HOW PARENTS CAN
HELP WITH HOMEWORK
(BUT NOT TOO MUCH)
Homework is a controversial topic in many households. Children vary in their responses to school expectations of homework and study. Achieving children usually study at a desk or table in a quiet place, although some listen to music. Underachievers, however, exhibit a great many troublesome study habits. Many believe that they study best while lying on their beds with headsets on, watching TV, and reading something over once quickly. Other underachievers do homework only after they're nagged, scolded, reminded, and supervised. Even then, they protest and avoid quality work. A third group of children sit with a parent nightly, certain that they can't complete their assignments without that parent's assistance and direct supervision. Finally, there are some underachievers who simply don't do homework or study at all. As parents of children who may be in one of these last four groups, you may wonder how your children fell into such bad habits and why other children have better habits.
Good study habits begin with an appropriate time and place. In determining a good time for study, you'll need to work around your own family schedules. However, some general rules can guide you in setting both a time and a place.
Children should be allowed time for a break immediately after school to have a snack, enjoy some physical activity, or chat. Many children like to watch TV during that break time; however, television puts children into a passive mode, making it difficult to move them from TV to homework. It's better to insist that television follow study and homework. Explain to your children that exercise is both relaxing and energizing and is more appropriate after a day of sitting. You may also wish to use a plug lock* for your television to emphasize its nonuse before homework.
Children are more motivated to do their homework if they have something to look forward to after it's completed. If possible, at least part of their study time should take place prior to the evening meal, leaving time after study for watching television, reading, or playing games. When study time is too late in the evening, children are often tired and tend to daydream or dawdle. Most children don't like to sleep (it's adults who do), so homework can become a "stay-up-late" manipulation if it takes place just before bedtime.
The amount of study time varies with children's grade and school requirements. Elementary school children might study from 15 minutes to an hour; middle school children from one to one and a half hours; and high school students from one and a half to two hours per evening. Three or more hours may be required for students in highly academic high schools. If children say they have completed all of their homework before their allotted study time, suggest that they use the remainder of the scheduled time for reading over material, organizing notes, doing extra reading, or creative writing. Except for long-term projects, younger children rarely have homework on weekends, so there is no need for weekend study time for most children.
An appropriate study place is equally important for providing an atmosphere where children will learn efficiently. Sitting at a desk with good lighting in a quiet place away from parents and siblings will help children concentrate better and become more actively involved in the material.
Some children insist that they can't study without music. If you're preparing them for academic success, it seems realistic for them to develop habits that will help them adjust to environments which will open educational doors for them. (I've never heard of SATs being given with music blaring, nor do most high school teachers play music in their classrooms.) After your children have learned to concentrate in a quiet atmosphere, they may certainly introduce quiet music gradually and experimentally provided the sound doesn't interfere with their concentration.
There's another advantage to separating your children from family activity during study. Dependent children, who are likely to ask questions before they've tried to solve problems on their own, are less likely to do so if Mom or Dad are physically located at a distance. It's important for your children to take the initiative to work on their homework independently before they ask for help. You should only answer questions after your children have made a determined effort to work out the material on their own. Don't sit with your children during homework time. It's their responsibility to do their homework and yours to take an interest and monitor only when appropriate.
Showing an interest in your children's homework is always important. Reading a story they've written or checking for errors of a composition might be helpful if your children request it. Discussing ideas or quizzing your children in spelling or Spanish is a fine show of support. You may also work with children on special projects; however, it is important that you only offer your guidance and not become overly involved, or they will begin to feel like the homework project is your responsibility instead of theirs.
If your children are underachievers, you'll want to check their homework on a regular basis to be certain they're completing quality work; however, don't correct it as a teacher would. If they've done their homework carelessly, point that out, and let them know that members of your family take pride in their work. If it appears that they're not comprehending a concept, take time to explain it. If you see a misspelled word or an obvious error, you may point it out.
Mothers are often assigned the task of schoolwork supervision, but mothers or fathers can help their children. For boys, it's often helpful if Dad takes the major responsibility for helping with or monitoring schoolwork, especially if the child is not performing well in school. It is important for Dads to communicate clearly to their sons about how important they believe schoolwork is.
Parents should always take an enthusiastic and positive interest in their children's schoolwork and learning. It makes a great difference to them!
*For information about plug locks, call 800/475-1118.
©2010 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.