When Mom does the homework

Mommyish blogger Rebecca Eckler asks people not to hate her for doing her fourth-grade daughter’s homework: The girl is tired from school, play dates and activities, and playing is more important than homework, she writes. However, Eckler hates math, so she lets her daughter do that by herself.

You’re teaching your daughter to lie, resonds Madeline Holler on Babble, who wonders why “Eckler sat down and cut out and mounted pictures of elephants for a research project so that her daughter’s board would stand out among those of her peers’.”

A lot of homework is a waste of time. My question is, then, why create a charade? A charade that the fourth-grader is complicit in. Sending in finished homework sends a sign to the teacher that the daily assignments are manageable when they are not. When the daughter gets praise for her standout poster on elephants (or a gold star for a completed word search), what does the mother expect the daughter to do: say “thanks,” or say “thanks, my mom did it”? If it’s the former, then she’s teaching the girl to lie. If it’s the latter, then why do the homework in the first place? What’s wrong with a crappy elephant poster?

. . . If the consequence of not doing homework is too steep, there are other avenues, like cutting back on after school activities or, gasp, talking to the teacher about homework expectations.

Sometimes your child’s best isn’t great, Holler writes. That’s OK.

About Joanne


  1. Complain to the teacher and you’re apt to hear, “Sorry, but we have a mandatory homework policy of X minutes per night.”

  2. Kirk Seal says:

    In our school district we are looking at homework at the district level. The interesting thing is some parents hate the amount of homework given and some think What a good teacher because of the amount of work given. The big question is what is good for the students.

  3. If it is busywork, I have no qualms about completing. When my daughter regularly had 10 page packets of simple graphing (to make pictures) and multiplication to do in her algebra class. She isn’t going to get anything out of it – and I have no problem doing the work. Ditto for the dioramas and posters (I design and cut, she glues). Drawing pictures for a middle school advanced (gifted) reading class gets help to.

    However, ask her to write a report, create poetry, or research a topic … and she is on her own.

  4. Catherine says:

    I completely sympathize with the annoyance about busywork, but doesn’t doing a child’s work and having them turn it in as though they had done it teach them that cheating is parent-approved and necessary? Which is more important? An “A” in fourth grade or teaching honesty at that age?

  5. Collaboration and outsourcing occur all the time in the real world. As an adult, credit is given for completing an assignment on time – even if it is not your work. Further, credit is not necessarily provided every time it occurs; indeed, frequently, it is overlooked.

    In the article, cutting out an mounting elephants onto a poster is a skill taught in kindergarten and first grade. By fourth grade, unless the child is struggling with their small motor skills, it is a busywork function that is worthy of outsourcing. Assigning mundane tasks does cheat the child of what should be there personal time. It is ridiculous that these project assignments persist into middle and high school. Homework should be relevant and useful – the recommendation is no more than 10 minutes / day for grade. If that time is spent cutting and pasting, it really is a waste of time.

    While writing takes more time to do and correct, there should be a higher emphasis on this as a way to synthesize a research project rather than a poster which merely an exercise is slapping on pictures (scapbook style if you want it to standout) and label what they represent. Unfortunately, the posters are assigned to boost the egos of he struggling students of a class who can have a professional looking result (with parent help) to turn in and hang alongside those from the top of the class.

    • In the “real world” we do a task so it gets done, so exactly who does it is not always relevant. In school, we do a task to learn from it, so who does it is relevant.

      If I want a piano moved then it doesn’t matter that I hire someone to do it; the task has been accomplished. Suppose I do the same with the iron weights at the gym and hire someone to pump iron for me?

      Busy work needs to be eliminated entirely and not done by parents.

      Note that I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you except for your first sentence.

      • I agree, the busywork needs to be eliminated ….. Too much of the work does little to promote learning, but it is timeconsuming. Until the posters and wordfinds are eliminated, there will be parents that see these as useless to the child and will personally facilitate the offending homework’s completion.

        However, so many people in the comment section of the original article take issue with a student taking credit for work that is not theirs. The issue is the “honesty” of this. This happens all the time outside the context of school and people have performance appraisals that incorporate its results. It is socially acceptable. It just seems like when it relates to school work with little learning value, lots of folks get all worked up calling it cheating …. whereas the real problem is that people should be getting worked up and calling to eliminate these nonvalue-added assignments. If there is no value, who really cares how it is completed?

    • Cranberry says:

      MN Mom, you’re right that the school should scrap the busywork. So I suggest you get a group of parents together to complain to the principal about the busywork. Really. Advocate, as adults, for more meaningful homework.

