The Good, the Bad, the Ugly of Homework


A recent article in the NYPost highlighted the growing trend for parents to pay someone to do their child’s homework – like an “assistant” that is a necessity for a busy 8-grader who has to juggle the pressure of school and extra curricular activities.

While this growing trend to “outsource” homework is new, parents stepping in to help their children with homework is not.

So is this a problem – and what really is the point of homework? This is an issue that divides people:


In one camp, you have organizations that suggest that homework is good because:

·      it reinforces what’s being taught in the classroom

·      parents can engage in their child’s education

·      it teaches the child skills like time management and organization



According to a Stanford study too much homework leads to:

•Stress: 56% of the students surveyed considered homework a primary source of stress. Less than 1% of the students said homework was not a stressor.

•Poor health: Many students reported sleep deprivation, headaches, stomach problems, weight loss, and exhaustion.



Often teens spend over 3 hours a night on homework. But organization such as National Parent Teacher Association suggests that there should be no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade. This means that the 12th grader should not be doing more than 2 hours a night.

In fact, a survey of almost 8000 school children found that more than 1 hour of homework is actually counter-productive:

·      Those who did almost 2 hours of homework per day performed WORSE on standardized tests than those with less homework.

·      Those with only small amounts of homework students scored nearly 50 points higher on standardized test than those who had large amounts of homework. 


What can you do as a parent?

Use the Tom Sawyer Effect

When Tom Sawyer was asked to paint his aunt’s fence – he converted work to play.  The end result – boys in the neighborhood were lining up to play!

Tom Sawyer utilized an important lesson in motivation – intrinsic motivation gets better results than extrinsic motivation. If a child enjoys doing an activity, they don’t need a reward to keep doing it.

Take Home: encourage your child to see the value or enjoyment in doing a homework activity and they will be intrinsically motivated to complete it.

TV and Language - what's the link in children?


Ronald McDonald is more easily recognized than Superman– but is this a good thing?

A survey of 3-5 year-olds found that they recognized 5x more corporate brand logos (like Starbucks, Superman, Batman, Shell, Toyota, Disney, McDonalds, Nike, Apple and Pepsi ) compared to nature pictures (like a white tailed deer, a coyote, the Alberta Wild Rose and a Peregrine Falcon.)

Research has shown that children younger than 8, are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising.

WHY? Young children usually accept advertising claims at face value. In fact, the American Federal Trade Commission concluded it was unfair and deceptive to advertise to children younger than 6, but in practice it is hard to implement this.

What can parents do?

1)    Talk to your child –this helps develop critical thinking –

·      Ask them what they liked about an ad – was it the colors, the music, the characters?

·      Ask them how the ad made them feel – happy, excited?

·      Then ask your child what they liked about the product and why they want it

This process can help them avoid making emotional decisions and instead make more informed and rational decision.

2)    Recognize that not all TV watching is negative

In my research I examined the impact of TV watching on vocabulary skills in toddlers (as this represents a critical developmental period).  Parents told us the television watching habits of their children in different genres (educational, cartoons, baby DVDs, adult entertainment). Here is what I found:

a)      Television did not hurt vocabulary scores

b)    But it didn’t help either! More time spent watching educational programs was associated with less time reading factual books.

c)     Reading educational books & playing memory boosted vocabulary skills

Memory Tips from my book Training Your Brain For Dummies

WATCH In celebration of Memory Day here are 3 memory-related areas that we can boost:


Short-term memory is the space that you have to hold information for a short time. You can think of it like a holding zone—you won’t keep the information in your short-term memory for long, just long enough till you can transfer the information to a piece of paper, your computer, or even your long-term memory store.

TRY IT: Listen and then repeat these numbers:


Now try it again:


Chunking – or breaking up information into smaller sections- is a great way to remember more

Another tip – Talk fast – Research has found that when we say things quickly, we can remember more information.


Long-term memory is when you have to keep information for a long period of time. Some of this information can be kept for years and years like a memorable birthday; while other memories don’t last more than a week. Think of long-term memory like a library full of books. Some books get read more than others so it is easier to remember which shelf you left them on. With long-term memory, some experiences are better remembered than others because you think about them more.

As we get older one of the first things to go is our long-term memory but we can keep it sharp by keeping information relevant.

TRY IT: In 10 secondS, list as many vegetables as you can

What does this do: These games, known as fluency games, help keep information organized in our brain (this is one of the first things to go in someone with Alzheimer’s )

3. ATTENTION – Sometimes it can be hard to stay alert during a meeting

TRY IT: DOODLE! Grab a pen or pencil and tap into your creative side.

This “doodling effect” keeps your attention from drifting away- so that you still pay attention instead of daydreaming. It is also a great gatekeeper because it doesn’t actually compete for attention resources—doodling doesn’t require much focus or effort—so you can still focus on the task at hand.

Lots of other tips (like doing Jigsaw puzzles, suduko, and spot the difference games) can be found in my book: Training Your Brain For Dummies

How to Detect Early Signs of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulties in reading and spelling, despite average levels of intelligence. Individuals with dyslexia also show weakness in phonological awareness, verbal working memory, and processing speed. Younger students with Dyslexia tend to struggle with sounds, more than the meaning of words. This can explain why students with dyslexia are often described as bright and articulate, yet their written work shows little evidence of this. 

Poor working memory is a key part – we have to use working memory to match the sound with the letter and then put it all together.

One way to support poor working memory in students with dyslexia is to help them automate some letter sounds so they can use their working memory to focus on the comprehension of the text.  WATCH