Homework can be a tricky proposition these days. Whether you're not sure how to help, or you're not sure how much help to give, know that you are not alone. Lots of parents are wondering the best way to help out their kids with the nightly routine of homework.
General Tips for Helping
Before there are even issues with homework, set the tone for the year by starting off on the right foot.
Communicate with Your Child's Teacher
Before the year begins, make a point to communicate with your child's teacher and find out what the teacher expects in clear terms.
- How much homework will the teacher assign?
- What consequences does she give for incomplete homework? It's important that your child knows this from the start.
- What does the teacher want to see happen if a child is struggling with homework?
- What is the best way to contact the teacher?
Homework Friendly Area
KidsHealth.org notes that it's important to set up a homework friendly area. The area should be near a computer and away from distractions. All of the child's necessarily supplies should be right there so she doesn't have to get up and hunt for a pencil or paper.
The child should have a clean desk so that if he has projects to work on or needs a bit of spreading out space, he has the room to do that without having to clean first. Many families find it helpful to have a plain old pencil and paper desk calendar where he can list project due dates so that he is reminded of what's due soon, and you as the parent can also be aware. It's important to make sure the area is well-lit.
Regular Study Time and Routine
Make sure your child has regular time set aside in which to complete homework, says PBS.org. It is ideally not right after school, but maybe after some outside time or practice, or even dinner.
Most kids need to unwind a bit before sitting down and starting to study. However, if his regular routine includes free time where he can run around outside for a bit, then make sure that happens. Don't plan errands or other tasks that would mean he's missing his down time.
When most parents think of limiting distractions, they think about turning off the television, or taking away the cell phone. That's probably helpful, but parents should also limit distractions themselves.
- No vacuuming or loud chores during (or near) the homework area
- No chatting with the student and interrupting his train of thought
- No television for you from the other room
Think of homework as a family affair, even if you're not the one doing it.
While you don't want to hover over your child's shoulders, you do want to make sure that you are generally available for questions, notes the experts at PBS.org. This not only means being around, but it also means planning your tasks in such a manner that you can be interrupted during homework time. Doing something where you cannot be easily interrupted will inhibit your child from asking for help.
Ask Questions and Stay Informed
The Department of Education emphasizes that it's important for parents to stay informed. For every parent teacher conference you have, ask how your child is doing on their homework. Ask if it's submitted on time. If your child's teacher has something negative to say, such as your child isn't working up to his potential, or the homework isn't coming in on time, plan out a method of intervention or ask for a follow up conference. Nipping issues in the bud before they become big issues is the best way to ensure your child's success.
Save the Easy Homework
Encourage your child to do his easiest homework last, and tackle the hardest homework first, says the experts from the Department of Education. This way, he's tackling his most difficult tasks when he's less tired. His easiest tasks can be tackled later at night when he's more tired, or if need be, first thing the next morning.
You can avoid a slew of homework issues by rewarding your child's positive achievements. Post A+ or 100% papers on the fridge. Take him for a special treat if he doesn't turn anything in late for a quarter or semester. While it's important to reward achievements for any child, this method of positive reinforcement is especially helpful for kids who are struggling in school.
Make Literacy a Priority
Make literacy a priority in your home. Read your own books, so your child knows that reading is not just for school. Discuss stories at dinner and encourage journaling during the summer. The more your child reads and writes, the more he will succeed in school.
Common Homework Issues and Solutions
Despite your best efforts, homework time may not go as well as you'd hoped. Below are common problems and their solutions.
Child Needs Lots of Help
There your child sits, seemingly incapable of doing any problem or assignment without an excessive amount of hand holding. Despite your best efforts, you just cannot get him to work autonomously. So now not only is your child's entire night taken up with homework - but your night is too!
Help Me Plan
The solution to this is to sit down and assess your child first. Is the homework simply too hard? Does he not understand? If that's the case, you need to have a conversation with the teacher to find out how he's doing in class. However, working independently is a skill that is learned, and some children need a bit more prodding than others to get there. If this sounds like your child, try this technique for fostering independence:
- Each night, take a few minutes to sit down and talk about the tasks that need to be done. Make a list of each task.
- For each task, help your child decide whether or not it is something he can do on his own, or needs help with.
- Start with the tasks your child believes he will need help on. Tell him that he has to read all the instructions and try for five minutes, but to feel free to ask you if he needs help.
- When he gets to the tasks that he believes he can do on his own, tell him that you have other things to do, and you'll be back when he's finished.
While you'll need to use your best judgment, as you don't want to frustrate your child, know that it's okay to tell him you can't help him right then. Eventually, he will gain more independence and ask you only for things that he really needs help on.
Child Takes Forever
Your child gets off the bus at 4pm. He comes right in, sits down, and starts his homework. He breaks, albeit briefly, for dinner, and then goes right back to doing his homework. It never seems to get done. Your sense is that the issue is your child is taking too long, as opposed to their being too much - but you don't know how to speed it along.
