It's that time of year, when the lazy days of summer come to an end. When the school bell rings, signaling that it's back to the hectic morning routines, bus stops, school lunches, recess, and the dreaded 'homework horrors'.
While some schools are adopting a 'no homework' approach, most schools still give homework nightly. The purpose of homework is to provide an opportunity to reinforce and practice newly learned concepts and review previously learned material. Because of demanding curriculum and expectations for learned skills, homework provides your child with the opportunity to practice and acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be a competent learner.
Whether you are fan of homework or not, the reality is that as kids get older and attend high school and hopefully go on to college, they will be expected to do homework. So why not give your kids a leg up and help them learn good homework habits while they are young?
If your child is like mine, to say they are not excited to do homework is an understatement. They come home from school with lots of energy to burn and no desire to get back to the books. If you have heard, "I hate homework!", "Why do I have to do homework" or "I don't have any homework", you are not alone. Or, your child may rush through their homework, putting any answer down, just to get it done and over with.
The other scenario is that you spend night after night sitting for hours with your child in order to help them with their homework to the point where you dread homework as much as your child does?
IF any of this sounds familiar at your house when it's time for homework, then you may be dealing with what I call the 'Homework Horrors'?
Don't despair, if your child struggles with homework and you experience 'Homework Horrors', then give some of these suggestions a try. Let me know how it goes and share some things that work for your kids.
Feed the Brain
What I have learned from years of working with children in after school programs and with my own children is that kids can't focus if they are hungry and they are always hungry when they get home from school. Healthy snacks are great for fueling your hungry child. Things like fruits and veggie sticks with peanut butter to dip, or some yogurt sprinkled with granola and berries can give kids the energy they need to focus and get their homework done. Kids can even be part of making the snack. Have them help cut up the fruit, spread the peanut butter or scoop the yogurt.
Movement or Quiet Activity Time
Every child is different. Some need physical activity and some need some quiet time after school. You know your child best. If they are bursting with energy and need to get that out with some gross motor movement, then make sure they have an opportunity to run and climb. If your child likes to come home from school and needs some quiet time, let them listen to music or watch TV for a short time. Sometimes you can mix it up and let them choose their own activity from a list of things that you establish ahead of time.
Consistent Schedule and Space
After snack time and activity time, have your child help you pick a time every day that will be Homework Start Time. My kids would get off the bus around 3:00 pm and we ate dinner at 6:00 pm. One of my children picked 4:00 pm to do her homework. My other child decided that he liked doing his homework after dinner, so he picked 7:00 pm.
Whatever works for your family's schedule will work here, but be consistent. If they pick a time, have this be the time everyday. Not to say that this is written in stone and can't be changed, but the rule is that when they pick a time they had to stick with that time for two weeks. If after two weeks, they didn't like that time, then they could change it. Of course that new time would be in place for two weeks, etc. This was to avoid the often used strategy of my third child - avoidance. He would pick a time until it was that time and then want to change it to later. Kids are so cute.
It's important that they have a space that is free from distraction. some kids do homework in their bedroom or at the dining room table. As long as it's not in front of the television, whatever works for your child is OK. Again, be consistent and have them stick with it for a couple of weeks. I try to have them within eyesight, but I don't sit with them. Homework should really be for them to practice what they learn. If they are not able to do it or actually get things wrong, that's ok. The teacher needs to know what they know. If you correct it or (I know none of you do this) do the assignment for them, then how will the teacher know what your child is learning? I repeat, if they get it wrong, it's OK. That's how kids learn... from mistakes. A lot of time, they will correct homework in class the next day, so this is where kids see where they made mistakes and can understand where they went wrong.
Check in, but don't do
This is where I reinforce that parents are parents, not teachers. It took me quite a while to realize that my job is to parent not teach. I provide the snack, activity, space, consistent schedule and monitor that they are getting their homework done. Don't get me wrong, if my child is a little confused or doesn't understand the directions, I will help explain what to do or do one example, but I know some parents that sit there and do the whole assignment.
