Homework’s supposed to be fun, teachers explain. Fun for whom, you wonder, as you struggle with your exhausted child past his bedtime.
Homework often starts in kindergarten. “Bring in pictures of 10 things beginning with the ‘T’ sound,” is the assignment. You have no choice but to help. You remember doing homework in your room, at your desk, alone, but times have changed. Homework expectations have doubled since your school days. Here are some tips to help guide your child through homework assignments:
• Avoid overscheduling your child. You may notice that homework is done conscientiously in September. You may think it’s too easy, a review of what your child did this last year. You’re right, but wait. As the year progresses, the bar is raised. Homework escalates in volume and complexity. Often the finished product begins a plunge downwards to a sloppy pit. This descent may coincide with the beginning of sports and other afterschool activities that leave kids arriving home hungry, tired and in need of a bath. Understandably, homework suffers. Consider this before piling the afterschool activity plate too high. Or if these are a priority, think outside the box, setting time aside the next morning when everyone’s fresh and hasn’t spent their daily patience quota.
• It’s not called bus work or car work, but homework for a reason. Your job is to create a comfortable learning environment.
• Consider encouraging your child to work at the kitchen table, where there are fewer enjoyable distractions than in his room. But don’t sit down with him and don’t hover. Get busy with anything, even if it’s emptying the dishwasher.
• Some parents brag that the minute their child walks in the door, they make her do her homework. Only then comes playtime. Wrong sequence! Allow children ‘down’ time with a snack, chat and something they find enjoyable, such as a computer game, TV or bike ride. Even if it’s only mid-afternoon, their day has been long. They’ve earned relaxation points.
• Your role is to be the ‘guide on the side’ — sometimes. Know when to spend time using manipulatives to direct their thinking and when just to tell them the answer, such as how to spell a word. Don’t waste their attention span on details.
• Know what and what not to correct. Teachers need to see mistakes, especially on drill sheets.
• Minimize distractions, interruptions and noise. Kids are accustomed to working in less than quiet classrooms, but that doesn’t mean you should turn on the television or have a phone conversation. If your child tries to digress from his assignments to talk, encourage him to wait until homework’s finished. Concentration is a life skill. • Buy a homework bin (plastic with a clip-on cover) and fill it with abundant supplies — sharp pencils with eraser tips, pens, markers, crayons, highlighters, blank paper, stapler, paper clips, dictionary, thesaurus. You’ll learn what else is needed. For example, young children may need counters, such as beans or buttons, to assist with math assignments.
• Get a blank calendar. Attach that month’s page to the bin’s cover. Have your child (not you) note the due date of long-term assignments such as book reports and other projects. Work on these gradually. These are early steps to learning time management.
• Frequently and sincerely praise your child’s good work. Withhold this praise when it’s sloppy, tell her she can do better, and then let it go. Like it or not, homework lasts for 10 months. Homework resentment makes for long weeks. If you force your child to redo messy papers, it feels like punishment.
• If your child’s teacher doesn’t suggest time limits, ask. With the teacher’s permission, these may need to be individualized for your child’s patience and stamina levels. Don’t let frustration bubble until it erupts. I wasn’t aware of the homework drama involved in first grade homes until parents told me. One suggestion I had was setting a timer. When it rang, books were closed.
• Remember, it’s not your homework. Don’t do it for your children. Unbelievably I’ve seen well-meaning moms bring their child’s homework to games and openly do in the bleachers.
• Time is up, homework’s done, and supplies are back in the bin. Now it’s time for your child, not you, to place his homework neatly in his backpack, ready for school tomorrow.
In addition to raising three children, POLLY TAFRATE taught in the primary grades at Increase Miller Elementary School in northern Westchester for 25 years. She is now the proud grandmother of five toddlers.