More Homework Articles For Parents

What is it about homework that wears families out? Even newbie grade-schoolers, who love doing it at first, often lose their enthusiasm and start stalling. And after a long day, you just want your kiddo to knuckle down so you can get dinner on the table or start the bedtime routine. 

But playing cop rarely works — micromanaging and nagging only make kids feel stupid or frustrated. A better solution: Think of yourself as a coach and cheerleader. To help you get there, we asked teachers and parents to share their A+ strategies for solving the most common headaches. Their work-like-magic tips are guaranteed to bring harmony back into your homework routine, whether your child is a kindergartner or a fifth-grader, a whiner or a procrastinator!
1. Do It as Early as Possible: Best for Everyone
On days when there are no afternoon activities, give your child a time frame — say, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. — to get down to business. This gives her some control over her schedule (some kids need a longer break after school, and others need to start right away to keep the momentum going). The only rule is that 5 o’clock is the latest time to start. If you work, that means homework duties will fall to the after-school caregiver. This way, the bulk of it can get done before your kiddo’s too pooped — and you can just review and wrap things up once you get home.
2. Create a Call List: Best for Forgetters
From kindergarten on, kids need a list of three or four classmates they can call on when they forget an assignment, says Ann Dolin, M.Ed., a former teacher and author of Homework Made Simple. The study buddy can read your child the spelling words over the phone, or his mom can snap a pic of the worksheet and text it to you.
3. Build Confidence: Best for the Intimidated
When kids don’t get something right away, they may feel like they’re stupid and start to shut down, says Sigrid Grace, a second-grade teacher in Almont, MI, and a member of Scholastic Parent & Child’s advisory board. You can short-circuit negative thinking by sitting down and figuring out the first problem together. That alone can help him remember how to do the rest. Then heap on the praise: “You did a great job on that one! Try the next one now.” 
Another strategy: Have your child show you similar problems he worked on in class. That may jog his memory so he can retrace the steps. Plus, it helps you see what he’s already learned.
4. Cut It in Half: Best for the Overwhelmed
That’s right — you can make an executive decision to lighten your child’s load for a night, if:
  • She doesn’t understand the assignment.
  • The assignment is vague or touches on a topic she’s not ready for.
  • She’s exhausted from a long day of school, gymnastics, and an argument with her best friend. 
If your child is completely lost, you can excuse her entirely. In the other cases, shorten the assignment, says Cathy Vatterott, Ph.D., a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor of education and author of Rethinking Homework. What you can’t skip is informing the teacher. “Have your child write a note explaining,” says Vatterott. If she’s too young, write it yourself (with her input) and have her sign it. If you don’t hear back from the teacher in a few days, or your child is still clueless on the next assignment, follow up with an e-mail.
Most teachers will be understanding if a student does this once in a while, says Grace, but if your child frequently fails to finish her assignments, there will probably be a consequence.
5. Change the Scene: Best for Daydreamers
Something as simple as a special place to work can boost a child’s motivation and, in turn, his confidence. “I let one kid at a time use my office if they are having trouble,” says Jennifer Harrison, of Sacramento, CA, mom of a 7- and an 11-year-old. “Being in the spot where Mom does grown-up work seems to help them focus. Maybe because I tell them that it’s my place to concentrate.”
6. Keep the Positive Feedback Coming: Best for the K–2 Set
Little kids need instant feedback, so it’s okay for parents of young grade-schoolers to correct mistakes, says Grace. Then emphasize what your kid’s done well. After he’s finished, take his paper and say “Hmm, I’m looking for something . . .” After scanning it for a minute, say “Aha! Look how well you wrote your letters in this part!” or “This sentence is even better than the one you came up with yesterday!” If you praise specific improvements, your little learner will become more inclined to try to do a good job the first time around.
7. Leave the Room: Best for Whiners
“Kids who drag things out are often doing so for your attention — they’re enjoying the interaction on some level,” explains Grace. “Avoid joining in. And if you must stay in the room, have your child work in a spot that’s farther away from whatever you’re doing.”
8. Beat the Clock: Best for Procrastinators
Sometimes a pint-size foot dragger just needs a jump-start. If that’s true for yours, try Dolin’s “Five Minutes of Fury”: Set a timer for five minutes, shout “Go!” and have your child work as fast as she can until the timer goes off. At that point, she can take a short break or keep going — and many kids continue. “Racing against a timer gives kids an external sense of urgency if they don’t have an internal one,” she notes (besides, it’s fun!). But it’s not an excuse for sloppy work, so tell her to go over it before she puts it back in her folder.
9. Plan, Plan, Plan: Best for 3rd- to 5th-Graders
Many teachers will break down big projects into a series of deadlines so that children learn to budget time. If your kid’s teacher doesn’t, show your child how to “scaffold” the assignment yourself, says Dr. Vatterott. Together, divide the project into steps, then help her estimate how much time each will take. Get a weekly or monthly calendar (like Martha Stewart Home Office With Avery Dry Erase Monthly Planner; $8, Staples.com), and then write down which steps she’ll tackle when — and for how long. To get the most out of your calendar, include everything — from basketball practice on Mondays to the reading log every night so you both can plan realistically. If you know which nights are going to be a problem, “Ask for the week’s assignments at once and figure out your own schedule for completing them,” suggests Dr. Vatterott. “Teachers will often work with you on this, but most parents are afraid to ask.”
10. Let ’Em Vent: Best for Everyone
When your routine is upended — and your kid hasn’t even started his homework — ease frustration by letting him complain. Listen, empathize (“Wow, that is a lot of work”), and state his feelings back to him (“You sound upset”). Once your child feels understood, says Dolin, he’ll be more likely to accept your suggestions — and better able to focus on what needs to be done.
Plus: Your Way vs. The Teacher’s
Your child’s tearing up over a long-division worksheet and you actually remember how to get the answer. But the teacher’s instructions are different. Do you show your kid your method — so at least she’ll have the correct answer?
Hold off, says Dr. Vatterott. Your process may confuse her even more. You can help your child by talking to her about what she remembers from class and steering her to the textbook. If she’s still lost, just have her write a note to the teacher explaining that she doesn’t understand.

