Hassle-Free Homework: Work Faster, Do More Causes Kids to Not Learn Basics

Dear Dr. Fournier:

Why has timing schoolwork become so important to elementary school teachers, especially in first, second and third grades? It seems to me that learning has taken a back seat to how fast a child can do something. Isn’t our modern, fast-paced society setting the wrong standards for education? It seems to me we’re seeing more and more stressed-out students.

Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier

My child is a second-grader and he is already feeling the stress of having to do timed class work. Almost every day he comes home from school frustrated because his teachers are timing everything and he’s not finishing. What can I do to help him?

Joan S.

Muncie, IN

Dear Joan:

As part of a society that believes more is better, parents for years have said to schools, “Teach my child more, do it faster, and do it sooner.”

I wish I had a dollar for each time I have met high school and college students who fail tests for being “careless.” It’s not that students don’t finish their tests on time. It’s just that in the lower grades there was never time to accurately learn facts they need to know in the latter grades. The only problem is they find they’ve learning these facts wrong each time they write them on a test and they get checked as being incorrect.


As your child and many others suffer the results, these educational mandates have torn apart the very group that should be united: Students, teachers and parents.

As a result of the demand over the years to teach children more, teach it sooner and teach it faster, educators are under increased pressure to keep pace with the curriculum. They have to cover a certain amount of material within state-mandated time frames and they must justify their actions not with evidence of true learning, but with test scores and grades.

Who has time to drill addition facts when the curriculum says you must begin teaching multiplication? Who can stop for a discussion and analysis of Chapter One when Chapter Two must be covered before the next report card comes out? Many curriculums require a second grade child to do what parents and teachers did in third and fourth grade.

Can a child learn, think and create with that new knowledge being drilled into their heads? These are the qualities our children will need in the “real world.”


In order to ease school time pressures, put timing in its proper place at home.

During the initial years of school, your child’s main educational goal should be to learn the basic skills accurately. Only after the learning is complete can the child increase speed of recall through practice to make basic skills automatic.

Start by telling your child that it is all right not to remember quickly what he doesn’t yet know. Then identify precisely what basic skills your child still needs to learn and is not ready to remember on a timed test.

When your child brings home papers – math papers, for example, set up an inventory. In one column, record math facts your child attempted but answered incorrectly. Next to each incorrect answer tabulate the number of times your child has missed the same fact. Do not inventory the math facts that your child did not attempt and disregard the school’s “time grade” initially. You can use this same inventory system with other subjects, such as spelling and reading.

Each week, sit down with your child and inventory the graded papers. The goal is to find your child’s precise un-mastered skills. Have him spend time learning only the facts he does not know.

Develop a strategy to help your child learn the missing basic skills. One technique I’ve used is to have the child put math facts on index cards and decorate them. These cards are put up all over the house -on the refrigerator, on the bathroom mirror, beside the light switch in his room. Each time your child sees the card, he talks to it: “Hi, 7 times 3 – you’re 21.” The goal of this strategy is to develop accuracy.

Only after your child masters the basic skills with accuracy should you move on to develop speed. Then have your child set a reasonable goal – one that is achievable with effort for how many math facts he believes can be completed in school in the time the teacher allots. As your child reaches his goal at least three times in a row, increase the goal by one. Each time a number is achieved correctly, then and only then raise the goal by one.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].