Step 1: Ya Gotta Have a Plan
Sit down with your kids and lay out expectations now, when the school year is starting, rather than waiting until problems arise. “Two or three goals is plenty, and you'll get better results if your child helps decide them,” says Alexandra Mayzler, director of New York City—based Thinking Caps Tutoring and author of Tutor in a Book: Better Grades as Easy as 1-2-3.
Ask: What were your child's stumbling blocks last year? Maybe homework time was running into bedtime, so agree on an earlier start time. Did your child resist reading? Work on ways to make it fun—maybe set up a reading tent under your dining room table. Review your child's homework goals again in October, and perhaps once more in January, says Mayzler. Adjust your plan as you go, letting your child take as much ownership of the process as possible.
Step 2: Get in the Groove
“All the research says the single best way to improve your child's homework performance—and bring more peace to your home—is to insist on a daily schedule or routine,” says Ann Dolin, who is also the author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. In some homes, that means doing it right after school; for others, it can mean waiting until after dinner if your child is the type who needs to expend some energy before he dives back into the books.
Dolin recommends giving all kids at least 30 minutes to have a snack and unwind, with one caveat: “That half-hour break really shouldn't involve anything with a screen—television, e-mail, or video games—or you may have trouble getting kids off,” she adds.
Giving kids a half-hour break between after-school activities and homework is a smart idea, too. “Sports or after-school care isn't really a break. Kids need to let down a little at home before launching into homework,” she says. If your child goes to a babysitter or aftercare program, make a deal that while he's there he'll work on one assignment—something easy he can do even with distractions—every day before he gets home so he has less work later.
The key is to be consistent about the routine. Take a few weeks before homework gets heavy to try different approaches and see what works best, then stick to it.
What about weekends? Everyone deserves a break on Fridays, of course. But pick a regular time during the weekend for homework. After some experimenting, D'nece Webster of Portland, OR, found that her son Alex, 7, is at his best on Sunday mornings. “He can finish in thirty minutes what might take him two hours on a weekend afternoon,” says Webster.
Step 3: Know When to Get Your Child Extra Help
If your kid is truly stuck on a homework assignment, don't make the common mistake of trying to reteach the information. Your goal is not to become your child's study buddy. Plus, your approach might be too different from the teacher's. “Imagine being a kid learning long division for the first time. You don't understand what your teacher is saying, and your parents teach you another method. When you get back to school, you're bound to be even more confused,” says mom and former teacher Laura Laing of Baltimore.
Instead, send an e-mail or note to the teacher asking her to please explain the material to your child again. If your child is a fourth-grader or older, have him write the note or talk to the teacher. It's important that he learns how to speak up for himself. The teacher will likely have office hours earmarked for those who need help. Also ask her about specific websites (many school textbooks now have practice sites kids can use in conjunction with the material in the book) or check out an online tutoring site like growingstars.com or tutor.com, which also has apps for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Step 4: Pick the Right Spot
Some kids do best with a desk set up in their bedroom so they can work independently; others want to be smack in the middle of the kitchen while you cook dinner. Mayzler recommends letting kids choose their preferred study spot. If your child focuses better lounging on a couch or the floor, “I say let them do it,” she notes. Wherever your child does homework, keep it distraction-free—no TV, video games, or loud siblings playing nearby. “It's ideal if you can set a quiet family work time, when younger kids color or do other ‘homework-like’ tasks and you do paperwork or reading of your own,” Mayzler adds.
Step 5: Try Not to Be So Freaking Helpful!
Of course, it's okay—and actually necessary—to sit with 5-or 6-year-olds while they do homework. However, your goal should be to help less over time and move physically farther from where your child works. Laura Laing and her partner, Gina Foringer, make a point of staying out of the room where their daughter, Zoe, 11, does homework. That way, Zoe is encouraged to think through her work on her own before asking a parent for help. Even when Zoe asks a question, Laing often responds with more questions instead of answers. “I'll ask ‘What do you think?’ or ‘How do you think you can come to the answer?’” says Laing. Zoe often works out her own solution by talking it through with her mom.
When it comes to proofing a homework assignment, less is definitely better. Check a few answers to ensure that your child understands what's she's doing, but don't go over the entire page. After all, your child's teacher needs an accurate measure of whether she really understands the work.
Step 6: Make 'Em Pay
Although you may feel guilty at first, it's smart to have a one-strike rule when it comes to forgetting homework. If your child leaves her assignment (or lunch, gym clothes, or other items, for that matter) at home and calls, begging you to bring it to school, bail her out, say, only once each grading period. For many kids, just one missed recess (or whatever the teacher's policy is for not turning in homework) usually improves their memory, says Cathy Vatterott, Ph.D., associate professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of Rethinking Homework. But chronically disorganized kids may need more hand-holding. “Help your child figure out what part of his ‘return homework’ chain is broken,” says Vatterott. “Does he routinely leave homework on the dining room table? Does he forget some assignments because they're in a different folder?” Create a “Homework Checklist” on the computer and post it near his usual study space.
