Parental support is shown as a key element for a successful student, but sometimes the line begins to blur regarding how much help is too much. Parents want their child to do well, so they "help" out as much as possible on homework, projects, and reports. The problem is that the student is not getting the benefit from those assignments: review of material and independent skills assessment. So how much help is too much? If parents follow these simple guidelines they can avoid making this error.
A common scene in my classroom: Johnny, a struggling student with reading difficulties, has just handed in a report on Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing. The plot analysis is spot on, not a single misspelled word, and the vocabulary usage is phenomenal. If this were a high school classroom, I might think Johnny used the internet, but this is 4th grade and something much worse has happened: an overzealous parent. Parental support is shown as a key element for a successful student, but sometimes the line begins to blur regarding how much help is too much. Parents want their child to do well, so they “help” out as much as possible on homework, projects, and reports. The problem is that the student is not getting the benefit from those assignments: review of material and independent skills assessment. So how much help is too much? If parents follow these simple guidelines they can avoid making this error.
1. Review all directions and expectations of the assignment with your child. Help him gather whatever materials he will need, and set him up in a location with minimal distractions.
2. Have the student complete the assignment first without your help. Ignore all whining; encourage him to do as much of the assignment as he can and to try his best. You will help him after you’ve seen an effort. (Children are very intelligent, if you are a known “overhelper” they WILL take advantage.)
3. Review the student’s work, circling errors that you see as you go. If you see the same error made repeatedly, go over that particular item with the child. Explain why it is wrong and show an example of how to do it correctly. Then have the child go back and fix his mistakes.
4. Often times with projects, students don’t actually need help with the informational part, they need help with structure and design. It is ok to help with design ideas and formatting, it is not ok to give your child the information to do the homework.
5. Some things to remember: If your child doesn’t know the meaning of a word, he shouldn’t be using it in a sentence. If your child is not the best artist or writer or typist, that’s okay. The teacher will be grading him based on student standards, not grown-up standards. Encourage neatness, but remember it doesn’t need to be perfect. When one of my 4th graders turns in a document with perfect formatting and fancy fonts, I know the parent typed it, because that just isn’t 4th grade level work.
6. And finally, you are not the teacher. If your child really doesn’t understand something, don’t complete the work for him! The teacher won’t know the student is struggling. When I see incorrect homework, it tells me I need to work harder with that student, homework is like a red flag. If you fix all of the mistakes, how will I know where to help? I tell my parents to have the student complete what he can and jot a note to me letting me know where they struggled. Struggling students require a team effort.
Pam Zimmer works as a teacher, advocate, and director of children’s educational programming on Long Island. She has an MS in Childhood and Special Education that she has put to use as a 4th grade teacher in Valley Stream Christian Academy, and now as the Director of Camp Kehilla, a special needs program of the Sid Jacobson JCC. In her spare time she works to advocate for parents of special needs children, offering educational workshops and support.