Helping a Child with Homework
When parents help their kids with homework, kids can do better in school. I like to think of homework as another opportunity for kids to practice being successful. Apart from the actual assignments, homework provides students a chance to practice life habits like self-discipline, organization, planning, and practicing a skill for mastery. These are skills that will serve them well in the future.
However, how many times have you seen a homework project that looks like the parent did most of the work? They even sell pre-fabricated "Mission Project" kits at the craft stores here for the California 4th graders. I think that's a bit of a cheat, what is a child learning by putting together a kit? I say, even though it's not perfect, let the kid do the work! Besides, the teachers can tell anyway. Parents should help their children plan, find the information, get materials, and help with the more technical or hazardous steps of any project (like hot gluing or cutting). But they should encourage the child to do his/her own work.
Start with the School or Teacher's Homework Policy
In California, our school districts have a written homework policy (click here for example). Parents should familiarize themselves with the homework policy of the school and the teacher. Most teachers explain their policy at Back to School Night which occurs near the beginning of the academic year. Take the time to also review the curriculum (what is being taught) for that grade.
In our district, the policy contains the purpose of homework, and guidelines for how much and what type of homework is appropriate for each grade. In addition, teachers may have their own system for homework to reinforce skills or evaluate students' progress through the year. A good question to ask is whether parents should help kids correct the homework in case of errors (like on math), or whether the teacher wants to see it uncorrected so she can see the students' progress.
Establish a Routine of Time and Place
Set up a homework schedule. Kids do well when there is a consistent time and place for daily activities like homework. We eat, sleep, and go to school at the same time every day, so why shouldn't homework be the same?
The schedule needs to work for the parent and the kids. Factors to consider:
- What time are you available to your kids for homework help? What is your work, meal and activity schedule?
- What age are your kids? Do they have an early or late bedtime?
- What is the personality of your kids and their attitude about homework? Some kids like to get it done right after school; others may need a break after a long school day and do better if they can tackle homework later. In addition to a schedule, consider having certain rules in place. Like no turning on the TV or video games until it's done.
Home Study Center
People don't need a huge space for doing homework. Families everywhere have used the good ol' dining room table, with no ill effects. That's where my kids like to work. There are some simple considerations for setting up a workspace:
- Seating: comfortable, with plenty of table or desk surface to spread out
- Lighting: good general lighting for the area
- Noise: ideally, limited noise and distractions, even though many kids are used to always being surrounded by noise and have learned to work in such an environment. Turn off the TV, iPods, etc.
- Materials: It's helpful to have basic educational materials handy. They don't have to be right there in the dining room. We keep most of our stuff on a bookshelf in a nearby room -- regular supplies like pencils, rulers, scissors, glue, paper, etc. We also keep a globe, atlas, letter and number charts, encyclopedia**, and dictionary handy. Small math counters, coins and flash cards for math and reading are also useful. We have books but we also visit the library often to check out new reading material. A computer is nice to have, but not everyone does, and parents should be aware of pitfalls.
Computer usage by kids for homework is increasing. My recommendation is to monitor this conscientiously! Nowadays parents need to be like a police officer when kids get on the information highway.
My daughter had an assignment to research historical style of dress for her family's culture. Luckily, her teacher gave everyone a heads-up to be careful, but imagine the kind of X-rated results that come up when you Google "Chinese dress." No software filter program is better than you, the involved parent, steering your child away from potential online hazards!!
**A note about Wikipedia - my daughter often uses Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.
Wikipedia is compiled from various sources, so it's not always accurate/reliable. So now we are learning to cross-check our facts by consulting another established academic source. Which is a good practice anyway.
Organization Helps Your Child Keep Track of Assignments
Sometimes students and parents are so busy and anxious about getting the homework assignments done that organization gets overlooked.
- The backpack - Are you afraid of looking in there? Teach your child to empty out the backpack each day. A daily or weekly cleaning out is mandatory. During these cleanups we find old handouts from the school, lunch food (yuck!) and other mystery items.
- Notebooks or folders - Some teachers have a folder that's used to send stuff home, and for the parent to send stuff back. Even young children can practice putting finished papers into the right folder and back into the backpack each day.
- A Student Planner or Calendar - In the upper elementary grades, a planner is often used to record assignments. It's useless if no one actually looks at it. Kids have to practice using the planner. Make a habit of consulting it for each homework session, and even checking off assignments at the end.
- For longer term projects - Again, kids don't automatically know how to get these done. They may not know all the steps it takes to write a good book report, for example. Many students do not build in enough revision time, where they review what's done and consider how to improve on it. They think their first shot is good enough to hand in. Here's where parents can help, showing how to break up projects into interim steps, with a time goal for each step. The time goals can be added to the calendar.
- Taming the Paper Monster! - Parents get bombarded with papers from school. Use whatever system works. My system for each kid is: a tray for ongoing schoolwork; a folder for important school papers (like report cards); recycle pile for most graded papers; a plastic storage box for stuff worth keeping. I also proudly photograph or scan a lot of their artwork and papers into the computer so I don't have to worry about preserving every project they've poured their heart into!
Parents are Like CEO's
Parents have to be proactive in their kids education. But they can help their children with homework without actually doing it for them. Parents are like the CEOs of the family. A CEO is supposed to plan and arrange the workplace so that the others in the company can do their jobs effectively.
School and homework is the kids' job. The parent's job is to determine what resources and guidance they need to do the work as independently as possible, and to get plugged into those resources.
Resources to Help You Help Your Child
If you run into problems or questions providing supervision for your child's homework, make an alternate plan. Consult with the teacher and ask for suggestions. Tap into other people -- paid or volunteer tutor, relatives, sitters, older siblings or friends. Many organizations like the YMCA or the local library have homework help programs after school. There are other resources like homework hotlines and websites on the Internet that offer help. There are also places like Kumon which might be a good fit for an ongoing situation.
Some children, despite the most valiant efforts of parents, teachers, and others, may still face problems with completing homework. Don't be afraid to seek help or referrals from professionals. Parents should always be a guide and advocate for the child.
When it comes to homework, parents are like the road crew. We pave the way and try to remove obstacles where we can. We provide directions and supplies for the journey. But ultimately, it's the child that has to move the feet and walk that road.
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