It often goes back to reading. Children and teens who read the most tend to become more successful in school than those who do not. They have better developed processing skills, stronger comprehension skills, and a higher level of vocabulary. This knowledge is used in all areas of learning. How to relate this to homework? Make read-alouds and silent reading a consistent part of homework routines every night. Imagine the educational achievement improvement if your child or teen were to read for 20 to 30 minutes every night. The gains would be dramatic.
The big question is how much homework is appropriate? Some researchers find that taking a child’s age and multiplying by two is appropriate. For example, a first grader who is 6 years old should be expected to complete 12 minutes of homework every night, and a fifth grader who is 10 years old should be expected to complete 20 minutes every night. Other researchers find that 10 minutes per grade increased by 10 minutes is appropriate. For example, a first grader should be expected to complete 10 minutes of homework every night, a second grader should be expected to complete 20 minutes of homework every night, capped at high school with 2 to 3 hours every night. If your child’s school or teacher gives no homework, or if the homework volume doesn’t meet your expectations, what should you do? Find a combination of assigned homework and additional reading, writing, and math fun.
The major goal of homework is to improve or to enhance learning. Homework should be relevant and purposeful, and involve practice, preparation, and extension. It should be meaningful practice work, but it should not be trivial busy work. Above all, it should not be teaching or learning something new.
The expectation is that parents become more involved at the elementary level, and less involved at the middle and high school levels. The parental role in homework is not to become the teacher. Instead, think of yourself as the coach. You are to help your child formulate a plan to complete the homework, and to help your child follow through. This first involves finding the time to do the work. Completing homework at the same time every night helps to ensure follow through. This also involves finding an appropriate quiet place, a desk or a table, with available materials such as dictionaries, thesaurus, paper, pencils, pens, and computer. Make sure it is well-lit. Remove distractions. Put the cell phone out of sight and out of mind. Turn the ringer off. The hardest thing for a lot of busy homes is that this also involves setting up a quiet work environment. Turn off the television. Save cleaning the kitchen for another time.
If you wish to go further, then help your child interpret directions. Ask: “Do you understand what you are supposed to do?” or “Do you need help in understanding this assignment?” or “Do you have everything you need to do this assignment?” or “Do your answers make sense to you?”
If you are trying to help your child get started, and you do not know much about what your child is supposed to do, there is no need to fret. Simply go to the Internet. A few searches might lead you to additional information that will help your child to learn more. Need a refresher on what prime numbers are? Then do an internet search for a definition and some examples. Many teachers now maintain websites with links to additional and helpful information.
Proofread your child’s work. Read aloud required reading with your child. Give practice quizzes to your child to prepare for tests. Practice spelling tests are an appropriate place to start. Younger children seem to have fun with these. Help your child to brainstorm ideas for papers or projects. Some children may need just a little bit of help getting started. Praise your child for working on and completing all homework. If the homework is particularly difficult or frustrating, then show some reassurance. Tell your child that he will get it eventually and to keep trying.
The biggest step you can take to help your child with homework is to show your child that homework is important. Younger children may need more guidance, but the goal for older children is to become independent learners, capable of completing all of the homework on their own. Ask to see the homework, and ask a few pertinent questions. There’s no need to make this an additional test or more work, just show an interest, share some positive praise, and offer a special celebration for work completed. After a good week of completed homework, have a pizza party, or something similar. You have to eat anyways, so you might as well make it a special and celebratory event.
Homework goes beyond what teachers assign their students. Here’s some homework for parents too. Send your child to school well rested, well fed, and with a positive outlook. Take an active interest in your child’s education. Ask specific questions about what happened during the day, and ask your child how she feels about what’s going on at school. Remember you are not a police officer making an investigation, just a parent showing interest, so make it short and sweet.
Let your child know how much you value education. Consider continuing your own education. This could mean something big like college classes or professional workshops, or this could simply mean reading something new, doing some desk work yourself, letter writing, or paying bills. If your child is doing math homework, for example, then be a role model and do some math work too. Balance your checkbook.
Encourage your child to do well, but do not do the homework yourself. Be available. Help your child through difficult moments. If there are spelling words that need to be corrected, then ask your child where he can go to find the correct spelling. If there are math difficulties, then ask your child what the teacher did in class during the day. Taking over the work means that your child is not learning and can also become more confusing. Recognize that education has changed over the years. How your teachers may have taught you long division may have been different than how teachers may be teaching your child today. Please tread carefully here.
There are some cautions. First, do not attempt to teach your child concepts or skills that your child is unfamiliar with. Second, do not complete the work for your child. Third, do not allow your child to sacrifice sleep to complete homework. If there are problems with homework, then contact your child’s teacher. Most teachers are not looking for perfection, but are looking to see that their students tried.
Send a note to the teacher as soon as there is a problem. If your child can not do the homework without your help, then stop your child and write a note to your child’s teacher. Write down your observations, and take those observations to the teacher. If your child is spending too much time on the homework, then send a note to the teacher. Likewise, if your child is not spending enough time on homework, then send a note to the teacher. Become less involved with the homework task, and more involved in communicating with the teacher.
For some parents, working with their children becomes a struggle. There becomes a parent and child battle. This need not happen. One option for intervention is a tutor. Just someone else doing what you would be doing may make a difference. Consider a paid tutor if that’s feasible for your family. Your child’s teacher or another parent could help you to find one. Also consider a peer, sibling, or another adult. Ask around.
Recognize the need for breaks. If your child has too much homework on one particular night, then encourage a break. This means a chance to get up, move around, make a snack, and talk it through.
Finally, note that your child may have different learning styles than you have. Some children may work best sitting up in a chair at a desk or a table. Other children, particularly older children, or even younger children who are easily distracted, may work best lying on the floor with background music. Try to find what works best for your child. Experiment a little here.
Once again, monitor the amount of time your child spends watching television or playing electronics. Recognize that there could be some television shows that are related to what your child is learning in school. Look for those programs on science or history topics or on dramatizations of children’s literature. Watch those shows with your child and discuss them. Encourage follow-up reading or family field trips.
Homework independence leads to independent learners.
Bruce Johnson is an educator, reading specialist in Merrimack Valley School District in New Hampshire, member of CLiF’s Advisory Board, and author of Helping Your Child Become Successful in School: A Guide for Parents. Learn more at www.guidesforparents.wordpress.com.