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The Real Meaning of Homework

It's not just about grades; here's the lowdown.

Good study habits have lifelong benefits.

The obvious aim of assigning homework is to get your child to practice and strengthen academic skills. By devoting the proper time to homework, your child stands a much better chance of making good grades.

But homework has other important values. Homework can and should be a character-building experience. Handled properly by teachers and parents, homework helps a child develop emotional and behavioral skills needed in the adult world.

Homework's Hidden Values

1. Responsibility: Homework is the child's responsibility. If you get too involved, you set the process on its head.

2. Independence: Because it's the first time someone other than a parent assigns frequent tasks to the child, homework breaks new ground. How this golden opportunity is managed will either enhance or obstruct your child's progress toward self-direction.

3. Perseverance: There's no point to a child's doing homework if every time the child becomes frustrated, you step right in and make it all better. It's OK to let your child struggle a bit with a problem.

4. Time management: Children need to be told when to finish their homework, not when to start it. That way, instead of learning to waste time, the child learns to manage it.

5. Initiative: Like a muscle, the ability to be a self-starter strengthens with exercise. That's why it's essential that the child decide when it's time to begin each homework assignment.

6. Self-reliance: Homework can affirm a child's feeling of competency. Mismanaged, it deflates that feeling. Unfortunately, there is no in-between.

7. Resourcefulness: The ability to be inventive in the face of problems is the very stuff of being human. Homework provides a wonderful setting for your child to practice such cleverness.

If you don't believe those are important lessons, consider an exercise done at a recent seminar. An audience of several hundred teachers was asked a series of questions:

"How many of you use algebra on a regular basis?" Three hands went up. "Physics?" Two hands. "How many refer to your world history regularly?" Twenty hands -- still only 10 percent. "Now, how many of you need to accept difficult responsibilities on a daily basis?" All hands up. "How many of you must persevere in the face of frustration every single day of your lives?" All the hands stayed in the air. "Manage your time properly?" Still no hands went down.

The point, and the teachers in the audience that day proved it, was that the factual material we learn in school is not the most valuable lesson being learned. The truly worthwhile learning happens "behind the scenes." This, not grades, is the stuff of future success.

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