Half of parents struggle to help their kids with homework, according to a recent study by the National Center for Family Literacy. To make matters worse, the study also showed nearly half of parents of children in grades one through 12 admit that they don’t understand the homework assignments. That’s not good.
Add in the fact that kids don’t always want their parents help with homework, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Disaster gives me heartburn, how about you?
Never fear. I was able to get the scoop on how to avoid homework meltdowns from ML Nichols, an education expert and author of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5. Read on for ML’s homework tips, and don’t forget to check out my review of The Parent Backpack.
Create a fun, low-stress work environment
1. Create a special area or a bin of supplies that is only used for homework time.
2. Stock the supply bin with fun pencils and markers, creative erasers, unique paper and colored glue. Keep it well stocked and add an occasional surprise to the mix.
3. Add some wacky puzzles and games to play with during break time. Your child won’t want to leave.
4. Teaching your children two important skills can help lower homework stress: 1) how to break it down, and 2) how to brake on the downhill. Most elementary age kids now have homework in at least two subjects, if not three. Show them how to separate the work into piles by subject, review what needs to be done, and tackle one pile at a time. As it’s finished, stack the completed work in one pile so your child sees what is accomplished.
5. Take breaks. The “braking on the downhill” skill mentioned in no. 4 is about taking breaks before starting an easier part. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s always easier to come back to work when your confidence is higher and you know how to get through it – especially for kids. Implicit with this strategy is beginning with the harder work when the brain is fresher and more focused.
6. Set up a check in time where you, or a supervising adult, check in with your child on a regular basis instead of your child continually calling you over for help. This technique helps keep your kids focused and moving forward rather than trying to cajole you to their side. A simple way to structure this strategy is to set the check-in times according to the child’s age. If your child is 7, check in every 7 minutes. At 10, check in every 10 minutes. As your child gets older, the check-ins will get further apart, as they naturally should.
Help your child avoid homework overload
7. Build in time for kids to play in an unstructured way (meaning without adults directing them) before they begin homework. This unwinding time helps kids avoid overload.
8. Monitor how much homework your child is receiving in each subject. The National Education Association supports a guideline of 10-20 minutes of homework per night in the first grade. Add an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter. Anything more and you might want to open a dialogue with your child’s teacher.
9. Establish that homework is a priority in your family so your kids get a consistent message from parents and teachers. If you are regularly writing notes to your child’s teacher with excuses about why the homework wasn’t completed (due to soccer practice, a hockey tournament, a dance recital, etc.), your child will struggle internally with the conflict between parent and teacher expectations because most elementary age kids want to please their parents and their teachers.
10. Don’t underestimate the impact that an overload of sugary snacks or sleep deprivation has on homework productivity – it’s more than you think. Elementary age kids need at least 10 hours of sleep each night. Keep sugary snacks and drinks to a minimum.
Ditch your own homework hang-ups
11. It’s understandable, but avoid sending a negative message to your child about a subject that you dislike or don’t feel confident about. Such negative speech (“I’m no good at math, you need to wait till your dad gets home” or “Writing is not my strong suit, wait till your mom gets home from work.”) may predispose your child to believe that same message about him or herself.
12. Don’t think that you always have to know the answer to your child’s homework. Become an awesome homework facilitator and coach with websites like Khan Academy and BrainPOP, which offer mini lessons in math, language, science, and social studies. For more ideas, visit the Parent Backpack resource room.
13. Understand that homework has changed since you were in school. With the new nearly nationwide Common Core standards and higher expectations at each grade level, teachers are charged with covering more material in the same amount of time. That translates to more homework being assigned, sometimes on material recently introduced rather than learned.
14. Avoid the temptation to do or correct your child’s homework. Instead, guide and facilitate homework by asking questions rather than giving answers. Teachers use homework to gage a student’s understanding so it’s important they have accurate information. By the end of the fifth or sixth grade, kids should be working almost independently on homework.
15. If your child is frustrated and is consistently unable to understand their homework, tell your child’s teacher. Send in a brief note (it’s okay to write it on the homework) or email with your observations and concerns.
Kids may need reminders about organizing the work into parts, braking on the downhill, and using online videos for help. But if you establish these skills in the early grades, make homework a priority, and do regular check ins (like teachers do in school), homework time could be a non-issue by the time they get to middle school.
For more parenting and homework advice from ML Nichols, check out The Parent Backpack website.
Readers: What are your tips and rants when it comes to kids and homework?