Children need to know that their family members think homework is important. If they know their families care, children have a good reason to complete assignments and to turn them in on time. You can do many things to show your child that you value education and homework.
Set a Regular Time for Homework
Having a regular time to do homework helps children to finish assignments. The best schedule is one that works for your child and your family. What works well in one household may not work in another. Of course, a good schedule depends in part on your child’s age as well as her specific needs. For instance, one child may do homework best in the afternoon, completing homework first or after an hour of play and another may do it best after dinner. However, don’t let your child leave homework to do just before bedtime.
Your child’s outside activities, such as sports or music lessons, may mean that you need a flexible homework schedule. Your child may study after school on some days and after dinner on others. If there isn’t enough time to finish homework, your child may need to drop some outside activity. Let her know that homework is a high priority.
You’ll need to work with your elementary school child to develop a schedule. An older student can probably make up a schedule independently, although you’ll want to make sure that it’s a workable one. You may find it helpful to write out his schedule and put it in a place where you’ll see it often, such as on the refrigerator door.
Some families have a required amount of time that their children must devote to homework or some other learning activities each school night (the length of time can vary depending upon the child’s age). For instance, if your seventh grader knows she’s expected to spend an hour doing homework, reading or visiting the library, she may be less likely to rush through assignments so that she can watch TV. A required amount of time may also discourage her from “forgetting” to bring home assignments and help her adjust to a routine.
Pick a Place
Your child’s homework area doesn’t have to be fancy. A desk in the bedroom is nice, but for many children, the kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just fine. The area should have good lighting and it should be fairly quiet.
Your child may enjoy decorating a special area for homework. A plant, a brightly colored container to hold pencils and some favorite artwork taped to the walls can make homework time more pleasant.
Turn off the TV and discourage your child from making and receiving social telephone calls during homework time. (A call to a classmate about an assignment, however, may be helpful.)
Some children work well with quiet background music, but loud noise from the CD player, radio or TV is not OK. One history teacher laments, “I’ve actually had a kid turn in an assignment that had written in the middle, ‘And George Washington said, “Ohhhhh, I love you.”’ The kid was so plugged into the music that he wasn’t concentrating.”
If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can’t be avoided, your child may want to complete assignments in the local library.
Provide Supplies and Identify Resources
Have available pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper and a dictionary. Other supplies that might be helpful include a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, glue, paste, scissors, a ruler, a calculator, index cards, a thesaurus and an almanac. If possible, keep these items together in one place. If you can’t provide your child with needed supplies, check with her teacher, school guidance counselor or principal about possible sources of assistance.
For books and other information resources, such as suitable computer websites, check with the school library or your local public library. Some libraries have homework centers designed especially to assist children with school assignments (they may even have tutors and other kinds of individual assistance).
You may want to ask your child’s teacher to explain school policy about the use of computers for homework. Certainly, computers are great learning and homework tools. Your child can use her computer not only for writing reports and for getting information through Internet resource sites, but for “talking” with teachers and classmates about assignments. In many schools, teachers post information about homework assignments and class work on their own websites, which also may have an electronic bulletin board on which students can post questions for the teacher and others to answer. (For more information about using the Internet, see the U.S. Department of Education’s booklet, Parents’ Guide to the Internet). However, you don’t have to have a computer in your home for your child to complete homework assignments successfully. Some schools may offer after-school programs that allow your child to use the school computers. And many public libraries make computers available to children.
Set a Good Example
Show your child that the skills he is learning are an important part of the things he will do as an adult. Let him see you reading books, newspapers and computer screens; writing reports, letters, e-mails and lists; using math to balance your checkbook or to measure for new carpeting; doing other things that require thought and effort. Tell your child about what you do at work.
Help your child to use everyday routines to support the skills he is learning—for example, teach him to play word and math games; help him to look up information about things in which he is interested—singers, athletes, cars, space travel and so forth; and talk with him about what he sees and hears as the two of you walk through the neighborhood, go shopping at the mall or visit a zoo or museum.