Step 7: Push Back on Busywork
Vatterott and other educators are now advocating for changes in the way homework is assigned and used in the United States (requiring teachers to prove the usefulness of assignments, discouraging teachers from grading homework, and more). She encourages parents to do so, too. “Good homework helps kids cement what they've learned, but it isn't busywork, isn't given in extreme amounts, and definitely doesn't require parents to become substitute teachers at home,” Vatterott says. A few caveats:
Mom and Dad shouldn't do homework
If work comes home with “directions for parents,” Vatterott suggests letting the teacher and possibly the principal know that you, unfortunately, aren't in class this year (some gentle humor helps!), so you won't be building a replica of a human cell or a California mission, or whatever is required. A project can be a fun way for parents and kids to bond, but if you feel like it's taking up too much of your time, it probably is.
Watch for overload
If your third-grader is spending an hour and a half on just her math homework, for instance, that's way too much. “Keep track of her time for several days, then talk to the teacher,” suggests Dolin. Sometimes teachers honestly underestimate how long an assignment will take. If your child routinely works long hours because she's struggling, also talk to the teacher. But if she seems to be slaving over homework because she's a perfectionist, you may need to discuss a reasonable amount of time to devote to an assignment and then clock her.
Your kids just spent all day at school. And now you’re asking them to do what? Homework? Hey, that’s kind of like having school at home. After an entire day of paper, pencils, and books, it’s entirely possible that your child will resist (and that’s putting it politely) getting down to business in the after-school hours. Don’t stress out. Whether your child has to study a vocab list, do a few zillion math equations or finish a few extra assignments, we’re sharing eight tips that can magically transform homework from a super-struggle to some serious fun! Scroll down to see them all.
photo: GSCSNJ via Flickr
1. Work Together
Why not be hands off when it comes to your kid’s homework, while still working beside one another? Return emails, answer your co-worker’s texts or work on the PTA fundraiser, modeling focused work to your child as the two of you spend QT together. If you think this seems like you’re not paying attention to your child or you’re slacking when it comes to parenting—it’s not and you aren’t. Instead, you’re creating a shared workspace where the two of you can get business done—together.
2. Get Creative
Sitting like a statue and calculating problem after problem on a math worksheet isn’t exactly exciting, so consider turning a study session into an all out artsy adventure! As your kid reads a chapter from the assigned text, use the opportunity as a chance to put on a play. If acting isn’t what your little learner is all about, paint out math problems, sculpt letters or turn American history into a song.
Other ideas (perfect for older kiddos) include more sophisticated setups, such as creating a series of paintings that explain a text the child is trying to interpret or interpreting a poem by using their own musical notes. The kinder set can get back to basics and finger paint letters, make clay characters from a story or bang on pots and pans to learn about patterns or counting.
3. Make It a Group Effort
Start your own study group. Have your kiddo invite classmates to read, write and do math equations together. If your student is old enough to handle organizing and delegating, take a step back and let your kid take on a leadership role. Younger kids may need more help—think of this as a mini-educational play date for them.
photo: Simply Southern Sunshine
4. Engage the Senses
There’s a reason those darned fidget spinners were suddenly in every kids’ little hands. While engaging your kids’ sense of touch, smell or sight might seem to be a distraction, it can actually help them to focus. Simply Southern Sunshine’s awesomely energizing “wake up” play dough recipe is perfect for keeping the kids awake as they play with shapes, letters and much, much more. You can also engage other senses: Stash a stress ball in the homework area to engage the sense of touch or play white noise to break the crazy-quiet that’s actually distracting to your child.
photo: Danny Piassick via Ellen Grasso & Sons, LLC
5. Design an Awesome Workspace
Take a page from some of the coolest places on Earth to work. Google, Apple and other tech giants all have fab workspaces for their employees. Why? To increase productivity. Create a communal workspace that all your kids (or all your family) can share instead of sending your little learners off to their room alone. Mix it up with a tall desk (by using a shelf) so your child can stand and work, or swap out desk chairs for a yoga ball or a twisty-turny stool. You can see all of our favorite workspace ideas by clicking here!
photo credit: A Beautiful Mess
6. Snack Smart
Let’s face it: A hungry child is an unfocused, unmotivated and unhappy child. Theme it up and create a snack menu that matches the subject at hand. Use letter cookie cutters to create word sandwiches or use fruit and veggie slices to create number shapes or equations. Or try a once in a while special treat, such as these pretzel pizza bites from A Beautiful Mess.
photo: WBEZ via Flickr
7. Office hours
Your child needs some homework help. Instead of hovering (no helicopters here) or taking over and writing your very own book report, set up office hours—just like your college professors did. Make the living room couch or the dining room table into your “office.” The kids can schedule a time to ask questions or can come to your “open hours.” This lets you help your child, without actually doing the work yourself
photo: Delightful Order
8. Fight Bored with a Board
If this board by Delightful Order did anymore, you’d have to start calling it Mom. Visual kids will get a kick out of seeing where they are in the week, posting important assignments, getting special encouraging messages (or silly jokes) from you, and crossing off of tasks as they’re completed. Post your kids’ A papers as inspiration to show them how doing their homework translates into school success.
What ideas do you have to add to our list? Tell us below!
— Erica Loop & Shannon Guyton
Featured photo: Carissa Rogers via Flickr
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