One fall, a dad named Ron made it a point to ask each of his children's teachers, "What's the single best thing I could do that would make your job easier?" For at least the next four years he continued that habit, and every single teacher gave essentially the same answer: take an active role in your child's homework.
Daily homework can be a grueling, white-knuckle event, or it can be a positive (or at least tolerable) experience that furthers a child's knowledge and learning skills. The following ideas will help make the process go more smoothly.
Agree on a consistent routine that allows for kids' individual approaches to school work. Some kids like to unwind after school, then do homework after dinner; others will want to get it done right away. Some have suggested multiplying the child's grade by ten minutes to determine a study time. That predetermined length of time will help establish a routine and help keep kids from rushing through assignments. If they finish early, have them read ahead-or you can join them in a little reading or other "fun" learning that doesn't involve school work. Be sure to give them occasional breaks to get a snack or blow off steam.
Keep a family calendar with homework times, due dates, and other events like soccer games and recitals. Write in your own appointments so the kids know when you and their mom are available to help. Review the schedule together weekly, maybe on Sunday evenings, and set a game plan for the week with gentle reminders of what's coming. This is also a good opportunity to notice if one of your kids is over-committed and set some limits on weekday activities. Overly busy, hurried lives make productive homework sessions almost impossible.
Be familiar with teachers' expectations, deadlines and policies regarding homework. Work as a team with them, so you can reinforce and build on what happens in the classroom.
Create the right environment. For one child, that might be a desk in his bedroom. Another might do better at the kitchen table, where he isn't all alone, wondering what's going on in the rest of the house. Make sure there's a place where he can be comfortable, with good light and space to spread out. Consider limiting or banning TV viewing on school nights. Also, have adequate supplies on hand so your child doesn't spend valuable time tracking down something, and so he has what he needs to keep assignments organized.
Don't be too involved. It's good to be nearby and available, but hovering over every detail won't help your child learn. If you wind up doing his homework for him or rescuing him when he has dawdled and procrastinated, he'll never develop the self-discipline of studying, which is just as important as what he's learning. Remember, it's his homework, and he needs to develop responsibility. Your child needs to do the math problems or the science project mostly on his own-even if you know that a classmate down the street, who's getting lots of help from his parents, will turn in a more polished assignment. Keep the long-range goals in mind.
Stress the education, not just the assignments. Instead of asking your daughter, "Are you finished?" ask her to tell you one thing she learned. When reviewing papers and tests, discuss the topic being studied, not just the grade earned.
Be patient. It takes time for kids to develop good habits, and there are always ups and downs with school work.
Praise successes. You can't do enough encouraging. Look for and point out small improvements. Talk about how much your child has progressed in the last month, semester, or year. Promise to do something special when she finishes a big project or stays current on assignments. If she doesn't meet those expectations, then she may miss out. But remember, the goal for her is not to achieve perfection, but rather to stay on task, meet deadlines, and do her best. Homework should be a positive challenge, not a burden or area of conflict. If you're frustrated, it's better to walk away and come back later than to yell, make threats, and risk turning your child against you.
Homework is about a lot more than geometry, biology and language arts. It's an opportunity for kids to learn-sometimes the hard way-how to follow directions, prioritize their time, focus their attention, persevere through difficulties, apply research skills, and solve problems. These are all valuable life skills, and we need to be right there to help them make the most of that time.
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