The Homework Battle
Kids know, time is ticking by. The back-to-school ads are out and anticipation is in the air. This excitement is mixed with a healthy dose of dread, or at least concern. Will I like my teacher? Will I be able to find my way around a new school? Who will I sit with at lunch? Parents aren’t immune to this either. Will this year be better or worse than last year? How do I help my child be successful? Will this be another year of fighting over homework? Ugh! Homework!
Homework doesn’t have to be the frontline battle of an all out war this year. Whether your child is entering kindergarten or is a full-fledged teen, simple habits make for great academic success. Putting a few systems in place and committing to a plan can save you big time as the school year proceeds. I’ll admit up front, change is never easy. But, it’s worth it! It also doesn’t matter if you, yourself, were not a good student. You don’t have to be perfect, just try to be consistent.
Ideally, homework is meant to be the practice of a skill that the child has already learned at school through direct instruction from the teacher. The child should be doing the work, not the parent. In addition, homework should not be taking all evening, every evening. If the work, minus breaks and diversions, is taking more than one hour for elementary kids or two hours for middle schoolers, I recommend writing a note on the homework, or shooting off a quick email to ask the teacher how long the work should take. There may be a misunderstanding in directions, the child may be taking home classwork that didn’t get done in addition to homework (for whatever reason), or the homework may need to be reduced. Healthy communication is the key here.
At home, identify an area where your child can work. This may be a desk if you have one, or the kitchen table. As you collect supplies for school, you want to make sure you have the same supplies at home and a box or bin for them. If you are on a limited income, check out local churches that are giving away free backpacks this time of year. You can also buy used supplies at low prices at your local second-hand stores. It’s important to eliminate arguments over missing pencils or paper so work can begin right away.
Develop a routine. At our house, we decided our son would take the first hour after school to get a snack and decompress. We color-coded his subject folders so he could visually glance at what work he had brought home. If your child has organizational problems, you may want to have one take-home folder where everything goes. Use one side of the folder for work not done and one side for finished work. A routine is particularly difficult for a single parent who works odd hours. Try making a checklist that the child checks off and you look over when you get home. You can always build in a reward system for this, too. For young children you may want to consider an after school program for support. Ask your child’s teacher or counselor for help-- keep those lines of communication open!
Begin the year showing your child how to prioritize. Pull out all of his work and look at due dates. Pick an order in which to do the work; hardest to easiest, shortest to longest-- let the child take ownership and decide. Use a calendar to break up big assignments by writing in dates when each bit will be done and revise it as you go. Familiarize yourself with online postings as well. Children are very adept at this and can show you how to look up their assignments. Your parental homework is to learn how to access these tools. They are here to stay and your child needs you to know how to use them!
Finally, I encourage parents to have an end of homework ritual. Everything gets put away and the child’s bookbag goes by the door. Everything for the next day should be in the book bag ready to go except for food. Lunch can be made the night before and brown-bagged in the fridge. This eliminates a crisis in the morning when everyone is going a million miles trying to get out the door.
Children will never say it, but they thrive on structure. It’s comforting for them to know that you are in charge and care about their progress. Changes always begin with resistance, but self-control inevitably brings order and then peace follows. Implementing a few new habits this year could make a real difference for your child’s success and your sanity.