      STOP doing your children’s homework. Even the cutting and pasting. You’re participating in a parental artwork arms war, which does no one any good. “Outsourcing” is a fancy word for helping your children CHEAT.

      I never have done any of my children’s homework, not even the cut & paste stuff. They never got marked down for poor artwork–the teachers can tell which children do their own work.

      Part of the point of homework is to learn to manage one’s time effectively. Even the “busywork” plays a role. By taking on the more time-consuming part of the homework, you’re teaching poor work habits.

      Unfortunately, the posters are assigned to boost the egos of he struggling students of a class who can have a professional looking result (with parent help) to turn in and hang alongside those from the top of the class.

      So stick your neck out and lobby to stop this practice. I’m sure you (and all the other mothers) have much better things to do with your time. Not only can the teacher tell which students have done their own work, the other parents can tell.

      • If only it were that easy….. we are a “school-choice” family that open-enrolled into a different school district from where we live in order to allow our kids to attend a gifted-talented magnet school (there are a handful of those in our state).

        At the elementary level, the teachers are actually quite good about minding this because they are working just with just their gifted classroom. They really get “learning” activities vs. time fillers. However, as my kids progress into middle and high school, there seems to be a lack of awareness amongst the teachers … and frankly, it is less work for me to do the projects that arise monthly vs. lobby a school district where I don’t live – nor do the majority of the families that started out in the gifted program. We are a scattered group.

      • Former Science Teacher says:

        “Parental artwork arms war.” I love it! Spot on. The comparisons are especially painful when Crafty Mom’s work is posted right next to my wonderfully messy six year-old boy’s work.

  6. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I never got help on my projects, and they always looked like a drunken monkey with a prosthetic hook put them together. I made my first grader do her first grade 4-H projects without help even though I knew her results would look less professional than the other kids’ work. It was good for her–she struggled and did her best. And you know what? The judges can tell which kids had help and which did it on their own, and since the point is about learning and becoming competent, they really prefer it when the first grader’s work does NOT look like it was professionally stitched or made by a graphic designer!

    I assume the teachers (who see many more projects than 4H judges do) can tell to… so they’re participating in the lie.

  7. Kudos Deidre, I’m glad that you did your own projects when you were a kid.

    I’m not completely familiar with 4-H, but as it is my understanding that it is an out-of-school activity, and it is your choice to participate. Of course, your daughter would be doing her own work – she (or you as a parent) chose for her to participate and the projects are often submitted to county and state fairs for judging.

    However, for school related work, project work today is not an activity that increases their learning or understanding of a subject. At 4th grade, a child should be spending more time out of school in free play and exploration.

    If I want my daughter to do art work, she will do so in an art class, not for science, reading, or math – or research on elephants.

    If my daughter wants to scrapbook a poster or a photo album, she can do that too, just keep it out of schol.

  8. I’ve always done the coloring for my sons (most recently for my 9th grader’s final history project) on the theory that coloring has absolutely nothing to do with their understanding of the subject and it will get them to bed sooner. It’s surprising to me how many classes in middle school require coloring, scissoring and glue to get projects done. Fortunately, it seems that PowerPoint presentations are more popular as assignments, and the boys will do those themselves.

  9. I just recently collected assignments that required a creative component. The students chose to draw or create a 3D model that demonstrated their learning in a content area. One student drew a totally acceptable piece of work and then went home crying because his wasn’t as good as the others, which were clearly done by parents. Since I am assessing mastery and not giving a traditional letter grade, I will simply assess these other students in another way until I am confident I know their level of topic mastery. This poor child who had his heart broken has clearly mastered the material and now I can move him into more challenging work because I know where he is in his learning journey this year. The students who haven’t mastered the material because they didn’t wrestle with higher order thinking on it won’t get that opportunity until I’m sure they’re ready. Their parents wasted their time, and that of their child (and mine!).

    On the other hand, my own daughter was told by a teacher that something she submitted was not her best work and that she could do better. Never mind that she had done it all herself and worked hard at it over a number of days. It looked horrible compared to the other projects and that’s what mattered to this teacher.

    So, there are some teachers who care whether students do it, and some who don’t. I think as schools move to mastery instruction rather than traditional grading we might see a shift toward more meaningful assignments. I hate busywork myself, so I don’t assign it. Since busywork doesn’t give the teacher a way to know if a student has mastered something, it will hopefully fall by the wayside as mastery scales become a more dominant form of reporting a child’s progress.

