For those of us with kids in school, the start of the new school year is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the stress of making sure the kids are occupied every day is replaced with the predictable routines of school. On the other hand, the long lazy evenings of letting the kids stay up a little later to just hang out are gone. Every evening now has to include time for homework.
It’s a fact: Kids who get support from their parents for doing their schoolwork do better in school. And kids who do better in school generally do better in life. Parenting well means making homework a family priority. Here are a few tips to help you think about and support your child’s efforts in school.
Tips for Parents
- Remember what homework is for. Homework is important for two reasons: First, learning any new skill requires repetition. There simply isn’t enough time in the school day to repeat things enough times to make them stick. Second, and equally important, is that homework helps children learn the process of learning. To do homework well requires a number of skills that we all use in adult life: keeping a calendar, writing things down, bringing necessary materials home, organizing time to get work done, and remembering to bring it all back the next day. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Some kids need a lot of help just in managing the steps to get the stuff home and back again.
- Perform an attitude check. To be an effective parent-helper, you need to be committed to the process yourself. If you were a successful learner as a child, thank your lucky stars and bring some of that same enthusiasm to your child’s assignments. If you had a tough time in school and grew to thoroughly dislike anything to do with homework, perform a quick attitude transplant and give it all a second chance. That was then and this is now. With your help, your child can have an entirely different experience with school than you did.
- Routines set us free. Set a time for family quiet, a time for doing homework. Try to make it happen during the same time every day. Consider your child’s needs. Some kids do better when they continue the rhythm of the school day by doing homework right when they get home. Other kids need a long break before they are able to concentrate again on academics. What is important is setting and maintaining a routine time. When everyone knows that, say, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. is quiet time for everyone, there are no arguments about TV, phone calls, video games, etc.
- Be a role model. Kids learn by example. During homework time, you can model that adults also have quiet home-tasks to do. Work on your own office paperwork. Write a letter. Do your bills. Read. If a kid doesn’t have enough homework to fill in the time that is set aside for this purpose, encourage the child to read a book or do some reading aloud.
- Put your time where your mouth is. It’s not enough to preach about doing homework. You need to be committed to it as well. During homework time, be available to help, to encourage, and to support. Young kids in particular need lots of encouragement. It’s normal for them to want you to look at what they are doing every few minutes. All kids, even sophisticated teens, need to feel that what they do matters to you, their parents.
- Help your child get organized. Take a few minutes at the beginning of homework time to go over the day’s and week’s assignments with your child. Help him think about what order to do things in. Is there anything that can be done quickly and gotten out of the way? Help your student work from his own strengths. Some kids do better when they can knock off some easier or faster things at the start. Other kids do better to focus on harder things first, while they are the freshest. Can a longer project be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks? What supplies are needed? Help your child assemble whatever is needed and make a loose schedule for the study time. Remember that this is time well spent. Half of the value of homework is learning how to work.
- Help but don’t do. It is not helpful to help too much. Your child’s teachers need to know what your child does and does not know how to do. They can only know this if they see your child’s attempts and corrections as well as a perfect finished product. You might be able to make a project more “perfect.” You might even help your child to get a better grade. But too much “help” doesn’t help your child learn the material.
- Be curious, not critical. Nothing shuts down a child’s enthusiasm for anything, including homework, faster than an overly critical parent. Kids want to please us. When they feel that nothing they do is good enough, they become discouraged and give up. Instead of judging your kid’s work, approach it with curiosity and interest. Ask questions. Share information. Have a conversation about it. Let your kids know you are proud of them when they struggle with something hard as well as when they actually master it.
Homework Is a Teaching Opportunity
Homework can be a problem for a family or an opportunity to teach a multitude of important skills. Children average from 15 to 30 minutes of homework a night for elementary school kids to many hours per night of study for high schoolers. It adds up. I did the math. The average kid spends 2000 hours doing homework during the public school years. It’s up to us to establish routines that help our children get the most out of those many homework hours.