Parenting: The 10 Minute Rule

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A story recently grabbed my attention from the front page of the New York Times: A North Jersey mother found herself frustrated as one math assignment for her second-grade son dragged on over an hour. With her son in tears, the mother told him to not even bother with his other homework. "How many times do you have to add seven plus two? I have no problem doing homework, but that put us both over the edge," she told the paper.

So the mother complained to her boss - who happened to be the superintendant of schools. The district was already giving its homework policy a second look. This summer it will vote on an idea gaining currency across the country: The idea that kids should have ten minutes of work per grade - i.e. A first grader has ten minutes a night, a second grader has twenty, and so on. And homework is banned for weekends, holidays and vacations.

All this comes as I have to look at my little guy, who is just starting to string together simple sentences, and make major decisions for his schooling. Public? Private? Charter? More challenging? More creative? A focus on academics? On athletics? And part of this dictates that I have to decide how I feel about homework.

I was a kid with a groaning backpack. It was not unusual for my parents to get up for a drink of water in the middle of the night and find me at the kitchen table, still studying. I loved learning so much, I didn't consider this a grind. But I was also a high schooler by this point and able to make that call. Schooling now - increasingly a competitive race to college - has families facing hours of work at a shockingly early age.

So is it best for my kid at a place with reams of homework that may be the best path to a place like my beloved Stanford? Or do I need to find a place that actively pushes back?

I think I'm going with the latter and here's why: that rule of ten. Turns out such vaunted educational organizations as the National Education Association and the National PTA are now on board. "If you find that 10-minute rule is greatly exceeded, that assignments are going unfinished, or that exhaustion and frustration levels are running high - it's time to talk to the teacher," says the NEA site.

"Stand up for your right to a balanced family life," insists the PTA website.

Indeed, academics in the documentary 'Race to Nowhere,' argue that after a certain point there are diminishing returns and your child is getting nothing for extra hours hitting the books - other than a headache.

I know a lot of other parents with young children are making these decisions as well. And it should be noted that there is another point of view: With creative teaching, innovative assignments and involved parenting, homework is worthwhile, no matter how long it takes. But now, as you think out the first steps of schooling for your toddler, you also have the ten-minute rule to consider.

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