  10. Lightly Seasoned says:

    This is why I have more and more of the work done in class. I don’t get to teach them as much when I need to spend a week of class time on in-class composition instead of assigning it as homework over the course of the week, but at least I know who I’m teaching.

  11. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I’m just amazed at how many parents DON’T think cheating is immoral if it’s parent-sanctioned and the kid has something better to do. Maybe that;s why we keep seeing surveys about HS and College kids who don’t see why plagiarism is wrong— after all, they have better things to do, and they’re just having someone else do the work for them and taking the credit— just like in elementary school when Mom did all they’re dioramas!

  12. I’m sort of surprised that parents who do this stuff don’t have more self respect or see that they may be setting up their kids for failure or character issues later on.

    Or maybe they want the kids to forever be dependent on them to do their grunt work.

    Does anyone learn to be an effective worker or leader by skipping over tasks that they regard as unworthy? It would seem pretty rare to me. I think you have to do or not do them yourself to learn whether then really matter and then how to do them effectively.

    I do think homework may have gotten out of control some place, mainly because of the instructional methods that are popular these days, but as someone noted, the honorable way for parents to address this is to approach the school or the district about what’s really going on. Just doing the work for the kids is wrong on multiple levels.

    • More self respect? Ouch. Actually, many of us that do the projects / homework do not respect the assignment. In the article and my earlier comments, core materials that they are learning, research that needs to be done, and papers that need to be written, the child should do. There is still plenty of grunt work for the child. And, there are plenty of tasks to be learned in other schoolwork.

      Personally, my kids do alot of learning outside the classroom. Language classes, classes at our science museum, math instruction during the summer (they teach themselves and get parent assistance if they don’t understand a topic), summer history readings, and alot of time spent in national parks.

      Coloring for a 9th grade project, mounting pictures for a 4th grade poster, detailed drawing for 6th grade advanced reading, and doing word finds and word scrambles, the kids do not need as much.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        Sure, YOU think papers and research are important. But that’s no guaruntee that your kids do. The lesson that you’re teaching is “It’s OK to lie when it’s convenient and the subject isn’t important.”

        Some people reach the point where they don’t find marriage vows important, or where they don’t find taxes important. Ethical behavior, like Math, builds on smaller things. If you never learn to add, you won’t do calculus. A kid who’s taught that it’s OK to be dishonest in small things will eventually define “small thing” to include anything they feel like being dishonest about.

        I mean, seriously– is it worth selling out your integrity and your child’s integrity, over a few properly colored maps?

        (Of course, some pundits have argued that much of our current economic crisis is due to a national decline in moral capitol– that because it’s no longer considered WRONG to submit fraudulent data, to lie about assets, to default on debt and to screw over employees, the basis for our economic system is slowly disintegrating. An honest man doesn’t suddenly lie to the SEC– the slope starts earlier, in childhood.)

        • I think research papers are important because they use many skills that are extremely useful in life. There is reading comprehension, there are organization skills to synthesize the material, there are writing skills to communicate. These are universal skills are important across many different occupations.

          Coloring in the lines, gluing pictures on a piece of posterboard, or doing a wordfind don’t have quite the same merit.

          Go ahead an have your child do this work, but if it means the difference between a good night sleep or not …. or an hour to decompress after a full day or not – I will do the worthless because it is my own chance to decompress. I have a middle-schooler that is one of the top athletes on the high school’s team. This is a school function, but she doesn’t get home until after 6:00 on game nights (2-3 per week) or 5:30 on practice nights. She is up before 6:00 a.m. each day. We have siblings that have their own outside activites that they are interested in. My eldest complained she hadn’t had a chance to go to facebook since school started. This may not be a big deal to someone like you, but it is a reflection of the lack of time that many student athletes have alongside homework.

          If teachers are going to continue to assign busywork and artprojects for non-art classes, I can sleep very well at night doing coloring work and posters.

          Marriages broke 50 and 100 years ago too. There were investments scams since the beginning of time; we just have more regulation to attempt to prevent. Parents have been stepping in more on these projects only in more recent times. So if you are attributing all of this to parents coloring and making posters, what can we attribute the past “moral lapses” such as quack cure-all medicines,canal investment schemes, or more recently televangilist embezzlement.

          And people do tell small lies, regularly to avoid hurting other peoples feelings. I’m sure your mother told you your projects were wonderful despite your description that they nearly all looked like a drunken monkey. The difference is that there is a distinct limit to the behaviour. Unfortunately, your response is rigid that it and doesn’t recognize limits or nuances.

