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Homework, Children and Parents - Strategies to Help Not Hassle

Mar 9, 2008
'Have you done your homework?'

'In a minute. I'll do it in a minute.'

How many times and in how many homes does the refrain ring out each night?

Getting a child to do homework - without nagging - is one of the main problems of parents with school aged children For many parents, it is a nightly balancing act between helping and supporting their child - and standing over them.

How Can Parents Help?

* Set a regular time for homework. This immediately eliminates the most common homework hassle. You and your child might decide it will be after school and a snack, or before school when they are fresher. Once that homework time comes around, cling to your cannons and send them off to do it.

* Help them stick to it. A few subtle reminders such as 'Do you want help with the African project now?' are better than the more blunt 'Time for homework now.'

* Provide an area for study. Some kids can concentrate in the busy family room, - just don't turn on the TV or all eyes go to the flickering screen and the brain quickly follows. Other kids like the seclusion of their bedroom, usually with the radio blaring. (Take solace from recent findings - IQ is raised higher by listening to rock music than to classical music.)

* Brainstorm Ideas. Make it a family game. If the project is to design a toy with wheels, it could be a billy cart. Or, with a few zany ideas from you it could be a Ferris wheel, a merry go round, a wheel of fortune...

* Help them locate information. Show them the library is not the only place with information about Cairns. The travel agent, Uncle Pete who lives there, the neighbours who holidayed there are all great sources of facts and fun.

* Discuss problems. Two brains are always better than one. Four or five brains all firing at once are fantastic.

* Teach time management skills. Show children how to break up a major assignment into smaller chunks of work. Make a list of things to be done, suggest deadlines and always allow extra for the trivial finishing touches that take up so much time.

* Never actually do the work yourself. It might be difficult to see the headings crooked and the lines smudged, but grit your teeth and let it go. Homework is about learning, not perfection.

And if They Still Don't Do Homework?

'That's the school's problem, not the family's,' says Rhonda Fitch, a psychologist with many years dealing with school children and their families.

'Fights about homework can be very detrimental to family relationships. If the homework isn't done, let the children go to school without it - and experience the logical consequences of their actions.'

For long term problems, she suggests talking with the teacher. Perhaps the homework is too hard. Or too easy. Perhaps not enough feedback is given.

Frequent, friendly talks can provide valuable information about how the child is working and forge strong links between children, parents and teachers. But in the end 'it is more important to be a parent to your child than a substitute teacher,' says Rhonda.

Am I Doing it Right?

Research has shown that one of the most important things to come out of homework is the quality of time parents and children spend together - not the actual work.

You were your child's first teacher. They learnt to walk and talk didn't they? They learnt to negotiate and share, they understand the importance of helping others, of telling the truth, of loving and giving. After that, helping them with long division should be a cinch.

Besides, you don't have to know all the answers. If you're a bit hazy about why the Wall of China was built, there's nothing wrong with saying 'I'm not sure. Let's see if we can find out.'

That way homework becomes a journey of discovery, a search for knowledge together.

SIDEBAR: The School's Role

It is up to individual schools to set homework guidelines and amounts. The majority of parental complaints to schools are about not enough homework set. However recent research casts doubts on the assumption that homework increases a child's learning performance.

Schools' guidelines should include the following:-

* If children are to value homework, it must be valuable. 'Busy work' will soon be recognised - and just as soon not completed.

* Homework should be linked to classroom activities. If 'Animals' are studied in class, a grammar sheet on England is not particularly appropriate.

* Homework should always be assessed and meaningful feedback given. Written comments tell a child more than a mark out of ten.

* There should be a reasonable time period set for completion. Homework due in 'tomorrow' does not allow for other events in a child's life.

* Schools should remember that learning takes place in many different environments. After school activities such as chess, tennis, woodwork and music lessons, all extend children in a broad and healthy way.

(c) Jen McVeity, National Literacy Champion.
About the Author
The fun Seven Steps to Writing Success program, by successful author, Jen McVeity, is in 900+ schools. Suited to the home school curriculum & gifted children, it has rapidly increased students' writing skills and enjoyment. Visit http://www.sevenstepswriting.com for top writing tips and activities - more in the free Parent Newsletters. Click on 'Sample' tab for a free Story Starters Worksheet.
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