Homework — work a student does at home without the monitoring of the teacher — is an important part of the school day. Homework is about learning to be self-disciplined. Homework is about learning to manage time and materials. Homework is about becoming an independent learner. And homework is about taking oneself seriously.

But let’s face it. Homework is WORK. Sometimes it is complicated or difficult. Most of the time, it is not the first thing on the list of things your child wants to do after school. At least some of the time, it also requires us as parents to pitch in when we would rather just sit and read the paper or watch TV, not help with long division or quiz the spelling list.

If we let ourselves off the homework hook, we lose a major opportunity to teach our children a positive attitude about work and about themselves as workers. These values are just too important to leave to chance.

If seeing notebooks and the paraphernalia of studying triggers anxiety, nausea, and a flight response in you, it’s time to give yourself a long-overdue pep talk. You are a grownup now. You are old enough to know that homework doesn’t have to be hateful. You can do something for your kids that no one did for you — you can help them to be curious about assignments and help them to feel good about themselves when the job is done well.

Children who succeed in school generally have parents who understand the importance of their support and who have found ways to instill a positive approach to the tasks of learning, including homework. These lucky kids have parents who are as excited about what is being taught in school as the kids themselves.

Parents who recognize this opportunity for growth try to incorporate a number of the following simple routines into life at home during the school year.

Homework How-to’s

  • Read to your children from the time they are very little. A regular reading time transitions easily into a regular homework time when the children are older.

  • Set aside a time and place for doing homework. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Many families just clear off the kitchen table after supper. The important thing is that the kids get the message that doing their homework is the first priority in their evening.
  • Turn off the TV during the week. Roll it into a closet if you have to. If people need background noise to work, use a radio. If TV isn’t available, you won’t have to argue about it every night and kids won’t rush through homework to tune in to a favorite show.
  • Do your “homework” while the kids are doing theirs. Homework time can be time for balancing the checkbook, reading up on something, doing paperwork from the office, or writing a letter. It’s important that kids see you engaged in reading, writing, and figuring things out. While that TV is off, you will get a lot done as well.
  • Insist that schoolwork be done neatly. Kids need to know that how they present their work is an indication of self-respect and respect for others. The habit of presenting themselves well will help them throughout their lives.
  • Check homework for completeness and neatness only. On math papers, insist that your kids show their work, not just the answers. Teachers need to see your children’s mistakes to understand what they do and do not understand. It does not help your child when you take over and “improve” what they have done. Such actions undermine your child’s sense of accomplishment and it confuses the teacher, who then has no way to assess how your child is doing.
  • Establish a family policy that papers receiving a grade of “B” or less get done over and resubmitted — regardless of whether the teacher demands it. A grade of B or below means that your child hasn’t learned 20 percent or more of what the teacher wanted her or him to know. Use school papers as part of a learning process between your child and the teacher. Have your child keep submitting work until the teacher is satisfied that your child knows the material. Ultimately, it isn’t the grade that’s important — it’s whether the child has mastered what is being taught.
  • If your child has special needs, you already know that regular communication with your child’s teachers is essential. Homework often provides a way for you and your special needs child to explore alternative ways of learning material.

The Bottom Line

Homework is important. It not only reinforces what is taught in school, it is also a means for teaching children to be organized and disciplined about getting work done independently. These skills will stand them in good stead as they go through high school and college, not to mention when they enter the work force.

Homework is interesting — well, at least some of it is some of the time. A curious parent who asks interesting questions can always liven up assignments that aren’t inherently appealing.

Homework is an exercise in self-esteem and pride. When parents help children take pride in their work, they feel good about themselves.

Bottom line? How your children view homework has a whole lot to do with you, the parent. If you believe it is important, interesting, and something to be proud of, chances are, so will they.