Be Interested and Interesting
Make time to take your child to the library to check out materials needed for homework (and for enjoyment) and read with your child as often as you can. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your child what was discussed in class that day. If she doesn’t have much to say, try another approach. For example, ask her to read aloud a story she wrote or to talk about what she found out from a science experiment.
Attend school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences, plays, concerts, open houses and sports events. If you can, volunteer to help in your child’s classroom or at special events. Getting to know some of your child’s classmates and their parents builds a support network for you and your child. It also shows your child that his home and school are a team.
How to Help: Monitor Assignments
Children are more likely to complete homework successfully when parents monitor their assignments. How closely you need to monitor your child depends upon her age, how independent she is and how well she does in school. Whatever the age of your child, if she is not getting assignments done satisfactorily, she requires more supervision. Here are some ways to monitor your child’s assignments:
Ask about the School’s Homework Policy
At the start of the school year, ask your child’s teacher about any rules or guidelines that children are expected to follow as they complete homework. Ask about the kinds of assignments that will be given and the purposes for the assignments.
Talk with the teacher about your role in helping with homework. Expectations for parent involvement vary from teacher to teacher. Some teachers want parents to monitor homework closely, whereas others want them simply to check to make sure the assignment is completed on time.
Ask the teacher to call if any problems with homework come up. Let her know that you will do the same.
Many elementary school students often like to have someone with them to answer questions as they work on assignments. If your child is cared for by someone else, talk to that caregiver about how to deal with homework. For an older child, if no one will be around, let him know when you want him to begin work and call to remind him, if necessary.
However, if the teacher has made it known that students are to do homework on their own, limit your assistance to your child to assuring that assignments are clear and that necessary supplies are provided. Too much parent involvement can make children dependent—and takes away from the value of homework as a way for children to become independent and responsible.
Look over Completed Assignments
It’s usually a good idea to check to see that your elementary school child has finished her assignments. If your middle school student is having trouble finishing assignments, check his work, too. After the teacher returns completed homework, read the comments to see if your child has done the assignment satisfactorily.
Monitor Time Spent Viewing TV and Playing Video Games
American children on average spend far more time watching TV or playing video games than they do completing homework. In many homes, more homework gets done when TV viewing and “game” time is limited.
Once you and your child have worked out a homework schedule, take time to discuss how much TV and what programs she can watch. It’s worth noting that television can be a learning tool. Look for programs that relate to what your child is studying in school, such as programs on history or science or dramatizations of children’s literature. When you can, watch shows with your child, discuss them and encourage follow-up activities such as reading or a trip to the museum.
Likewise, limit the amount of time your child spends playing video games. As with TV programs, be aware of the games she likes to play and discuss her choices with her.
How to Help: Provide Guidance
The basic rule is, “Don’t do the assignments yourself.” It’s not your homework—it’s your child’s. “I’ve had kids hand in homework that’s in their parents’ handwriting,” one eighth-grade teacher complains. Doing assignments for your child won’t help him understand and use information. And it won’t help him become confident in his own abilities.
Here are some ways that you can provide guidance without taking over your child’s homework:
Help Your Child Get Organized
Help your child to make a schedule and put it in a place where you’ll see it often. Writing out assignments will get him used to the idea of keeping track of what’s due and when. If your child is not yet able to write, write it for him until he can do it himself.
A book bag or backpack will make it easier for your child to carry homework to and from school. Providing homework folders in which your child can tuck his assignments for safekeeping also can help him to stay organized.
Encourage Good Study Habits
Teachers generally give students tips on how to study. But it takes time and practice to develop good study habits. To reinforce good habits at home, you can:
- Help your child manage time to complete assignments. For example, if your eighth grader has a biology report due in three weeks, discuss all the steps she needs to take to complete it on time, including:
- selecting a topic
- doing the research by looking up books and other materials on the topic and taking notes
- figuring out what questions to discuss
- drafting an outline
- writing a rough draft
- revising and completing the final draft
Encourage your child to make a chart that shows how much time she expects to spend on each step.
