by Lara Krupicka
Julie Jung-Kim drinks a lemon-lime soda as her daughter Isabella prattles about the school day. They sit companionably at the kitchen table, Isabella talking between bites of her snack. It’s a pre-homework ritual that suits them both.
Jung-Kim takes Isabella’s afterschool schedule seriously. She knows following it makes a big difference in what happens with Isabella’s homework. But her homework routine didn’t happen by accident, nor did it come together overnight. Jung-Kim has learned what works and what doesn’t. And what works, stays. If you’ve struggled over homework in your household, don’t give up. You may be only a few tweaks away from a more productive process. Here are some tips from experts and parents for minimizing homework trouble:
Knowing ahead of time what the school and teacher expect of your child can eliminate many frustrations. Some school districts post their suggested guidelines on a district website. These might include standard amounts of homework to expect per grade. Many teachers also explain their homework standards during a beginning-of-the-school-year open house. If not, don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher early on about what work you can expect at home.
Discuss homework expectations with your child either before school starts or on a weekend when there isn’t any homework to be done. Avoid introducing the topic in the midst of a homework session.
Share what you and the teacher will be asking of him and how that may have changed from the previous school year. Make sure to also ask your child what he expects. Open the lines of communication right from the start.
Establish a routine
Teacher and mom, Gwen Stephens, believes in the value of routine.
“Establish a time every day that homework is to be done,” she says. “For some kids it works best to get it done right away. Other kids need time to chill out.”
The key involves ironing out what works best for your family and then sticking with it. When there’s a rhythm in place, kids learn to roll with it. Routine alone can smooth out problems with homework – particularly in assuring a prompt start.
For Jung-Kim the routine involves a quiet environment. Usually she picks Isabella up from school two hours before she retrieves her son from daycare. The two enjoy some one-on-one time at first. Then it’s time for distraction-free homework. No television, no computer, no music. Jung-Kim has learned keeping her daughter calm allows a more trouble-free process. And with no distractions for herself, Jung-Kim is free to step in when Isabella has questions or needs help.
In Stephens’s home the routine is similar: her girls walk in the door and grab a bite to eat. Then they start on homework as they snack. Stephens keeps the same schedule every day, including Friday, unless one of the girls has an after-school activity.
Mom, Christa Hines, implements a timer in her routine to keep the schedule on track.
“I give my son 30 minutes to chill out and play,” says Hines. “We set the timer so there’s no argument at the end of the 30 minutes.”
Finding a good homework routine make take some trial and error. And it may not be the same for all the kids in your house. One may do best getting right to the homework, while another requires downtime first. And afterschool lessons and sports may require shifts in the routine for a season. But once you find what works, be consistent.
Create a space
Like a routine, workspace needs may vary between children. Some work best where there are few visual distractions, such as at a desk facing a wall. Others may prefer company while working, or need to be near mom for help. Again, don’t be afraid to switch around for the first few weeks to find a suitable spot for your child. But once you’ve created an acceptable space, maintain it.
Michele Smith’s three children work together at one table. “They have dedicated space on our dining room table all week so they can keep their supplies out.”
As Smith notes, it’s important for children to have homework supplies available. There’s nothing more frustrating than starting a worksheet on measurements, only to find you don’t have a ruler. Double-check your stash of pencils, erasers, and other supplies. Then store them near where your child will be working.
If you’re ambitious, you can set out supplies at their workspace before they return from school. The subtle message encourages them to get to work sooner.
Provide support with boundaries
Be encouraging. Give your child concrete observations about themselves that demonstrate you believe they can succeed at homework. Note past successes, as well as tools and skills they’ve gained.
And when it comes to completing homework, be accessible without hovering.
“It’s good to check for completion, but not a good idea to make your child re-do assignments due to sloppiness or a poor job,” says McNerney.
Above all, avoid the desire to do the work for your child. Both Stephens and McNerney are firm on this point.
“Some parents don’t know when to let the child do homework without interfering.” Stephens explains. “(Homework) should be something the teacher checks, not the parent. Otherwise that’s not the child’s homework any more. It’s the parent’s.”
Stephens also advocates for parents practicing memorization of spelling and math facts. Given their limited time during the school day, teachers rely on parents to supplement with work at home.
“Take flash cards in the van,” Stephens urges.
Model a firm but positive attitude
Remember that learning to complete independent work is a life skill. When your child complains about having to do homework, acknowledge their frustration. Then encourage them to get to work.
“I expect every year homework will increase,” says Stephens. “I say, ‘It’s not going to get easier as you get older.’”
McNerney encourages parents to watch their semantics, particularly with children who would rather skip the work.
“Stop calling it homework! When we ask our kids: ‘Did you do your homework?’ they will usually only think of actual homework and not studying, reading, practicing, and working on long-term projects. Instead ask: “What work do you have tonight?”
Using these tools, you can ease your child back into the routine of schoolwork at home. The results should be encouraging to everyone.
While homework isn’t always her family’s favorite part of the day, Jung-Kim is pleased with her setup, especially having personal time with her daughter. “It let’s her know I am here,” she explains. Sometimes that’s the best thing parents can do for their kids when it comes to homework.
***Lara Krupicka is a freelance writer who reevaluates the homework routine for her three daughters every school year.