It’s 9 p.m., there’s a pile of books and papers spread across the kitchen table and your child is practically in tears. They’re not even halfway through the assignment due the next day, and they’re panicking because they can’t find the info sheet explaining a crucial part of the project. Sound familiar?
Every parent with a school-age child has likely experienced “homework heartbreak” — that moment when you throw your hands up in despair, literally or figuratively, at the sometimes astonishing amount of homework kids are toting home each day.
Various studies have shown that kids in high school all the way down to first grade are spending one, two, even three hours or more on homework each day. But there are tips and tools you can turn to — homework “best practices,” if you will — that can help your child more effectively manage their academic workload.
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Get them moving
Encourage kids to expel some energy before sitting down to hit the books, perhaps by tossing a ball, riding a bike or shaking it off with a mini dance party. It’ll help younger children focus, and help relieve stress in older kids. Once they start studying, brief periodic breaks to stretch or do something else physical, like jumping jacks or jogging in place, are a good way to keep kids feeling refreshed so they can continue their work.
Create a homework-friendly environment
Just like adults, different kids need different workspaces in order to do their best. So while your tween may feel more comfortable doing homework sprawled out on her bedroom floor, your third-grader may prefer setting up his books in the living room. Whatever space they choose, make sure it’s clean, clutter-free and quiet. Materials and supplies should be close at hand, so no time is wasted searching for a highlighter, binder clip or crayons. If they’re using a laptop or a computer to do their work, make it clear that web surfing and online games are off the table until all assignments have been completed.
Help your child develop good organizational habits that’ll keep them on top of their work. Have them create a checklist of their assignments, organized by due date and with notes detailing any particular needs, such as a book that must be borrowed from the library or special materials for a presentation. Keep homework and important related information in a brightly colored folder with two pockets. Tell your child to place all assignments in the left pocket when received, and in the right pocket when finished. This way students know where everything is, and you’ll know where to look to confirm they’re staying on track. Use separate folders for specific projects/subjects for older kids.
Keep them company
Sitting beside or working quietly near your child as they do their homework can be incredibly grounding, and can keep them on task for things on which they’d otherwise struggle to stay focused. For younger children, it’s a must, as they need guidance and constructive intervention to get through their work. For older kids, knowing you’re available should they need help or a sounding board for their ideas can alleviate homework anxiety. This is a terrific role for older siblings to take on, too.
Be in the know
You are your child’s first, best teacher, so be involved and stay informed. Log in regularly to student and parent portal web resources offered by schools that track assignments and tests. When meeting with teachers ask for their organizational tips and classroom rules. Familiarize yourself with their expectations of your child, and then discuss those goals with them directly. Encourage your child to exchange numbers with a hard-working classmate they can call if they miss school or need help navigating an assignment.
Find extra help when they need it
While you, of course, shouldn’t do your children’s homework for them, cumulative topics like math are areas where parents should follow their children’s work to discuss their assignments and progress. If your child is having persistent difficulty in grasping a new concept, communicate that to their teacher. Inquire if the class level is correct for your child and ask if there’s tutoring available at the school. Free or low-cost homework resources include the online Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) as well as online tutoring accessible through the Miami-Dade Public Library System (www.mdpls.org).
Academic achievement, and a feeling of control and accomplishment in the classroom and on the home front is the payoff, when homework is done well and on time.
Children’s Trust Senior Program Manager Bevone Ritchie, M.S., in guidance and counseling, oversees a wide range of parenting programs across the county. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.