For students at just about all grade levels, homework is an inevitable fact of life. As the parent of a middle schooler, I have seen a steady increase in both the amount of homework assigned and the level of avoidance strategies employed by my daughter. This year, especially, has been a challenge for us all, as she becomes more involved in social and extracurricular activities. Many families find themselves in similar positions as they try to fit homework into their busy schedules, and we often fall into the same traps. The good news is, with a little planning and a few tweaks to your routine, many common homework hurdles can be avoided.
Get Involved—But Not TOO Involved
Homework serves as important practice for students who are working at mastering a skill. Fourth-grade teacher Beckie Powell has taught for 13 years at both the elementary and middle school levels. “It’s very important for parents to communicate with the teachers. Most districts have a parent portal where they can monitor grades and missing assignments. Being aware is sometimes half the battle.”
On the other hand, she cautions against parents becoming so involved they interfere with the child’s learning. “If your child is struggling with something, it can be tempting to give them the answer or do the work for them, because it’s faster for everyone. But it’s better to ask questions. Ask about the different strategies they’ve learned in class. We try to approach things in more than one way, because kids have different learning styles. The way they’re learning math may not be the way you learned it,” says Powell. “For reading homework, ask specific questions about what they’re reading, such as ‘tell me about the plot’ or ‘who is the main character?’ Questions like these will help a great deal with reading comprehension.”
Communicating with your child is equally important. “Homework is intended as practice for students who are trying to master important new skills. That’s why in elementary school, their homework is typically limited to reading, because it takes years to really master that skill. Making your child understand the importance of that practice is fundamental to their success,” says Powell.
Set a Routine
Set a regular time and place for homework that fits into your family’s schedule well. While routines may vary from one child to the next, every child can benefit from having one. Elementary-aged children typically have less homework, but establishing a good homework routine early can prevent many bad habits from forming.
Edmond mom of three Jae Eng has a specific routine for her brood. “When they get home from school, we let them play outside for half an hour to burn off a little energy. Then they come in and have a snack, and do their homework at the kitchen table as I start prepping dinner,” she says. “I like to give them a little time first. I figure they’ve been at school all day, they deserve half an hour to play before we jump right back in to schoolwork.”
Other families prefer a get-down-to-business approach. John and Kristin Ford have a third-grade son and seventh-grade daughter. “Our routine is simple. They do homework at the dining room table first thing when they get home. No TV. No games. No anything until homework is done, even on Fridays. It works well for us,” says Kristin.
Set the Mood
Just as important as setting a structured routine, creating the proper environment is key to homework success. This, too, will often vary from one child to the next. Edmond mom Angel Peck homeschools her 15-year-old daughter, so she has to create a schoolwork-friendly environment all day. “We start at about nine. She works at the dining room table, because it gets lots of bright sunlight. I think it’s important to create a positive environment that encourages work and discourages sleep. She has an assigned amount that she has to finish for the day. Occasionally, she ends up working until five, if she’s having a hard time focusing. But that’s not typical,” says Peck. She has discovered that background music helps her daughter focus. “We have a no-electronics policy in place until her work is done, but music is an exception I’ll make, because she actually does better. We have school-friendly channels set on Pandora, where the music is upbeat, but not full of distracting lyrics,” says Peck.
Peck’s son is a first-grader in public school. “His routine is obviously different, because if there’s one thing I’ve figured out, it’s that children often learn completely differently. With him, he gets off the bus, and does homework first thing while he has a snack. I check everything, and make him redo anything that’s messy.” This gives her an opportunity to stay involved in her son’s schoolwork, much like she is in her daughter’s.
The best strategy is often to be available and offer support, but not to hover. “Never do the work for your child,” says Powell. It’s a situation she has run into periodically over the years. “When parents do this, they’re really short-changing their child in so many ways. First, there’s no way for the teacher to really know how well they’re understanding the material. Second, when they’re not doing the work themselves, it can really affect their self-esteem,” says Powell.
The best tips for homework success? Ask and answer questions. Create a routine. Remove distractions. Be supportive. Be available. Communicate. Help them get organized. Be a cheerleader, but not a helicopter. With a little patience and practice, you’ll be jumping homework hurdles in no time!
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and single mom to two girls. An Edmond resident, she graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma and is an HR manager in the medical field.