As the warm sun begins to set earlier, and crisp fall evenings replace long summer ones, the dinner table conversations shift from “How was the beach today?” to “Have you finished your homework?”
And then the fun begins.
Although education has changed in many ways over the years, one constant seems to be that children bring home homework and parents end up working just as hard if not harder to get it done. As the homework struggle gets into full swing this fall, it may be helpful for parents to have a few tools and tricks up their sleeves.
Tool #1: A quiet place, free of distractions (TV, noisy siblings, tempting toys) stocked with supplies. These days, those supplies go beyond paper and pencils; consider dedicating a computer to your child’s homework needs at least during those after-school hours. Many assignments today include an online element such as short instructional videos, research, or word-processing.
Tool #2: A timer. For those kids who need breaks to get the jigglies out, or who hit a wall after a certain amount of intense work time, the simple kitchen timer can be very effective. Set up chunks of time reasonable for your child’s age (such as 10 minute sessions for younger elementary, 15 minutes for older elementary, and 20 for middle school) and allow short breaks (5-10 minutes) between work sessions for movement, snacks, or to switch to homework for a different subject. Also set a total time limit. A general rule, respected by most educational programs, is 10 minutes per grade level. A third grader can expect to have 30 minutes of homework, while a sixth grader should have an hour per night. This is just a guideline, depending on the particular projects assigned and each child’s capacity for focus and speed of reading and writing. It is reasonable as a parent to put an upper limit on homework time if you see your child far exceeding this guideline and becoming frustrated. If this happens regularly, contact the teacher and ask if the homework assigned warrants this much time or if perhaps your child is struggling more than others and needs additional help.
Tool #3: Your enthusiasm. You don’t have to remember what the Gothic War was or how to do Algebra in order to support your child. A clever inquiry such as , “Show me how you got that answer” or “Why do you think they wanted to take over Rome?” can elicit a detailed answer showing your child’s learning, or point out where he might be confused. You don’t have to be able to fill in the missing answer; you only have to encourage your child to look back at the chapter, or retrace the steps of the equation, to find the answer himself. By the way, it is okay for kids to have questions and to get answers wrong. If your child is struggling, do not complete the homework for him. If the teacher is going to be able to help your child learn, she needs to see where your child had difficulty; covering up the truth doesn't do him any favors.
Tool #4: Cool online tools. There are a wealth of websites and online videos these days that can re-explain a concept that your child may have missed in class (and it’s not a bad way to refresh your own knowledge before trying to help your child!). Kahn Academy has videos on topics in science, math, economics, and humanities. Once you register, your child can build a history, taking pretests and progressing through skills, showing progress through saved reports. The Jet Propulsion Lab offers answers to questions on Earth and space science topics via email. HippoCampus is a collection of some of the best video resources for teachers and students on topics including grammar, writing, reading, and vocabulary as well as science, math, and social sciences. You can make a “playlist” of essential resources that you might visit again. Purdue University offers writing help for its students and anyone with Internet access through the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab). Topics covered include general writing, research and citing sources, and formatting guidelines for MLA and APA styles.
And the bottom line: Yes, homework is an important (and inescapable) component of most traditional school educations, but it isn't the end of the world. If your child is trying her best, getting passing grades, and you are providing support, that is success. If homework becomes such a battle that it is ruining family relationships, it is time to rethink priorities. Kiss your child goodnight and call the teacher in the morning. The best lessons are learned through life, from trial and failure as well as achievement, and when the child finally graduates (and she will!) what will really matter is what kind of a person her parents taught her to be. Not whether she can spell onomotpea - onamotopeia - onomatopoeia.