I recently wrote a short article for parents on coping with their childrens’ homework struggles and demands – a topic near and dear to my heart as I sit across from my own 9 year old who’s struggling with his last assignment of the evening.
The article is posted on our school’s web page, along with additional links and resources, and I’m reposting it here:
by Kirsti Haugen
The very word ‘homework’ can make some families tremble. If homework is ever a struggle in your home, read on for tips and resources to help your child develop good homework habits and overcome struggles.
- Set up a homework space – Provide good lighting, a clean surface, and a place for extra paper, pencils, scissors, ruler, dictionary, calculator, calendar, etc. In some homes, the kitchen table, with a supply cabinet nearby, works because a child can do homework while parents clean up, available, but not hovering. For others, a private desk in the child’s room or next to a parent’s desk encourages focus and independence. Other ideas: Keep newsletters or other handouts from teachers in a folder nearby. Post a list of phone numbers for classmates to call in case of confusion or missing assignments.
- Create a routine – Check in with your child about homework early each day, even if your child is the type who needs a break right after school. Have a regular time, place and expectations for homework. Set a reasonable time limit on homework (ask the teacher!), as well as some kind of special activity to close with, such as sharing a treat, playing a game or reading aloud before bedtime.
- Make homework time quiet time for all – Turn off the TV and other distractions. Parents can read, write a letter or do quiet household chores if their help is not needed. Kids with no homework can read or play quiet games, puzzles or brain teasers until everyone is finished. In some families, it works to share the same room; other families find it easier if they all retreat to their own quiet spaces.
- Track assignments – Use a calendar or planner to record assignments. Your child’s teacher may already have a planner in use, but make sure you review it together with your child each night, noting accomplishments as well as work left to do.
- Be available, but don’t hover – Let your child work as independently as possible, but don’t be so busy you can’t help. Allow your child to take responsibility for their own work, even if it is not correct or complete. Offer guiding questions or comments rather than giving the answer. Encourage your child, “That’s a tough one. It’ll really be something when you figure that one out.” Or, “That problem reminds me of the one you got last week, only this time it looks like you need to subtract instead of add.”
- Use online homework help – Online homework sites can help a child complete homework more independently, or offer you some help if you are unclear on the content or skills your child is working on. The Edison Home Page has several pages of Links to homework help, subject areas and more.
- Offer thoughtful comments – Focus on skills, not grades. Be specific with praise or feedback – ‘Wow, you noticed a pattern in these spelling words – that’ll make them easier to remember!” Listen attentively and acknowledge your child’s feelings rather than offering a quick solution. “Fifty math problems – that must feel impossible!” Check out the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk… (below).
- Stay connected – Read assignments and newsletters to know the topics your child is studying. Find ways to relate those topics to current events, family activities, or your own work. When our son was studying geometry and angles, we talked about carpentry and woodworking. When kids study marine science, get out the photos from your last beach trip.
- Prepare for morning the night before – Allow enough time before bed to pack up or set out things like… binders, library books, backpacks, clothes, shoes, coats, stuff for afterschool plans, etc. Any papers to sign?
- Open lines of communication – Let your child’s teacher know if you have questions about your child and homework. Find out if your child’s teacher prefers a note in their box, a phone call or an e-mail. (Note: At drop-off time, teachers are greeting our kids and helping them prepare for the day, and it’s usually not a good time to start a conversation.)
- Get a homework buddy – Some (but not all!) kids work better with a friend. A playdate can start with homework and then be extended for more play time. Parents can take turns supervising homework, which gives the kids new perspectives and support.
- Above all, know your child – There is no one right time, place or method to do homework. What works will depend a bit on your family’s schedule, but more importantly on your child’s unique abilities, energy level and learning style. Some kids need a break after school while others need to get homework out of the way. Some kids work well with background noise like music; others need silence. Some will work best at a desk; others may want to spread out or move around as they work. Incentives or rewards work for some but create anxiety in others. This is an opportunity to tune in to what makes your child unique and to foster a sense of independence and accomplishment.
If your child starts to meltdown over homework, move on to another assignment or take a break. Set a timer for getting back on task, then use the time to cuddle, run around the block, or read together. (Be sure to start homework early enough to allow for breaks!) After the break, clarify the assignment – re-read the instructions, review your child’s planner, or call a classmate.
If homework is an ongoing struggle, be sure to touch base with your child’s teacher to discuss what you’re seeing at home, clarify the expectations and ask for advice about how to adapt or adjust. In addition, brainstorm ways to change your routine. Try doing homework at the public library or even in a cafe. Have your child try doing homework with a friend. Hire a tutor or trade homework duty with your spouse, partner, friend or a classmate’s parent — barter if need be! Find a calm time to acknowledge your child’s frustrations and listen to their ideas on solutions. If they say, “Pass a law banning ALL homework FOREVER!” credit them for their interesting idea, tip them off on the legislative process, and then encourage them to come up with three more ideas. If parents listen respectfully, kids often step up with very creative and viable strategies.
Visit (and bookmark!) Edison’s Links, hand-picked for YOU, on a range of topics and age levels. Look for NEW sections on Homework Links, Search and Reference Tools, and of course links picked especially by grade level or subject. We also have Links for Parents, as well as Local Links. We add new links all the time, often in line with what your child is learning in school. If you do not have internet access at home, consider using the very fast and free computers at the Eugene Public Library, in both the Children’s area, and on the second floor near the Reference desk.
- Better Grades—You Can Help!, by Evelyn Beck, from PTO Today’s Back to School 2007 – bad title, good tips! www.back2school2007.com
- Help Your Student Get the Most Out of Homework, from the National Education Association – questions and answers for parents. www.nea.org/parents/homework.html
- Homework Tips, from Jishka Homework Help – tips from a longstanding homework help site on the web. www.jiskha.com/features/homework_tips/
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish (HarperCollins, 1980) – an excellent, level-headed book for problem-solving, dealing with frustrating situations and parenting in general. www.fabermazlish.com
- Parents’ Top Tips for Surviving Homework … Without Tears, by Robbie Fanning, from Schwab Learning – one of many excellent educational and parenting articles on this web site. www.schwablearning.org