13 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed at School Work

By Janeen Lewis

When you think of the new school year do you envision stacks of books, piles of unfinished assignments and late-night study sessions? Let’s face it – homework can be hard for parents and children. But for savvy moms and dads, homework can be a connection to what their children are learning in school. Follow these tips, and even the most homework-challenged parent can trade in the aspirin for a successful year of homework help.

1. Understand the reason for homework: Homework reinforces what is being taught in the classroom and teaches students important life skills—responsibility, time management and task completion. That means parents shouldn’t be doing the homework for their children, and children should be able to complete the work with little help from parents. Your child shouldn’t come home with an entirely new concept to learn. Homework should be practice or an extension of what they’ve already learned.

2. Know the teacher’s philosophy: Teachers have different philosophies about how much homework to assign. Some think piling on a ton of homework helps build character. Others think children have done enough work during the day and don’t assign any. Understand where your child’s teacher falls on the homework spectrum so you are not surprised as the homework does (or doesn’t) come home. If you are unsure of what a reasonable amount of homework is, The National Education Association and The National Parent Teacher Association recommend 10-20 minutes of homework per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade after that.

3. Learn what the homework rules are: At Open House night, learn the homework policy of the school and your child’s teacher. How will the teacher treat lost or forgotten homework? What are the consequences?  Don’t be quick to bail your child out every time you get a frantic text message about forgotten homework. Remember, one of the purposes of homework is to teach your child responsibility.

4. Get organized: Your child should have a backpack and homework folder to carry assignments between home and school. Teachers of primary students usually send homework correspondence each night. As students get older, however, teachers usually expect them to write down homework lessons. If your older child’s teacher doesn’t require students to record school work in an assignment book, provide one yourself and teach your child how to fill it out.

5. Schedule a consistent time: With sports, service projects, church and community activities, it can be hard to schedule one set time every day to do homework. Aim for as much consistency as possible when scheduling homework around after-school activities. In the end, if an activity begins to get in the way of completing school work, limit it. Send the message that school work is important.

6. Designate a study space: Pick a homework space free from distractions. However, consider your child’s personality and ability to focus when selecting a homework station. Some children concentrate best in complete quiet at the kitchen table or a desk. Others study well on their bed with background music. And reading areas can be creative like a reading tent or comfy bean bag. Make study areas free from video games, television and the games of other siblings who finish homework early.

7. Create a supply caddy: Fill a plastic caddy or bin organizer with items your child might need for homework. Some good supplies are pencils, markers, crayons, glue, tape, stapler, three-hole punch, paper clips, notebook paper, art paper, graph paper, calculator, protractor, compass, ruler and a dictionary/thesaurus combo. Also provide a wipe-off calendar for important due dates.

8. Be available, but don’t do the work for them: Helping your child with homework is a great way to connect with them, and it keeps you on top of what they are learning. But don’t spoon feed answers. The whole point of homework is for children to practice skills independently.

9. Keep a resource bookshelf: Can’t remember what a gerund is? Are you a little rusty on what the term “denominator” means? Keep an assortment of reference books or save online references to your Favorites list on your computer. A good math dictionary for parents of elementary students is Math Dictionary: Homework Help for Families by Judith de Klerk. Another great resource is the Everything You Need to Know About Homework Series Set by Anne Zeman and Kate Kelly.

10. Model learning as a priority: Let your child see you reading the newspaper or books. Discuss current events, politics or the new art or history museum you want to visit. Find exciting tidbits in their homework lessons and do an Internet search to find out more. Show by example that learning is fun and they will want to follow in your footsteps.

11. Encourage: No matter how tired you are, have a positive attitude about the work your child is doing. Encourage their efforts even if they are struggling and let them know you are proud of them.

12. Reward: Homework rewards don’t have to be elaborate, although you may want to up the ante for a struggling child or one who is hard to motivate. A reward can be something as simple as a fun activity when they finish. But you can also keep a homework incentive chart and let your child earn a special activity with mom or dad, some extra screen time or a dinner out.

13. Don’t be afraid to speak up: If you think too much homework is coming home, that your child isn’t familiar with the material or that they are struggling, don’t be too intimidated to schedule a conference with your child’s teacher. Most teachers welcome feedback and want to help your child succeed.

Help! Troubleshooting Common School Work Struggles

What if
….my child breezes through homework or is under challenged in school?

Talk to your child’s teacher about giving your child more challenging work. If your child still seems to be on Easy Street, you might consider having him or her tested for the gifted program. Finally, if the problem persists over time, ask to have your child promoted or see if he or she can take classes in areas of strength in a higher grade.

…my child is getting too much homework?
Too much homework can be a drain on family time. And if your child is spending hours completing homework every night, they may get burnt out. Talk to other parents in your child’s class to see if they are encountering the same problem. Then approach your child’s teacher diplomatically with the problem. If the problem doesn’t get any better you might consider discussing it with the administration or the school’s Parent Teacher Association to see if a more reasonable and uniform policy can be decided for the school.

…my child is taking too long to complete homework?
If you have a good homework routine in place, and your child is working hard but struggling, don’t panic. Sometimes kids take longer to learn some skills than others. But if the problem becomes pervasive, this could be a sign your child needs some extra help. Consider hiring a tutor or see if your school offers homework help at its after school program. If your child begins to fall behind, testing him or her might be a good course of action to rule out any learning challenges. Remember, keep an upbeat attitude. Don’t lose heart, and chances are your child won’t either.

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