I remember this one family that I worked with. The child was on an IEP and her grades were passing, but less than stellar. She would cry and refuse to go to school every morning. The parent was concerned that there was something going on at school causing her child to struggle. So we scheduled a meeting with the teacher. When we met with the teacher, she told us that while the child did well on her homework assignments, she struggled with her classwork and exams. Turns out the parent was doing the homework in order to avoid the meltdowns and emotional upheaval that homework caused. This mom had good intentions, but the child was so lost in school with her classwork and exams because she wasn't doing the homework that would have reinforced her learning. This caused the child to feel so overwhelmed that she wanted to avoid the whole situation by not going to school. The teacher and parent came up with a plan to communicate and support the child with her homework using the strategies I've laid out here. By the end of the school year, the child was doing well academically, there were fewer homework horrors and no more school avoidance.
Maybe you're the parent that doesn't help nightly with homework, but reserve your 'help' for important projects. Have you ever gone to an event at the school where kids are presenting their projects? You can easily see the difference between ones that were made by the parents and the ones made by the kids. Lets face it, we all want our child to shine and succeed, but they also deserve the opportunity to be proud of their accomplishment. If you've done all the work and they get the praise, it's not meaningful for them because it's not their work. So a good rule of thumb is help and suggest, but let them do it.
This is a block of time that you set up for kids to work on their homework. This strategy is used to deter kids from rushing through and putting any random answer on their assignment. This also avoids the other extreme where kids are doing homework for hours upon hours. How do you know how much time they should work on each subject?
I usually check in with the teacher and ask how much time is typical for homework per subject. For example, if the teacher says it should take no longer than 20 minutes per subject. I set the timer for 20 minutes. I tell them that they have to work for 20 minutes. If they get done early, they can do additional problems, read or write. If they take longer than 20 minutes, I stop them at the 20 minute mark and as long as they worked hard for the whole time, I count that as done. I write a little note to the teacher that my child worked for 20 minutes and to please grade him on what is completed.
Make sure you let the teacher know ahead of time that you will be doing this. You don't want your child to get into trouble. I usually let the teacher know when I ask about how much time it should take to do the homework. The teacher is usually really understanding.
This strategy worked really well for my child who has a processing disorder. It would take him an awfully long time to do his assignments. Talk about Homework Horrors. I felt terrible for him before I started to use this strategy. After he had Homework Block, there were no more tears. He would even ask to keep going after the timer went off if he had just one or two more problems. It really took the pressure off. This strategy works great for kids who get overwhelmed when they look at all the homework they have to do. Just have them focus on that subject or assignment for the 20 minutes.
Slowing down and using the whole time is really helpful for when my other child would rush through. After we started Homework Block time, he slowed down because it didn't make sense for him to speed through as he would then have to do more problems or read.
For kids who have executive functioning challenges, helping them get and stay organized is vital. They can't do their homework if they don't have the materials or don't know their assignment. Using an agenda book, or school planner can be really helpful. Establish a system for keeping all of their papers in one place. Some kids like a color coded folder system. Some do well with 'to do' and 'done' folders. My son liked an accordion folder with each tab labeled for all of his subjects. He would put his papers in the right section at school and when the homework was done, put it back in that same section so that he could turn it in the following day.
To break down long assignments or projects, use the agenda book to schedule in time each night or week to work towards getting it done by the due date. Schedule it in using a Homework Block or have it as a standby if they finish another subject early. They can use that extra time to work on their project.
Again, having good communication with the teacher is so helpful. If your child has trouble with organization, you can always reach out to the teacher to get information about the forgotten assignment or if he didn't write it down in the agenda book.
These strategies will not only eliminate the Homework Horrors, but will also help your child learn lifelong skills that they can use throughout their education career.
Communicate with teacher
Throughout these strategies, I've talked about communicating with the teacher. Parent and teacher communication is one of the most important things you can do to avoid the 'Homework Horrors'. Finding out what amount of time it should take for each assignment will help when you set up homework block. Knowing about future projects and when they are due will enable you to help your child with organization. Getting that missing or forgotten assignment for those homework mishaps, can be alleviated with good communication.
Having good communication can also help avoid problems or address issues before they become bigger issues. Learning about areas where your child is struggling can signal other problems that may be addressed with some accommodations or through the IEP.
While nothing is foolproof, I've used all of these with my own children and they've worked with my clients' children. So, avoid the 'Homework Horrors' by using these ideas. I'd love to hear if they help your child and especially about your ideas that work for your child. Please share any strategies that you use to combat the 'Homework Horrors'.
Be on the lookout for the next post "Organization for Effective Advocacy - Binder your documents!!!"