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Going to School

Helping with Homework

Wondering how to help your children with homework — or how to get them to do it without a struggle? Here’s how.

What’s the point of homework? “Homework is designed to help students reinforce key concepts, process and solidify new information, provide time for extra practice of skills, and reflect on how much they’ve learned,” notes teacher Susan Becker, M. Ed. However, approaches to homework vary from district to district, school to school and teacher to teacher. Some schools don’t give children homework until the 2nd grade, others start in kindergarten. Some teachers create original homework, while other use or modify prepared work sheets.

Don’t do the homework for your child. Most teachers use homework to find out what the child knows. They do not want parents doing their children’s homework but do want parents to make sure homework is completed and review any mistakes to see what can be learned from them.

Don’t take over your child’s projects. Teachers do not want parents doing their kids’ projects. Instead, they want parents to support their kids’ learning and make sure they have what they need to accomplish a task. Check with your child’s teacher for his policy and review it with your child.
Set up a good space to work. All children need the same thing: a clean, well-lit space. But keep in mind that each child may work differently; some will do their work at the kitchen table and others at their desks in their rooms.

Pay attention to your child’s rhythms and help him find the right time to begin his work. Some children will work best by doing homework right after school; others need a longer break and must run around before tackling the work. Most will need a snack. If your child does after-school activities, set a homework time before or after the activity, or after dinner. Whatever routine you choose, help your child stick to it.

Find out how your child studies best. “You should find the ways your child likes to study. For example, some kids will learn spelling words by writing them out, others by closing their eyes and picturing them and saying them aloud,” advises teacher Susan Becker, M. Ed. “The sound environment is also important,” adds Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “Some kids may want to listen to music, some are helped by being in the middle of noise, others need absolute quiet.”

Don’t hover — but stay close by. Keep in mind that it’s their homework, not yours, but remain available in case you are needed. “The ideal set up would be for a parent to be reading nearby while the child is studying because then you both are doing your educational work together, but that’s not always possible,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “A parent may be working out of the home, or need to be working in the home and cooking dinner. So if you are home, stay close, and if you are not there, have another adult check to make sure it’s going OK. And remember that all homework is not equal, so not everything will need your rapt attention.”

Limit media exposure. Turn off the TV and the iPod when your child does homework. And the computer too, unless it’s being used for research. You might start by asking how much time he thinks he should spend on this, and negotiate from there. Remember, you have the final word. And keep in mind that if you watch TV when your child can’t, the plan may backfire.

Let the teacher know if you gave your child a lot of homework help. “If your child needs extra help or truly doesn’t understand something, let the teacher know. Write on the assignment, ‘done with parental help,’ or write a separate note,” advises Michael Thompson, Ph.D. If your child resists, explain that homework is used to practice what you know and to show the teacher what you need help learning more about — so it’s a parent’s job to let the teacher know.

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  • Sally

    Homework is only time stolen to precious “family time” and “kids’ freedom” to choose how to spend the small amount of time left after 7 consecutive hours of working at school! Kids need to be kids! They deserve “respect”: they need time to cultivate their passions, their curiousities, and all the beautiful things they can’t do during school hours! Kids should work “more” at school and teacher should let them relax when they are out! Education is vital but it doesn’t come ONLY and exclusively from school! Teachers ask us, parents, to supervise, to organize, to create this and that optimal homework environment: I personally want to go out with my daughter when she is out of school, visit a museum, her grandparents and cousins, drive her to a play date, invite her friends over, go volunteer and help someone less lucky than us with her, have a walk at the beach looking at the clouds or observing the people passing by, or simply stay at home with her, reading to each other and holding forth for hours about what we are reading, helping her practice her piano, playing the piano with her and singing together as long as we like… Or just cuddle with her on the couch the whole evening telling her stories of my life or someone else life… without any fear of time passing too fast… “We can’t talk anymore sweetheart… It’s time to do your homework!” She HAS to work independently… It’s time for mom to step back. And this happens everyday, since she was in grade 1. This was not how I wanted my daughter to live her childhood… Mine was 1.000 times better: and for me to realize it makes me feel so upset…
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    • Stacy

      I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you! Every night instead we end up arguing about homework. That is not how I wish to spend my time with her when she gets home from school.

    • abbylangner

      You are right that some parts of education need to come from outside of the classroom, like work ethic, which must be instilled by family values at home. As a former high school math teacher I feel confident saying it’s parents like you–failing to instill a work ethic that lasts more than 5 minutes–who forced me to strip down and dumb down my assignments so that they *should* be able to finish in class, but of course they don’t (because you gave them no work wthic) so they need about 15 minutes in study hall or at home. High schoolers should have a load of appx 5 homework-producing classes to generate about 1.5-2 hours of daily independent work to supplement their 6 or so daily work hours at school (there is NO school that requires 7 consequetive hours–that sounds like you don’t have any idea what really happens in a typical school day) and prepare them for the 40-hour work week. It’s true that younger students should have fewer outside responsibilities, but they should gradually increase to prepare for the reality of working in our society, and it should start with having *something* independent to do *every* day. Here’s a real suggestion for improving work ethic: be the champion of ‘work before play’ and monitor actual time spent on actual work. Do NOT count any time arguing about it, nagging about it, or redirecting focus. Only count the time actually performing the assigned task (feel free to call it ‘billable hours’ another reality of work in society today, and set an appropriate compensation like a fun museum trip or cloud-watching for each unit completed). You might be surprised at how quickly it goes if you improve *your* attitude about that “precious” time because your daughter will follow suit. If you treat it like pain and punishment then so will she, but if you treat it like earning your fun time *before* the fun time then so will she. Then it will be done and you can still go people-watching. Or whatever. As a final note, you are probably demoralized because you didn’t know how to fix it. I just gave you a suggestion and your attitude should now be that you have to try it before you can continue to wallow in self-pity. Again, *your* attitude is how you instill work ethic in your daughter. Stop whining about the precious family time, get the work done, and move on with your lives.

      • Derrick Southerland

        You make some good points, but if you really want to sway people’s opinion, you can’t be so harsh. That just makes people double down on a bad position. I can tell you really care about the kids, and I believe you really want to change opinions. However, to be an effective advocate for change, you can’t come off as such a jerk.

        • abbylangner

          Fair enough. Life is hard, though, and being gentle doesn’t seem to get the job done either. When I taught at an urban public school, parents rarely implemented my suggestions because they often needed to set a good example in order to be effective, and they could not be bothered to model that behavior for their children. So file my prior comment under All The Things I Wish I Could Have Said To My Students’ Parents … But had to not be a jerk ;) it’s all especially frustrating when it’s lazy parents who want to push more of their parenting onto the teachers. Teachers have it hard enough when the parents are doing a *good* job modeling work ethic for their kids.

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