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Are you smarter than a 5th grader?


When my son was in third grade, his class was given a book report assignment that included placing notes about the book inside a coffee can and decorating the can’s exterior with a drawing of the book’s cover. The child was supposed to create the drawing and then glue it onto the can.

On the due date, I noticed that my son’s friend Bailey’s artwork was exceptional. The drawing on his coffee can was neat and immaculate – and didn’t appear to be the work of a third-grader. Sure enough, when I complimented Bailey for his artwork, he blurted out that his older sister Stephanie had done it. I figured as much. At the time, Stephanie was in high school.

Most educators and education experts agree that it’s counterproductive for parents or an older sibling to do a child’s homework or help too much. However, kids do better with some assistance. Research shows that children are more likely to succeed in learning when their families actively support them, and that includes support with homework, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Also, helping with homework allows parents to be involved in their child’s education.

So the question is: How much should parents get involved in homework?

Experts agree that parents should play a supporting role. They can offer guidance and be there to answer questions, help interpret instructions and check completed work. It’s a careful balance for parents to provide support but not do too much.

Carole Calabria, director of the Historic Anaheim Campus for the Fairmont Schools, which educates children from preschool through high school on four campuses in Orange County, says a goal of her schools is to help students learn to do their work independently, with help from parents only as necessary.

How much support parents should offer depends on the child’s grade level, Calabria says, adding that younger kids need more assistance. “Parents need to help if it’s quizzing for a test or for vocabulary, and helping the little ones learn their multiplication facts. Have the kids read to you, have them read a little every night, and help the little ones by reading to them and reading with them.”

After fifth grade, the more parents get involved, the more dissension this can create, she says, noting that parents tend to want to go over everything, and older kids can get resentful. With older students, Calabria says, “It’s more a case of getting it done than being able to do it.”

Finally, check on assignments and grades posted by the school online. If necessary, parents can email a teacher asking the teacher to talk to their child. “Be an advocate if you feel something is really wrong,” Calabria says. Or, make your child send the email. “Most of the time we want the children to stand up for themselves and speak for themselves.”

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