Homework is an area in which parents can have some influence over their children’s education. At midway through the school year or any time at all, it’s a good time to think about how we can tweak and refine all things homework. What are the best ways to remind and encourage children to do their homework? How can parents provide the best atmosphere for doing homework?
From an educator’s standpoint, homework is crucial. In order to cement the lessons learned in the classroom, there needs to be a gap in time between one lesson and the next. It is important to have a review of the work in between these two lessons. This is how the information learned in the classroom moves from the child’s short-term, working memory, to the child’s long-term memory bank. It’s how the brain works, how humans build synapses, those connections within the brain that hold the data we take in.
Some parents, however, are annoyed by homework assignments. They feel that children spend enough hours in the classroom, that afterschool hours should be reserved for free time and play. Other parents feel that while children should do some homework, their children are being asked to do too much homework. These parents are concerned that their children are being asked to do the bulk of their schoolwork at home. It looks to these parents as if the teachers are shirking their responsibility in the classroom—that the amount of homework assigned to their children is unfair.
Then there are the parents who feel that homework, while important, is not their responsibility. They believe that homework is solely the responsibility of the child. These parents may believe in getting involved with homework in the beginning, to get children started on the right track, but feel it’s important to wean children from needing homework help and encouragement as the children grow older. Many parents, however, continue to feel responsible to offer support and ensure their children do their homework, even as their children age.
No matter where, as a parent, you fall within these three categories: responsible, somewhat responsible, or not at all responsible for your child’s homework, it can’t hurt to provide children with the tools they need to get the job done. To that end, experts were consulted for their best tips on making sure that children will want to do their homework and will do it to the best of their ability, with minimal or no fuss.
Eliminate Homework Distractions
Alisa Taylor, of The Lotus Page, designed to help parents keep children safe online, says that one of the best things parents can do to help their kids successfully complete their homework is to minimize distractions. “Create a space that is comfortable, clutter-free and quiet. This includes keeping electronic devices in another room until the homework is finished. Kids may reason that monitoring social media feeds and responding to texts is just multitasking but in reality, those notifications are just distractions.
“A study by Gloria Mark from the University of California, shows that it can take us 23 minutes to get back on track after an interruption. By keeping phones out of the study space, kids will have a greater chance of resisting the urge to satisfy their FOMO* and focus on what needs to be done,” says Taylor.
Former school counselor Erica Bley, now in private practice providing therapy to children and their parents, feels that it’s crucial parents engage with their children’s homework. “Engaging in your child’s work is important for boosting your child’s work ethic and self-efficacy. If you don’t care about the work or her effort, why should she? Look through her work for the day and make at least one positive, specific comment on the work, such as, ‘I like the way you added that detail to your writing,’ or ‘Your handwriting is really improving!’ Make corrections and suggestions as needed,” says Bley.
Get It Over With
Jen Henson, a teacher of 22 years before starting her company The Goal Digger, which offers ACT and SAT test preparation, says that parents should have their children do the homework they dread, first. “This allows the student to push through to get to the more enjoyable things,” says Henson.
Much practical advice, as you’d expect from an educator with 40-plus years of experience as a teacher, special-education teacher, assistant principal, principal, and more (!), comes from Nancy K. Gretzinger, EdD.
Get Into the Mood
“When your child comes home from school, change out of school clothes, have a nutritious snack and take about 20-30 minutes to unwind. While your child is having a snack, ask open-ended questions. What did you learn that is new today?
“As a teacher, when I was closing a lesson, I would typically say, ‘Tell your parents you learned . . . today in math,” says Gretzinger.
Set the Scene
“Your child needs a designated homework area with necessary supplies. Pencil, paper, maybe a calculator, a timer, and good lighting. Comfortable chair (no dangling feet—put some type of support so your child’s feet have something to rest on), also a desk and table at the proper heights. If your child is a wiggler, buy a beach ball, slightly inflated, and place on the chair—this allows for movement. If they would prefer to stand, let them. Provide a squeeze ball for the opposite, non-writing hand if it wouldn’t be a distractor.
“Many teachers provide a folder—one side for papers that stay home, the other side for papers to be returned to school. If the teacher did not do this, the parent should,” says Gretzinger, who adds that parents who go to school may want to consider doing homework at the same time as their children to help motivate them.
Keep Homework Manageable
Some children find homework overwhelming. Gretzinger says some children benefit by having a worksheet folded in half or partially covered. Seeing the whole paper at once, says Gretzinger, can be overwhelming. By covering some of the work, the task seems shorter, more manageable. The educator adds that for some children, working in 20-minute intervals, followed by 5-10-minute breaks, seems to help. She suggests setting a timer for 20 minutes, after which parents can check the child’s work and give positive reinforcement for correctly completed work. The child next receives the 5-10-minute break, then back to work.
Homework Warning Bells
Gretzinger says that when a child makes a conscientious effort to complete the work, but doesn’t understand it, and is taking an inordinate amount of time to complete the work, this means it’s time to schedule a meeting with the child’s teacher. “It’s mandatory the child attends, too,” says Gretzinger.
How Much Homework?
In terms of how much homework is appropriate, Gretzinger says that the old school of thought on the proper amount of homework is 10 minutes per grade. If it takes your child longer to complete the work, it may be too much homework, or it may be that the child is struggling and needs more help. A talk with the teacher is indicated here, too.
“If for some good reason (and not too often) work cannot be completed, the parent may consider writing a note directly on the homework paper as to why it’s not completed, adding a signature and the date. There may still be a consequence for your child, however, the note lets the teacher know the parent is aware that homework was not done. When this happens, the non-completed homework assignment should immediately go back into the “stays home” folder and into the child’s backpack,” says Gretzinger.
If all this advice seems overwhelming, why not choose one or two tips and begin there? Over time, you can always try including more of these tips in your child’s daily homework routine. Leave a comment if something you found here made a difference for your child!
*Fear of missing out