Wondering how to help your children with homework — or how to get them to do it without a struggle? Here’s how.
What’s the point of homework? “Homework is designed to help students reinforce key concepts, process and solidify new information, provide time for extra practice of skills, and reflect on how much they’ve learned,” notes teacher Susan Becker, M. Ed. However, approaches to homework vary from district to district, school to school and teacher to teacher. Some schools don’t give children homework until the 2nd grade, others start in kindergarten. Some teachers create original homework, while other use or modify prepared work sheets.
Don’t do the homework for your child. Most teachers use homework to find out what the child knows. They do not want parents doing their children’s homework but do want parents to make sure homework is completed and review any mistakes to see what can be learned from them.
Don’t take over your child’s projects. Teachers do not want parents doing their kids’ projects. Instead, they want parents to support their kids’ learning and make sure they have what they need to accomplish a task. Check with your child’s teacher for his policy and review it with your child.
Set up a good space to work. All children need the same thing: a clean, well-lit space. But keep in mind that each child may work differently; some will do their work at the kitchen table and others at their desks in their rooms.
Pay attention to your child’s rhythms and help him find the right time to begin his work. Some children will work best by doing homework right after school; others need a longer break and must run around before tackling the work. Most will need a snack. If your child does after-school activities, set a homework time before or after the activity, or after dinner. Whatever routine you choose, help your child stick to it.
Find out how your child studies best. “You should find the ways your child likes to study. For example, some kids will learn spelling words by writing them out, others by closing their eyes and picturing them and saying them aloud,” advises teacher Susan Becker, M. Ed. “The sound environment is also important,” adds Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “Some kids may want to listen to music, some are helped by being in the middle of noise, others need absolute quiet.”
Don’t hover — but stay close by. Keep in mind that it’s their homework, not yours, but remain available in case you are needed. “The ideal set up would be for a parent to be reading nearby while the child is studying because then you both are doing your educational work together, but that’s not always possible,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “A parent may be working out of the home, or need to be working in the home and cooking dinner. So if you are home, stay close, and if you are not there, have another adult check to make sure it’s going OK. And remember that all homework is not equal, so not everything will need your rapt attention.”
Limit media exposure. Turn off the TV and the iPod when your child does homework. And the computer too, unless it’s being used for research. You might start by asking how much time he thinks he should spend on this, and negotiate from there. Remember, you have the final word. And keep in mind that if you watch TV when your child can’t, the plan may backfire.
Let the teacher know if you gave your child a lot of homework help. “If your child needs extra help or truly doesn’t understand something, let the teacher know. Write on the assignment, ‘done with parental help,’ or write a separate note,” advises Michael Thompson, Ph.D. If your child resists, explain that homework is used to practice what you know and to show the teacher what you need help learning more about — so it’s a parent’s job to let the teacher know.
As a parent, you are the major provider of your child's education from birth through adolescence. You guide the development of her character and mental health and help form the foundation from which she'll develop lifelong attitudes and interests. And because your home is the primary environment in which your child's potential and personality will take shape, it's important to make sure that you create a positive, open atmosphere that will not only support what goes on in the classroom, but will also instill the desire to learn.
It is through your love and encouragement that your kids will become motivated — first to please you, and then to please themselves. This leads to self-confidence, curiosity, the enjoyment of mastering new tasks, and other healthy attitudes, all of which contribute to successful learning.
But unless you are home-schooling, you will not be the one teaching your child science or geography. And while it's true that all of the facts, skills, and concepts your children learn at school are influenced by what you do at home, your child's education is equally impacted by the relationships you form with her teachers. Building an effective relationship with the teacher is a critical task, and, like you, every teacher wants to achieve this goal. As with any relationship, mutual respect, the ability to listen, and lots of communication form the foundation.
When parents and teachers work well together, everyone benefits. Parents and teachers can provide each other with unique insight and different perspectives about the same child, culminating in a more complete understanding of that child, her abilities, strengths, and challenges. The teacher will know much more about the curriculum and the school culture, while you know more about your child's personality, tendencies, and family life. A successful parent-teacher partnership also shows a child that an entire team of adults is on her side.
Why What You Do at Home Is So Important at School
A positive relationship with your child is more important to her school career than your constant presence in the classroom. Because young children identify strongly with you, your attitudes, values, and innermost feelings are contagious. They become embedded in your child's mind at the deepest levels.
If your own experience with school was miserable, you might feel anxious about your child's school experiences. Your child will sense this, and it could hamper her ability to throw herself wholeheartedly into learning. She may feel disloyal if she allows herself to like school and work hard, even if your words are telling her to do so.
For your child's sake you'll need to put the past behind you and "start over," assuming that your child's teachers, school, and overall experience will be good and happy. Even if you didn't like school, the best way to help your child is to endorse her experience: Get involved, be positive, and trust her teachers. She will get the message: "School is important; I want you to engage fully."
Make Quality Time for Your Child
It might sound obvious, but today, parents' schedules are full to overflowing. The good news is that there are easy ways to enjoy time with your child that also support learning. You can be available during play dates, snuggle on the sofa while watching a good video together, take a nature walk in the park, make appreciative comments from time to time as your child plays, cook something yummy together, or just hang out and chat. All these things support your child's deep belief that you know her, care about her, and would never expect her to do something that isn't possible — such as learn in school.
Become an Active Partner in Learning
Most educators believe in parent participation in children's education, but "participation" means different things to different teachers. To some, it might mean helping children with homework, returning notes and sending things in on time, and coming to a conference when notified to do so. But it should mean much more. Work with the teacher to find out some ways you can contribute to the classroom, but always be sure to do it within the guidelines she'll provide for you. By the same token, you have valuable insight about your child — no one knows her better than you — so it's important to take initiative and communicate that knowledge to the teacher throughout the school year.
First, be sure to provide details about your child's home life to your teacher. The most effective teachers have a fairly complete understanding of each child in their class. You can help by telling her about your child's family life, including any recent changes (divorce, a death in the family, or illness, for example), important traditions or rituals, languages spoken at home, and other significant details unique to your child.
Ask about ways to share your culture — food, music, photos, and traditions — with the class. Not only will this help strengthen your child's self-esteem, it will also enrich the learning experience for the entire class and foster an appreciation of diversity. Between the ages of 3 and 8, kids are beginning to deal with a world bigger than the family, and they become keenly aware of every difference between themselves and their peers.
Plan to have a family discussion each week. Try to pick a topic that emerges from your child's experiences at school. The more you familiarize yourself with the daily routines and activities at preschool, the more you'll be able to encourage this type of conversation. You can even extend the idea into an art project or create a family "book club" where everyone reads something relating to this theme.
Get the entire family involved. As often as possible, try to participate in field trips and classroom events such as potlucks, story parties, art shows, and class celebrations. Include grandparents, siblings, caregivers, and family friends. Your child will be delighted.
For parents and teachers alike, the goal is to play active roles in your child's life and to work towards forming a real bond. The child's best interest is always served when she has lots of people rooting for her and all the pieces of her life fit together. A strong home-school connection will set the stage for a child who will grow up with a love for learning.