Kids actually cannot 'buckle down' for hours on end, and tend to be much more productive if they are given a few breaks. One way to do this is to set a timer for a predetermined amount of time, and let your child have a 10 minute break when the timer goes off. Another tactic is to let your child have a 10 minute break when he completes a subject.
Let Him Experience the Consequences
What happens if your child doesn't produce his homework? In elementary school, the child might miss recess or another coveted 'special' activity to stay in and finish. If the issue is that your child is dawdling along and not focusing, allow him to experience the consequences of not doing his homework. A missed recess might be the motivation he needs to buckle down and get it done.
It is advisable to let the teacher know you are aware that he didn't finish his homework, and understand that he will have a consequence.
Too Much Homework
If your sense is that your child is simply being given too much homework, you need to go speak with his teacher. Use the following questions to help guide your discussion:
- What is the teacher's homework philosophy? Does what she say match with what you see at home?
- How long does she believe each task should take? Express to her how long each task is taking your child.
- Does she give time in class to do homework? Sometimes, children simply do not take advantage of the class time to work on something, and then end up with too much homework.
- How does she feel about your child's homework? Is the quality good? Is it on time?
- How well does your child work in class? Is he known for goofing off? Is he working diligently?
Ask your teacher to help you come up with a plan to help alleviate the amount of homework your child is getting. Try things out for a month, and then ask for another conference to evaluate your child's progress. Open communication with your child's teacher is the key to solving this issue.
How Much Help Is Too Much?
Do you help your child too much with his homework? Here is a guide of acceptable and unacceptable forms of help:
- Helping your child get organized (particularly for younger, elementary-aged children)
- Reading alternate pages with your child of a book that he has to read (where he reads one page and you read the other)
- Reading out loud along with your child (choral reading) of a book he has to read
- Typing something for your child that has to be typed if he doesn't know how to type (so long as he has written it first)
- Coloring, stapling, gluing, etc. Any menial task required to put together a big project
- Proofreading with proofreading marks or letting your child know if there's a wrong answer so he can correct it
- Giving examples of a problem that are similar to something he has to solve or solving one problem with your child if the problem is one of several
- Allowing him to check work on a calculator
- Making flashcards for or with your child
- Letting your child know whether or not his ideas are feasible for a big project
- Going through your child's bag and setting everything out for him
- Reading a book for your child and summarizing it for them
- Helping your child cheat with Cliff's notes or spoon fed questions from a book
- Correcting wrong answers or mistakes for your child
- Writing something for your child
- Giving ideas for a big project for your child or telling him what he will do
- Doing all the problems on a math worksheet for your child
- Letting him use a calculator to find solutions (unless of course the instructions involve a calculator)
Everyone needs a little extra help every once in a while. These tried and true resources can be used by you or your child to help out on homework.
Your Local Library
Your first stop in searching for homework help is your local library. Many libraries have online reference materials available for their patrons. Generally, this information is found on the home page of your public library and will require you to carry a card from that library in order to access the material. However, it can be a treasure trove of encyclopedias and other resources that you'd normally have to pay for access to.
Fact Monster Homework Center
Have you ever wished for a kid-friendly browser, so your child can look up related information to a project? Fact Monster Homework Center is just such a browser, with handy tools to help your child research just about anything. There are also quick links to topics that cover how to do something, like write an essay or research paper, as well as topics on current events, vocabulary words, etc.
Kid Info is a directory of the best websites and reference information available. The site was created by an elementary school teacher. It is great for working on a report or if you have a specific topic you'd like to browse. However, there is no way to search for something.
So for example, if you want to know what the best art history website is, Kid Info is a great place to look. If you want, on the other hand, to know who Monet was and what his life was like, that information will be hard to find here.
Few subjects post more problems than math. WebMath is a comprehensive math site that gives you solved examples of problems. For example, if you need help with Polynomials in Algebra, click on the Algebra tab and you'll find polynomials. Then you have a menu of options depending on the type of problem you're trying to solve.
The worked examples are clear and easy to understand. This is a great way for a parent to help by giving an example of a problem.
Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library (IPL) has both a Kids Space and a Teen Space that is chock-full of reference materials and study helps. The IPL's teen space has guides for writing research papers, a section on Frequently Asked Embarrassing Questions, and commonly needed reference materials. The Kids Space offers help in all the common subjects. You can look up just about anything you may have a question on from here.
Helping Your Child Succeed
Homework is supposed to help your child succeed, not just bog him down with extra stuff to do. The most important thing you can do to help your child is communicate with his teacher to make sure that everything is going well. If things aren't going well, make a plan rectify the situation. Remember, your child's teacher wants him to succeed too.