to," Mandell said. "Also, family time and recreation is important, especially since there are obesity issues for many children."

So, why the extra work?

Often times, it's a district-wide policy, and one that parents seem to encourage.

"Most school districts have a policy of 20 minutes of homework for one grade, 30 minutes a night for the next," Mandell said. "Some parents don't understand the bigger picture, and they think homework is what a child needs to be competitive and get ahead."

In other words, parents think that more homework means more successful students.

"More homework doesn't necessarily mean higher achievement," Mandell said. "There needs to be a balance between overall achievement and classroom achievement."

If parents have concerns, Mandell gives these suggestions:

Talk to someone at school. "Make an appointment with your child's teacher and get clarification for what the purpose of the homework is," Mandell said. "Also, ask for flexibility with time. See if the teacher can give a packet on Monday that needs to be completed by Friday, thus giving parents the ability to set their own schedule."

Ask a teacher for options. "If a child has done well in a certain area, ask if he or she could read a book or do a book report instead of doing the homework," Mandell said. "Don't be afraid to talk to teachers. Often, they want to do what is right."

Ask a teacher for educational software or computer programs that children might find more motivating.

Sit down and do the homework with them. "Make it more fun," Mandell said. "Don't let homework cut into 'fun time' that siblings might be getting."

Finally, Mandell encourages parents to "not give up without a fight."

"There's a case to be made for allowing children to have family time as well as personal time," Mandell said.