Helping with homework
By Monica Gutherie
After doing some very unprofessional data collecting, my studies show that for the most part, children think homework stinks. My oldest especially is getting to an age where we aren’t coloring anymore or tracing letters. We are into pre-algebra and learning about the Romanesque vs Gothic architecture. Homework is becoming more and more difficult so here are my tips to help.
- Talk to the teachers.Soon after school began, I got off work a bit early and made a trip to the school to talk to my oldest son’s teachers. It was a great experience and they almost all said they wished more parents had the opportunity to come talk to them. What I learned, among other things, was that math homework was designed to take between 15-20 minutes. So when my son took an hour to do his homework I knew he either wasn’t taking his task seriously (or maybe trying to get out of chores) or that he needed more help in class. By talking with the teacher I was able to find out what the homework expectations were and I was also able to guide my child to ask the teacher for more help when he was struggling.
- Have a homework planner.I make my oldest write all of his assignments in a planner. It was a battle when we started but now he knows that’s where it needs to be. It helps him stay on track and helps me keep him accountable.
- Snack/Reset time.There is about 20 minutes of a free-for-all moment when we get home. Snacks are eaten, bathroom trips are taken, stairs are climbed repeatedly, they change into comfortable clothes, make loud noises, share stories, chase each other – there’s a lot going on. And I let it happen. I consider it a kind of reset. Then we get back to work.
- Make them do homework in front of you.Both of my children know that homework is done in the dining room while I’m getting dinner ready. The location is prime because the distractions are low (you can’t see a TV, and I have my oldest sit facing away from the living room), and because when they are tempted to get distracted, I’m there to remind them to work on focusing. Also, when they have a question, I can have them skip it and come back later –or- help them if they’ve been struggling for a while (all while doing dishes). The youngest still likes to hold up his paper for me to see his work from across the room. I’m going to miss that one day.
- Set the mood.Sometimes I’ll turn on some soft music, or get my diffuser going with something that smells great to them. It helps them relax and, hopefully, makes them not dread having to homework as much.
- Take time to go over their homework.Without going into too much detail, my life is scheduled out to the minute from Monday to Friday afternoon - but I make it a point to look over their homework, or to ask them about it if I don’t have a lot of time. Sometimes that means I am hearing the story of Rikki Tikki Tavi while we are driving to taekwondo, and then doing reading comprehension on the drive back. Sometimes that means I’m looking at math homework while they are taking a shower. I’m not perfect at it, but they know there’s a strong chance I’m going to ask to see their homework.
- Don’t DO their homework.It can be tempting to just give them the answer, especially if they are struggling, but your child won’t learn that way. Try asking leading questions or rephrasing information.
- Prep for the future. This goes back to talking with the teacher and reading the syllabus. Most of my eldest’s teachers will let him know what the homework is going to be for the week. So on slow days, we get a head start on future homework and projects. Just today my son got his study guide for a test in 8 days. I had a proud-mom moment when he, without prompt, started studying it when he got done with his homework.
- Don’t give empty threats.My children love their extracurricular activities – but they knows if homework isn’t done, they doesn’t go. It only took two times of my oldest missing key events before he took me very seriously. Those extracurricular activities cost ME money – and he saw that I was willing to literally put my money where my mouth was. For you it may be “no dessert” or “limited screen time” or something else. Whatever arrangement you make with your children, stick to it. *Obviously there are situations that require leniency – do teach grace and forgiveness, but for the most part, stick to your plan.
- Keep calm.This one is for me. I am a terrible teacher. I lack patience and sometimes (lots of times) I get frustrated and erupt. That doesn’t help anyone. Who has a suggestion for what I do here?
- Encourage them to ask for help.After a few weeks of asking my son “did you ask any questions in class today” he finally started asking questions in class! Additionally, when there are after-school study opportunities, I encourage him to take them – reminding him of our other extracurricular activities so that he prioritizes understanding the material.
- Talk to the teachers.I know I already said this before but it’s worth mentioning twice. I will check grades online, email or send messages to the teachers when I have a concern about my son’s progress, I keep the communication lines open. In return, they are comfortable reaching out to me when they see something that might be concerning. NOTE – I never take sides. Teaching is hard and teachers get all my respect. I always come to them with the mindset that I want to help them with their job and I want to know what they think may be the best way to do that.
- Who doesn’t like to be rewarded for good work? Praise them when they make good choices (like doing homework or studying early). If it’s been an especially difficult subject, or if they have maintained a great attitude or gotten excellent grades, reward that hard work with a special treat – could be a cupcake or ice cream, maybe more screen time, or a trip to somewhere fun.
Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees.
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