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Today's Family Magazine

BACK TO SCHOOL: Homework Help

By Janeen Lewis

Let’s be honest – sometimes parents dread homework as much as their kids do.  But homework connects parents to what their children are learning in school, and research shows that children are more likely to be successful in school when their families support them.  By following these tips, even the most homework-challenged parents can help their children have a successful homework year.

1. Understand the reason for homework

Homework reinforces what is being taught in the classroom and teaches students important life skills – responsibility, time management and task completion.  Children should be able to complete the work with little help from parents, and they shouldn’t come home with an entirely new concept to learn. Homework should be practice or an extension of what they’ve already learned.

2. Know the teacher’s philosophy
Teachers have different philosophies about how much homework to assign.  Some think piling on a ton of homework helps build character. Others think children have done enough work during the day and don’t assign any.  Understand where your child’s teacher falls on the homework spectrum so you are not surprised as the homework does (or doesn’t) come home.  If you are unsure what a reasonable amount of homework is, The National Education Association and The National Parent Teacher Association recommend 10-20 minutes of homework per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade after that.

3. Learn what the homework rules are
At open house learn the homework policy of the school and your child’s teacher.  What are the consequences for lost or forgotten homework?  Don’t be quick to bail your child out every time you get a frantic text message about forgotten homework.  One of the purposes of homework is to teach responsibility.

4. Get organized
Your child should have a backpack and homework folder to carry assignments between home and school. Teachers of primary students usually send homework correspondence each night.  If your older child’s teacher doesn’t require students to record school work in an assignment book, provide one yourself and teach your child how to fill it out.

5. Schedule a consistent time
With sports, service projects, religious and community activities, it can be hard to schedule one set time every day to do homework.  Aim for as much consistency as possible when scheduling homework around after-school activities.

6. Designate a study space
Pick a homework space free from distractions.  However, consider your child’s personality and ability to focus when selecting a homework station.  Some children concentrate best in complete quiet at the kitchen table or a desk.  Others study well on their bed with background music. And reading areas can be creative like a reading tent or comfy bean bag.  Make study areas free from video games, television and the games of other siblings who finish homework early

7. Create a supply caddy
Fill a plastic caddy or bin organizer with items your child might need for homework.  Some good supplies are pencils, markers, crayons, glue, tape, stapler, three-hole punch, paper clips, notebook paper, small wipe-off board with dry erase markers, art paper, graph paper, calculator, protractor, compass, ruler and a dictionary/thesaurus combo.  Also provide a wipe-off calendar for important due dates.

Be available, but don’t do the work
Helping your child with homework is a great way to connect with them, but don’t spoon feed answers. The whole point of homework is for children to practice skills independently.

9. Use a timer if necessary
Sometimes children like to procrastinate.  Some children like the challenge of beating the clock. Either way, a timer keeps a child focused on the finish line.

10. Keep a resource bookshelf
Can’t remember what a gerund is?  Are you a little rusty on what the terms perpendicular and parallel mean?  Keep an assortment of reference books or save online references to your favorites list on your computer.  A good math dictionary for parents of elementary students is “Math Dictionary: Homework Help for Families” by Judith de Klerk. Another great resource is the “Everything You Need to Know About Homework Series Set” by Anne Zeman and Kate Kelly.

11. Create a phone/email chain
How many times has your child left their spelling words at school or forgotten a lesson?  Help your child make a list of friends they can call, text or email, or get to know other parents in your child’s class so you can have a chain to get answers about assignments.

12. Model learning as a priority
Let your child see you reading the newspaper or books.  Discuss current events, politics or the new art or history museum you want to visit.  Find exciting tidbits in their homework lessons and research them.  Show by example that learning is fun.

13. Encourage
No matter how tired you are, have a positive attitude about the work your child is doing.  Encourage their efforts and let them know you are proud of them.

14. Reward
Homework rewards don’t have to be elaborate, although you may want to up the ante for a struggling child or one who is hard to motivate.  A reward can be something as simple as a fun activity when they finish. But you can also keep a homework incentive chart and let your child earn a special activity with mom or dad, some extra screen time or a dinner out.

15. Don’t be afraid to speak up
If you think too much homework is coming home, that your child isn’t familiar with the material or that they are struggling, don’t be too intimidated to schedule a conference with your child’s teacher.  Most teachers welcome feedback and want to help your child succeed.