- Help your child to get started when he has to do research reports or other big assignments. Encourage him to use the library. If he isn’t sure where to begin, tell him to ask the librarian for suggestions. If he’s using a computer for online reference resources—whether the computer is at home, school or the library—make sure he’s getting whatever help he needs to use it properly and to find age-appropriate websites. Many public libraries have homework centers with tutors or other kinds of one-on-one assistance. After your child has completed the research, listen as he tells you the points he wants to make in the report.
- Give practice tests. Help your third grader prepare for a spelling test by saying the words as she writes them. Have her correct her own test as you spell each word.
- Help your child avoid last-minute cramming. Review with your fifth grader how and what to study for his social studies test long before it’s to be given. You can have him work out a schedule of what he needs to do to, make up a practice test and write down answers to the questions he’s made up.
- Talk with your child about how to take a test. Be sure she understands how important it is to read the instructions carefully, to keep track of the time and to avoid spending too much time on any one question.
Talk about the Assignments
Talking and asking questions can help your child to think through an assignment and break it down into small, manageable parts. Here are some questions to ask.
- Do you understand what you’re supposed to do? After your child has read the instructions, ask her to tell you in her own words what the assignment is about. (If she can’t read yet, the teacher may have sent home instructions that you can read to her.) Some schools have homework hotlines that you can call or websites that you can access by computer for assignments in case your child misplaced a paper or was absent on the day it was given. If your child doesn’t understand the instructions, read them with her and talk about the assignment. Does it have words that she doesn’t know? How can she find out what the words mean? If neither you nor your child understands an assignment, call one of her classmates or get in touch with the teacher.
- Do you need help in understanding how to do this assignment? See if your child needs to learn more, for example, about subtracting fractions before she can do her assignment. Or find out if the teacher needs to explain to her again when to use different kinds of punctuation marks. If you understand the subject yourself, you may want to work through some examples with your child. However, always let her do the assignment herself.
- Do you have everything you need to do the assignment? Sometimes your child needs special supplies, such as colored pencils, metric rulers, calculators, maps or reference books. Check with the teacher, school guidance counselor or principal for possible sources of assistance if you can’t provide the needed supplies. Check with your local library or school library for books and other information resources.
- Does your answer make sense to you? To check that your child understands what he is doing, ask him to explain how he solved a math problem or have him summarize what he has written in a report.
Watch for Frustration
If your child shows signs of frustration, let him take a break. Encourage him and let him see that you know he can do the work.
People of all ages respond to praise. And children need encouragement from the people whose opinions they value most—their families. “Good first draft of your book report!” or “You’ve done a great job” can go a long way toward motivating your child to complete assignments.
Children also need to know when they haven’t done their best work. Make criticism constructive, however. Instead of telling a sixth grader, “You aren’t going to hand in that mess, are you?” say, “The teacher will understand your ideas better if you use your best handwriting.” Then give praise when the child finishes a neat version.
How to Help: Talk with Teachers to Resolve Problems
Homework problems often can be avoided when families and caregivers value, monitor and guide their children’s work on assignments. Sometimes, however, helping in these ways is not enough. If you have problems, here are some suggestions for how to deal with them.
Tell the Teacher about Your Concerns
You may want to contact the teacher if:
- your child refuses to do her assignments, even though you’ve tried hard to get her to do them
- the instructions are unclear
- you can’t seem to help your child get organized to finish the assignments
- you can’t provide needed supplies or materials
- neither you nor your child can understand the purpose of the assignments
- the assignments are too hard or too easy
- the homework is assigned in uneven amounts—for instance, no homework is given on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but on Thursday four assignments are made that are due the next day
- your child has missed school and needs to make up assignments.
In some cases, the school guidance counselor or principal also may be helpful in resolving problems.
