School is out – or nearly so – just about everywhere around the country. Parents – and kids – are heaving huge sighs of relief because the nightly battle over homework is over for another year. If your home is anything like mine, homework often takes far longer than it “should” before it’s completed. We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the best ways to make it less painful for everyone involved, and we’ve had a lot of success with some of the things we’ve implemented.
Although it’s summer, our school believes in keeping the mind active so that you don’t end up with the dreaded summer learning loss. To that end, each of the wee ones has a math workbook to complete, and they are also asked to read for at least 15 minutes every single day. The reading is not a problem in our house, and we work on the math book 3 pages each day. This is a great chance to introduce new habits for the upcoming school year to help make homework go more quickly and improve study habits.
We’ve seen a difference, and I’d love to share my top 15 homework helpers with you.
Top 15 Homework Tips
1. Set up a dedicated homework area. Whether your child does homework at the kitchen table, a designated desk, or wherever you determine, make that a designated homework zone so that your child has appropriate space to work.
2. Have all supplies available in the homework zone. As a corollary to the first tip, have everything you need right there. If you’re working at a desk, it’s easy to put the pens, markers, scissors, protractors, calculators, thesauruses – whatever your child needs – in the desk drawer so there is no need to get up and hunt, disrupting the focus on homework. If you’re doing homework at the kitchen table, create a homework bin like the one I have for my car that you can pull out whenever your child sits down to work.
3. Ensure the homework zone is free from distractions. That means more than just turning off the tv. Clear off the work surface so that only the homework your child is working on at the moment is visible. Don’t have your desk stacked with books and papers from school, erasers, little toys, and the like. It’s too easy to start focusing on them – or on homework that is yet to come – rather than the task at hand.
4. Create a homework schedule, and stick to it. Some kids are great first thing in the morning, while others are more clearheaded after school. Figure out when your child works best, and do the majority of your homework then. I have a friend who dedicates 6-7am every morning to her son’s homework because that’s when he’s best able to focus. Here, we do most homework after the wee ones have gotten home from school, had a snack (with protein), and relaxed for a few minutes. Every child is different, and fitting your routine to their abilities makes it easier.
5. Spread out projects. This is a no-brainer. I know I’m not the only one who wrote term papers in college mere hours before they were due, cranking out pages after page as fast as I possibly could. It was a ton of stress, and I worried about it before I started it – plus, it was never my best work. Instead, sit down with your child (until they’re able to do this on their own) and discuss any school projects and plan out what work you’ll do when so that it isn’t overwhelming.
6. Do homework in advance when you can. Mister Man had two weekly assignments this year. He had a social studies/online research set of questions that was due every Friday, and he had a reading response that was due every Wednesday. We chose to complete both of those on the weekends instead of waiting. We had more time available and flexibility to work on weekends, and tha freed up time during the week for any unexpected homework that popped up. This works great for any homework that you know you have on a regular basis, and though Mister Man hated that we made him finish them early, he was always grateful and happy to finish them early and not worry about them during the week.
7. Be visible but not obtrusive. Especially for little kids, it’s easy to get off task. Don’t disappear while your child is working if they have a tendency to lose focus. While they need to learn to do their homework on their own at some point, you need to know if they’re hard at work or staring off into space… or building LEGOs. Don’t hover and dictate their every move, but be able to keep an eye out.
8. Know when to take a break. There are days when your child may have a legitimate two hours of homework, or their 5 minute math sheet may take them two hours. Sitting working on homework for two straight hours, especially if they’re not making much progress can be tough. Set a timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, let them have a five minute break to stretch, read a book, play with LEGOs, something to relax them so they can get back to work. As they get older, set the timer for progressively longer stretches before giving them a 5 minute break each half hour when they need it.
9. Don’t escalate the situation. We’ve all been there. It’s an easy problem, but our child is simply stuck. Nothing we say helps because they’ve put blinders on. It’ so easy to feed on their frustration and build it up so that you’re just as – if not more – frustrated than they are. Shockingly, this never seems to help in our household. Instead, me taking a deep breath and separating myself from my child’s frustration so that I can react calmly is the only solution that doesn’t end in tears.
10. Take an exercise break. When your child gets frustrated, resetting his system can make a big difference. A lot of this can be accomplished with “heavy work” or some quick calisthenics. Do some push ups or carry a load of books across the room. Run around the house three times or do 30 jumping jacks. It’s partly about the distraction, but it’s more about getting your body out of the bad pattern and ready to work again.
11. Make it relateable to your kids. When doing math problems, Mister Man sometimes gets stuck and says it’s too hard. It’s amazing to me, however, when I turn a three step math problem into a word problem involving LEGOs. He adores them, and suddenly, he’s paying attention to the numbers and doing what he’s supposed to do. Instead of having math be abstract numbers, make it mean something to your kids when they get stuck. Talk about buying 13 ice cream cones and eating 6 and wanting to know how many you have left. Say there are four race cars and you get six more for your birthday and now you want to know how many you have. Get creative and find a way to make the math mean something to your kids. For math, manipulatives tend to make a big difference, too. Draw out the problem or have a container of pennies you can use to illustrate the problem and make it more concrete.
12. Help break it down into steps. Whenever we do a writing assignment, Mister Man tenses up. He starts writing and goes bare bones, with the minimum he thinks he can get away with because he doesn’t know what to write. He’s a very creative and articulate child, however, and I found that spending three or five minutes before he starts writing talking about what he wants to say and bouncing ideas back and forth, he suddenly has some great inspiration and writes a great response. Ask the leading questions – why do you think? what happened when? where was your favorite? And lead them down the path of organizing that into the writing assignment. As they get more comfortable with it, pass off more and more of the responsibility for figuring this out onto them.
13. When all else fails, throw in the towel. Yes, really. There are some days and some homework assignments that will just not click with your child. Especially when they’re in elementary school, know where the stopping point is. If you’re spending two hours on an assignment and making no progress, quit. Turn it in incomplete or work on it another night. It isn’t worth the suffering when this is a genuine issue and not something they are using simply as an excuse to not do homework. So don’t let it become a habit, but know that there are times when it’s ok to not finish everything.
14. Keep in communication with your children’s teachers. I don’t mean you should be that parent who pesters the teacher about every little thing, but discuss your homework concerns with the teachers in a rational manner. If your teacher loves email, do it via email. If it’s a phone call or an in person chat, make sure you schedule it in advance so the teacher has the time available to dedicate to your concerns. If your child consistently spends hours on homework, they should know. They may have tips for you specific to your children, or they may tell you to modify the homework assignments.
15. Require your child’s best effort. Homework is about practicing what you know and showing the teacher that you understand the concept so they can move on in their teaching. It isn’t about doing it as fast as you can do simply be done. Both my children will sometimes race through homework so they can do more fun things. For me, that means that I go over their homework and make them fix sloppy mistakes because I know they’re capable of that and because I want them to understand that they need to work hard and learn to do it right the first time. Fortunately or unfortunately, they’re both good students, so their teachers sometimes let them get away with sloppy mistakes too often. That said, sometimes their best effort is three sentences without all the right capitals or a math assignment that doesn’t show all the work because that’s all they’re capable of that day. Sometimes, they simply don’t understand a concept, and it’s important for the teacher to know that so they can reteach the concept if necessary. And when that’s their best effort, I let it go. Best effort doesn’t mean perfect. It means the best your child can do that day, and it will vary.
Regardless of what works for you, find a routine and stick with it. Homework is rarely fun, but it can be less painful. We’re working on our good habits now so that they’re in place for the future. And so I can retain at least a modicum of my sanity. So what are your best homework tips and tricks?