          • Deirdre Mundy says:

            Actually, no. My mom told me they looked horrible, and that next time I should either start earlier and spend more time on them, or ask the teacher very nicely if I could do a research paper instead of a poster. (Or write fiction and poems for required “creative” stuff.) And you know what? When I asked, they usually accommodated my request—the goal was usually to assign something “fun and easy,” so I could convince them that a paper was fun and easy for me.

            As for coloring in high school, my mother told me that everyone has to jump through pointless hoops sometimes and I could either do the work or skip it and take the B, as long as I learned the material.

            And you’re right– as a former student, a former teacher, and a current parent, I AM rigid when it comes to cheating. But “rigid” isn’t always an insult– I’m rigid when it comes to driving sick people to the doctor too– On the other hand, you seem fairly rigid with respect to your children’s athletic activities…..

          • Deirdre Mundy says:

            Here’s the question, as I see it: As a business owner, would you rather hire someone who’s ‘rigid’ when it comes to honesty in the small things, or someone who has a sliding scale about what really ‘counts?’ White lies like “Yes, Grandma, that is a pretty new precious moments figurine!” are in a different class from “I’m taking an A on this project and damaging the grades of the classmates who actually DID do the work at the same time.” If you honestly can’t see the difference between a white lie and cheating on a project, I really suggest you read up on your moral philosophy!

          • I am rigid not with regards to athletics …but that a child needs to have multiple interests and family needs to support. I am also rigid about family.

            We had a game last night where my younger kids attended. It was a 40 minute drive to get there, two hour match spending a good deal of it catching up with an opposing team’s parent I knew, and another 40 minutes back. To the extent possible, the younger kids attempted to do homework at the match. We eat as a family, homemade, not take-away or frozen heat-up. Spending time as a family takes time.

            However, as a result, a nonathlete child was not able to start working on a social studies “art” project until nearly 9:00 as a result. Despite having a bunch of ideas for what to do, we ran out of time to create and I just took over to get it to the checkpoint it was supposed to be at.

            And I do note a lapse in your morals of “okay” lies to tell and not okay. Might not the grandma lie become something greater like lying to cover not getting something done to lying about something even stealing?

            Is it cheating when there seems to be insistance that teachers can tell if the parent or the student does the work. If a teacher knows that work is being taken over by the parents, why continue to assign the same work year after year. As a teacher, why not ask the parents about their participation.

            Sorry, but frankly, reading moral philosophy is not quite my thing (I prefer fiction) … especially while I am busy working on that poster.

  13. Cranberry says:

    If the work goes home, and gets done, and no one owns up to the fact that parents did the work, how’s a teacher to know a student’s overburdened? The name of the game seems to be to make it all seem effortless.

    I have seen schools change the homework loads, when parents spoke up. It is possible. However, parents would then have to give up the (mostly imaginary) grade boost delivered by the hot glue gun.

    Some parents loved the movie, “Race to Nowhere.” It struck me that some of the students who complained about the stress of academics were overburdened by athletics. Starting homework at 9 pm is toxic. It’s also a choice.

    I think it’s easier for parent to see how practice improves the athlete or musician. Some of the skill building exercises seem pretty pointless, but few parents of successful athletes and musicians offer to take over the repetitive drills in either field.

    Why are academics different? Is it because we have this belief that intelligence is inborn, thus practice doesn’t make a difference? It does in every other arena of human life, but not in academics?

    The gifted suffer particularly from not enough challenge in the early school years. At some point, they do hit demanding academic classes. For some kids, this will be in college. If they haven’t learned how to study, how to use their time wisely, they’re doomed. Trying to lessen the time load of class assignments is rather the wrong approach, in my opinion.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Cranberry– in the same vein, the moral life also requires practice. (this is not just a Christian idea–the Greeks, Chinese and Romans all had it too.) So, to develop a habit of honesty, one must practice honesty even in small things. To develop a habit of courage, one ought to practice not giving in to small fears instead of waiting for a large one to surface. To develop a habit of perseverence, one must learn to work at tasks that one finds difficult and uninteresting.To develop a habit of attentiveness to detail, one must practice each day…. etc, etc. etc.

      As parents, I think it’s important to think about what habits and values we’d like our children to have as adults, and work to give them opportunities to develop them—otherwise, we do them a disservice

    • Cranberry – I think you raise a very interesting point. With the athlete and musician, they generally understand and see the point of the repetitive exercises they do. Both require muscle memory to create an effortless results. Academically, the issue is the assignments that aren’t leading to a higher intellect. Coloring and gluing are not making secondary students smarter.