Work with the Teacher
Continuing communication with teachers is very important in solving homework problems. As you work with your child’s teacher, here are some important things to remember:
- Talk with each of your child’s teachers early in the school year. Get acquainted before problems arise and let each teacher know that you want to be kept informed. Most elementary and middle schools hold regular parent-teacher conferences or open houses. If your child’s school doesn’t provide such opportunities, call the teacher to set up a meeting.
- Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a homework problem (as well as when you think he’s having any major problems with his schoolwork). Schools have a responsibility to keep you informed about your child’s performance and behavior and you have a right to be upset if you don’t find out until report-card time that your child is having difficulties. On the other hand, you may figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does. By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages.
- Request a meeting with the teacher to discuss homework problems. Tell him briefly why you want to meet. You might say, “Rachel is having trouble with her math homework. I’m worried about why she can’t finish the problems and what we might do to help her.” If English is your second language, you may need to make special arrangements, such as including in the meeting someone who is bilingual. Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit. Believe that the teacher wants to help you and your child, even if you disagree about something. Don’t go to the principal without giving the teacher a chance to work out the problem with you and your child.
- Let the teacher know whether your child finds the assignments too hard or too easy. (Teachers also like to know when their students are particularly excited about an assignment.) Of course, not all homework assignments can be expected to interest your child and be perfectly suited to her. Teachers just don’t have time to tailor homework to the individual needs of each student. However, most teachers want to assign homework that their students can complete successfully and they welcome feedback.
Many teachers structure homework so that a wide range of students will find assignments interesting. For example:
- They offer students options for different approaches to the same topic or lesson
- They give extra assignments to students who want more challenge
- They give specialized assignments to students who are having trouble in a particular area.
- During your meeting with the teacher, explain what you think is going on. In addition, tell the teacher if you don’t know what the problem is. Sometimes a student’s version of what’s going on isn’t the same as the teacher’s version. For example, your child may tell you that the teacher never explains assignments so that he can understand them. But the teacher may tell you that your child isn’t paying attention when assignments are given.
- Work out a way to solve or lessen the problem. The strategy will depend on what the problem is, how severe it is and what the needs of your child are. For instance:
- Is the homework often too hard? Maybe your child has fallen behind and will need extra help from the teacher or a tutor to catch up.
- Does your child need to make up a lot of work because of absences? The first step might be working out schedule with the teacher.
- Does your child need extra support beyond what home and school can give her?
Ask the teacher, school guidance counselor or principal if there are mentor programs in your community. Mentor programs pair a child with an adult volunteer who assists with the child’s special needs. Many schools, universities, community organizations, churches and businesses offer excellent mentoring programs.
- Make sure that communication is clear. Listen to the teacher and don’t leave until you’re sure that you understand what’s being said. Make sure, too, that the teacher understands what you have to say. If, after the meeting, you realize you don’t understand something, call the teacher to clarify.
At the end of the meeting, it may help to summarize what you’ve agreed to do:
OK, so to keep track of Kim’s assignments, I’ll check her assignment book each night and write my initials beside new assignments. Each day you’ll check to make sure she’s written down all new assignments in her book. That way we’ll be certain that I know what her assignments are.
- Follow up to make sure that the approach you agreed to is working. If the teacher told you, for example, that your child needs to spend more time practicing long division, check back in a month to talk about your child’s progress.
Homework can bring together children, families and teachers in a common effort to improve children’s learning.
Helping your child with homework is an opportunity to improve your child’s chances of doing well in school and life. By helping your child with homework, you can help him learn important lessons about discipline and responsibility. You can open up lines of communication—between you and your child and you and the school. You are in a unique position to help your child make connections between school work and the “real world,” and thereby bring meaning (and some enjoyment) to your child’s homework experience.
Reprinted with permission from: U.S. Department of Education; Office of Communications and Outreach; Helping Your Child with Homework; Washington, D.C., 2005