When it comes to their attitudes toward school and approaches to homework, my two boys couldn’t be more different. The oldest is an introvert. He loves learning and is a high achiever, now excelling in college. I rarely needed to help him with homework, and it was not a stressful experience for either of us. As soon as he got home from school, he did his homework with no prompting and finished it quickly.
My youngest son is an extrovert. His favorite parts of school are before and after school, lunch, and PE because he gets to play and interact with his friends. He’s a bright boy, but to sit down and work math problems, practice spelling words, and write essays is “boring” and tedious to him. I’ve come to dread homework time after school because it can be so stressful on both of us. I work as an academic support coordinator for a middle/high school, and sometimes I like a failure with my own son. It’s easier telling other parents how to help their kids manage homework and when to back off–much harder when it’s my own kid!
Some days are better than others, and fortunately, the good days seem to be increasing. I think my son’s growing maturity has a lot to do with it. Beyond that, I credit the following:
1. Homework is a non-negotiable–for the most part (I’ll get to that in #3). It’s a priority in our household and comes before any “screen” time. I’ve heard many parents say that their kids need a break after school before doing homework. I agree to an extent, but I believe that unless the child lives right next door to the school, the walk or drive home has already been a long enough break. I expect my son to begin homework within the first 15 minutes after arriving home while his brain is still in learning mode. If I let him watch TV or play video games first, it is much harder to get his brain refocused for school work.
2. Before beginning homework, my son has a few tasks: Empty his lunch bag and water bottle, put his shoes away, hang up his jacket, eat a relatively healthy snack with some protein and/or complex carbs (think apple slices and peanut butter, skim milk, fat free Fig Newtons, string cheese, yogurt, Wheat Thins, etc.), and clean up the snack. This takes about 15 minutes, and then it’s time to crack the books.
3. My son began to turn a corner when he realized that I was on his side and would advocate on his behalf if I believe the day’s homework load was unreasonable or if extenuating circumstances made homework a low priority on a (rare) given day. Fourth grade was a particularly difficult year for him. After talking with his teacher, she agreed that I could jot a note letting her know that he did not do all his homework, why he didn’t, when he would get to it, and what he needed to accomplish it (if extra help was required). I only had to do this a couple of times that school year, but those times went a long way for convincing my son that I had his back–that HE was more important to me than his accomplishments. However, he did not get screen time those days. He could still play with Legos or with other toys, but no TV or video games.
4. I praise hard work when he brings home A’s and B’s on tests and assignments. I’ll praise C’s in his most difficult subjects if I know he did his best and tell him how proud I am of him. As long as I know he studied, I’ll ignore his D’s and F’s, unless he’s allowed to make corrections for more points. If he doesn’t study before a test and earns low scores, however, he loses screen time as a consequence. Over time, the high scores have increased as he’s experienced the pride of doing well, and the low scores have decreased.
5. My son likes it when homework is turned into a game. I’ve Googled “math games,” “pronoun games,” “states and capitals games,” and other such topics to find online games he can play to strengthen his knowledge and skills. I am nearby to make sure he’s actually learning and understanding. In addition to online spelling games, I’ve used an individual white board with him for spelling practice. He responds to that much better than practicing with a pencil on notebook paper. He’s enjoyed challenges using the kitchen timer as well. I set the timer for 10 minutes and challenge him to complete five math problems or answer five chapter review questions within that time.
6. I’ve created a homework zone for him. A bookcase in my dining room contains everything he needs to organize and complete homework: Notebook paper, pencils, pens, eraser, glue sticks, scissors, markers, colored pencils, dictionary, extra folders, hole punch, hole reinforcers, small white board, pencil sharpener (preferably electric or battery-powered). The computer and a stapler are nearby. Everything he needs is easy to find to cut down on frustration.
I’d love to hear from you about how you help your child manage homework. What has worked for you?