      In academics, skills like reading, writing, and mat need to be replicated at higher and higher levels to improve intellect. Doing a word-find …. not so much.

  14. Cranberry says:

    In academics, skills like reading, writing, and mat need to be replicated at higher and higher levels to improve intellect. Doing a word-find …. not so much.

    Good study habits are essential. There is no way around the ability to manage one’s own time effectively. I am not arguing that artsy projects are necessary. I personally hate them, and wish teachers would carefully consider the time commitment each assignment calls for–in consultation with other teachers in the grade!

    However, children need to know that their success or failure on an assignment lies within their control. Parents should also be careful not to teach a lack of respect for teachers.

    You’re teaching your children poor scheduling. For the younger children, the 3.5 hours spent attending the sibling’s sporting event could have been better spent. You’re excusing teaching your children to cheat and teaching them a lack of respect for their teachers–due to an emergency you created!

    “Despite having a bunch of ideas for what to do, we ran out of time to create and I just took over to get it to the checkpoint it was supposed to be at.”

    There’s a concept of learned helplessness. You are teaching your child that, if she runs out of time for an assignment, you will take over. You are teaching her that producing a finished product is more important than 1) managing her time wisely, 2) telling the truth, and 3) doing all her own work.

    • Cranberry – I agree that good study habits are essential. With regards to 95% most of my children’s classwork, I have already noted that they are fully responsible and I will not step in. When they have an issue in class, I even have my children approach their teacher rather than initiate it myself. My children are taught self-sufficiency. They aren’t learning helplessness.

      My beef is with the artsy projects you hate that are a distraction from all of the other reasons my child is in school. My other complaint is worksheets for the sake of busywork. We had a 10 page packet of calculator math to do for a group students in a gifted algebra class. If my child had received a packet to solving equations for the variable … no problem … the kids needed the practice to reinforce their processing. However, when the purpose of the assignment is entering multiplication and division problems on a calculator for the result, 10 pages is a bit overkill.

      My kids manage their time and complete the “true” learning opportunities assigned. I don’t seem to see the truth issue since everyone insists they know what is and is not student work. It is a polite game. And for 95% of the assignments, all of her tests, and quizzes, my kids are reflecting her own work.

      I have tremendous respect for teachers. I have several in-laws as teachers who I do get feedback from when I have questions. Much of the feedback is to lay low and not complain or create waves. We have contemplated homeschooling to avoid the 5% non-value added work.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        “My beef is with the artsy projects you hate that are a distraction from all of the other reasons my child is in school. My other complaint is worksheets for the sake of busywork. We had a 10 page packet of calculator math to do for a group students in a gifted algebra class. If my child had received a packet to solving equations for the variable … no problem … the kids needed the practice to reinforce their processing. However, when the purpose of the assignment is entering multiplication and division problems on a calculator for the result, 10 pages is a bit overkill.”

        Have you considered having the kid *not* do the work and sending a note to the teacher explaining why?

      • Cranberry says:

        My other complaint is worksheets for the sake of busywork. We had a 10 page packet of calculator math to do for a group students in a gifted algebra class. If my child had received a packet to solving equations for the variable … no problem … the kids needed the practice to reinforce their processing. However, when the purpose of the assignment is entering multiplication and division problems on a calculator for the result, 10 pages is a bit overkill.

        You function as the gatekeeper for your daughter. You don’t allow her to fail. She never gets to learn from experience.

        You probably should homeschool. It would be less confusing for your children to see you as parent and teacher. It would also give your children more time for sports, and more time to concentrate on the academic work you find worthwhile.

  15. This issue should be addressed upstream, when the teachers are being trained. Ed school curriculum (and ed courses for HS teachers majoring in something else) should teach these folks how to assign homework (for learning content and for study skills) that doesn’t waste students’ time. Our school managed to hold off on the art projects; there were very few, and the parents stayed out of them for the most part. But the word searches!!! they teach nothing at all, and can be very time consuming.

  16. Agree!

    I work with my parents, and in fact tell them “Your child is expected to do 45 minutes of homework each night – including Homework. If it goes over that time limit (note! Kids can read in the car!!) they stop, and finish it the next night. (I send home HW on Friday, and then they turn it in on Friday.) If it just CAN’T get done in 45 minutes… then they just bring in a note saying “It was too much” and I’ll adjust!!