As a parent, we all want our children to find success and to achieve great things. But we also want them to grow up in a way that they can have fun and be happy. How do we find that balance between encouraging our kids to find success and allowing them to have fun?
Elementary-age students should study between 20 minutes and 1 hour most days after school. If they study more than this, they’ll experience diminishing returns. Repeated studies have shown little to no improvement from doing homework, but reading with parents is positively correlated with improvement in learning.
The question of how much time kids should spend studying per day is a nuanced one, with many factors to be taken into account. There is little research being done in this area, so it’s difficult to come to a firm solution. We’ll break down some of these factors in the article below and seek to offer the best guidance available.
The Question of Age
The most important question here regards the age of the child. Elementary schools can range from preschool to 6th grade, which covers ages 4 to 12. The problem is that kids experience a lot of growth in this time, so their study habits and the amount of time they spend studying will change quite a bit.
While there is no consensus on the amount of time children should spend studying, it does seem that most kids should not spend more than 2 hours/day outside of school studying. 2 hours is already a stretch for most kids, who will find it hard to focus on homework for this long. Pro tip: if your child does have to study for an extended period, giving them microbreaks can be a good way to help them stay energized and focused. Microbreaks are 5 minutes-or-less breaks that occur every 30-60 minutes when performing an extended task. The best part? Microbreaks work for adults too!
Some recommendations suggest that first graders (6-7 years old) should not study for more than 20 minutes at a time. It is not clear if these suggestions mean that a child could not perform multiple sessions of study for 20 minutes or less, but it does seem that multiple shorter sessions may be more effective than a single, long session. These recommendations generally state that you can add 10 minutes per year through elementary school. But don’t forget, even adults function better with breaks, so don’t forget to give them breaks!
They do not need so many breaks that they can’t get any work done; children need to practice being able to focus for long periods of time as well. There’s a balance between giving them enough breaks to keep them fresh and interested and giving them so many breaks that they never learn to work. Each child will be different. Feel free to talk openly with your child about breaks and work. Experiment with them on different break and work times so that they can find the optimum times that work best for them. Maybe they need more frequent, shorter breaks; or maybe less frequent, longer breaks work better for them. Play around with it and you’ll figure it out!
School-Time vs. Study-Time
One important thing to take into consideration with elementary age children is the amount of time that they spend in schools relative to their studying. This question is often unclear in research in this area as well. If a child spends 9 hours at school instead of 8, does that mean that they should spend one less hour studying at home?
While there are no clear answers for this, here are some things to consider. The quality of the time spent studying may be as important as the quantity of time spent studying. For example, Singaporean children spend around 9.5 hours/day on homework, while Japanese and Finnish children spend around 3-4 hours/day on homework, but both of these countries are considered to have some of the brightest students in the world. So what gives?
The short answer: it depends. Japanese children have less homework, but also spend more time studying, as their after-school daycare functions like a school as well. It’s also important to note that even in the same country, students can spend the same amount of time studying in and out of school and end up with vastly different results. Interestingly, some research even suggests that for young children, amount of time spent on homework has no effect on achievement (that effect is stronger for jr. high and high school students, however), although having homework vs. not having homework does appear to have an effect, with homework being beneficial across the board.
The Importance of Balance
Perhaps most important for a child’s education and growth is balance among everything that they have going on. Being a kid is hard! So while you should make ample time for your kid to study, make sure that their study time doesn’t overshadow other opportunities that they have to grow.
A lot of parents assume that their children studying more will result in them being smarter which will result in greater success for them. However, that’s not always the case. Consider that exercise can actually boost creativity, and the same can be said for experience with music and other arts. Even play can help children to develop important cognitive skills. And let’s not discount the fact that play can make study time more interesting, if you help children make the connections. For example, children playing with Legos or Lincoln Logs could lead to an interest in architecture or manufacturing design later on in life. Let kids have fun playing, and then help them make the connection to school!
Most kids want to learn and achieve. Help them understand that it’s not you-versus-them when it comes to studying. You can also show them a good example by reading regularly, taking an online or other development course, or talking about what you’re learning at work or in other areas. Kids will see your example and want to follow it by being good students. If you get your child to want to be a good student, then you won’t have to worry about how much they’ll have to study, because they’ll figure it out on their own, and they’ll develop good study habits for high school and college.
Another important finding on balance shows that children who followed activity guidelines, screen-time guidelines, and sleep-time guidelines all performed better than those who didn’t follow any guidelines, or those who followed only one of them.
One final note: although “study” time is important, there are ways to help your kids learn and grow without having it be “study time.” Reading is a great example of this. Kids who read more tend to have higher levels of achievement, and this is true pretty much regardless of what they read. Make reading, learning, and experimenting fun, and your children will want to spend time studying!