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Jen

Homework Havoc? Go Back to the Basics

Posted by Jen on January 13, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Kid problems
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carter's hands

My kids both are dealing with a lot more homework this year. As a result, I'm seeing a gradual slide away from the years where they just came home and finished fast to knock it out so they could get on with playing. One kid will start and then leave the table. The other feigns that it's finished when it's never left the backpack. A few tearful conversations about homework and I'm reminded that it's time to get back to the basics.

Here are the things that always take me out of the homework hassle and back to homework heaven:

Hold a family meeting. Over heaping bowls of ice cream, ask your kids to tell you what works when they are trying to get their homework done. Take notes as they explain how they work best. If problems arise in the discussion--such as difficult relationships with teachers or trouble in a subject matter--make plans immediately to talk to whoever is involved. Make sure your kids know you are more than willing to help them get the help they need to do well. If your kids feel like they're working more than playing, take that seriously as well. Make plans to reduce after school activiites, so your kids can play hard and blow off steam.

Make a homework plan. Decide together about what time homework will be done and where in the house. You can give your kids lots of freedom in making this plan without sacrificing your own sense of what will work for your family. I decided I didn't care where my kids decided to do their homework as long as we could all agree that we'd tackle homework before going out to play. Every family will decide that one differently, but my kids quickly agreed that in our case, that made sense. Be honest about what kind of atmosphere you need to feel positive about homework. For example, I know complaining and whining really wears me out when the kids are doing homework, so as part of our plan we included quiet and cooperation. We also talk about making requests for help versus freaking out as part of our family homework strategy.

Get prepared. Make it a point to make sure your child has everything she needs to do her work without unnecessary delays. Go on a special outing to buy all the supplies you need to do schoolwork at home. Let her choose glittery pencils, adorable erasers and anything else she might need to complete her assignments. Put your supplies some place permanent in your designated homework area and reserve the use of these things for homework only. Our junk drawer recently got a homework supply makeover from Madeleine and Carter's dad, and it's helping a lot.

Avoid shame. Every parent knows when they're getting the homework runaround. These moments are real tests for me as a parent. I want to let them have it, declare their universal laziness and call it like I see it. I've learned that everything gets worse though if I attribute what's happening to who they are as people instead of what they're doing as students. No one likes to feel blamed or judged, and everyone knows deep down if they're behavior is off. Better to stick with the facts and leave the character analysis for when your kids are old enough to decide who they are for themselves.

Welcome your kids to the homework table. Sitting down and actually starting to do homework is so much easier if there's a snack and good conversation waiting. We start our homework hour with something yummy to eat and catching up on the news of the day. This helps everyone transition. Another way we stay on track is by inviting friends to do homework with us. My kids enjoy welcoming their friends to our table and our guests enjoy having some company while they do their work. I've found that the drama around difficult subjects dissipates when the children can work in pairs to tackle the harder aspects of a particular assignment.

Keep going until good homework habits become part of your daily routine.
I've learned that it takes time to learn how to be a good student, and that my children really needed my presence in these early years while they learned to do their work more independently. I'm discovering that now that work is getting harder, they need my presence even more. Since I'm a full-time working mom now, this is tricky, but it still needs to happen. Amend your plan as needed (your kids will love all those ice cream laden family meetings!) but stick with it.

Celebrate! Before long your kids will be doing their homework all by themselves--without all the nagging, poking and prodding. Celebrate each tiny baby step of progress. Throw spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen to show your delight! Let your kids know how much you love to see them do well in school and how much you needed to know they could learn to be responsible for their work. Thank them for their progress and encourage them to keep going. Even the smallest bit of cooperation and initiative needs noticing.

4 Comments

Pam writes...

Thank you for this timely post. My children were at school for the first time last week(4th and 5th grades). We'd been homeschooling up until then, so nightly homework was not a thing with which we have experience. My husband and I have spent the last several nights after it's finally over looking at each other and saying "This homework thing is hard and we don't like it". We are struggling with the how's and when's. I think we'll be putting some of your suggestions to use right away.

jen lemen writes...

so glad, pam! homework is hard work, especially for parents! :)

Christina writes...

Thank you for the ideas. My son is a 6th grader and for the first time ever, he is get low grades due to incomplete homework. We would always check, but he would have many stories as to how this was completed. We had to make arrangements with his teacher to sing every item that was finished so that when he comes home we only spend our energy on what we know needs to be completed.
We still have trouble when he starts whining but it is a lot less.
Thanks for the making decisions around the table with ice cream. I think we will explore that tonight. Cheers!

Peter writes...

Hi All -- One important tool for homework is the school website (if yours uses one). All of my child's teachers (she's a fifth grader) put their lesson plans with homework assignments on the web at the beginning of the week. My daughter knows that if homework becomes a problem that we'll print out the curricula and look through the homework assignments every day. Also, every time a grade is updated we get an e-mail, and so we can track her grades in real-time. Since she knows we're on top of things, she stay on top of them so we don't have to discuss it. And she has discovered that if she gets a poor grade and doesn't show us the paper we will contact the teacher to find out what happened. Peter

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