Here is the best guide to helping kids do homework successfully that we’ve seen, published by the National Association of School Psychologists on their website, NASPonline.org. Our thanks to NASP for sharing it with us.

There are two key strategies parents can draw on to reduce homework hassles. The first is to establish clear routines around homework, including when and where homework gets done and setting up daily schedules for homework. The second is to build in rewards or incentives to use with children for whom “good grades” is not a sufficient reward for doing homework.

Homework Routines

Tasks are easiest to accomplish when tied to specific routines. By establishing daily routines for homework completion, you will not only make homework go more smoothly, but you will also be fostering a sense of order your child can apply to later life, including college and work.

Step 1. Find a location in the house where homework will be done. The right location will depend on your child and the culture of your family. Some children do best at a desk in their bedroom. It is a quiet location, away from the hubbub of family noise. Other children become too distracted by the things they keep in their bedroom and do better at a place removed from those distractions, like the dining room table. Some children need to work by themselves. Others need to have parents nearby to help keep them on task and to answer questions when problems arise. Ask your child where the best place is to work. Both you and your child need to discuss pros and cons of different settings to arrive at a mutually agreed upon location.

Step 2. Set up a homework center. Once you and your child have identified a location, fix it up as a home office/homework center. Make sure there is a clear workspace large enough to set out all the materials necessary for completing assignments. Outfit the homework center with the kinds of supplies your child is most likely to need, such as pencils, pens, colored markers, rulers, scissors, a dictionary and thesaurus, graph paper, construction paper, glue and cellophane tape, lined paper, a calculator, spell checker, and, depending on the age and needs of your child, a computer or laptop. If the homework center is a place that will be used for other things (such as the dining room table), then your child can keep the supplies in a portable crate or bin. If possible, the homework center should include a bulletin board that can hold a monthly calendar on which your child can keep track of longterm assignments. Allowing children some leeway in decorating the homework center can help them feel at home there, but you should be careful that it does not become too cluttered with distracting materials.

Step 3. Establish a homework time. Your child should get in the habit of doing homework at the same time every day. The time may vary depending on the individual child. Some children need a break right after school to get some exercise and have a snack. Others need to start homework while they are still in a school mode (i.e., right after school when there is still some momentum left from getting through the day). In general, it may be best to get homework done either before dinner or as early in the evening as the child can tolerate. The later it gets, the more tired the child becomes and the more slowly the homework gets done.

Step 4. Establish a daily homework schedule. In general, at least into middle school, the homework session should begin with your sitting down with your child and drawing up a homework schedule. You should review all the assignments and make sure your child understands them and has all the necessary materials. Ask your child to estimate how long it will take to complete each assignment. Then ask when each assignment will get started. If your child needs help with any assignment, then this should be determined at the beginning so that the start times can take into account parent availability. A Daily Homework Planner is included at the end of this handout and contains a place for identifying when breaks may be taken and what rewards may be earned.

Incentive Systems

Many children who are not motivated by the enjoyment of doing homework are motivated by the high grade they hope to earn as a result of doing a quality job. Thus, the grade is an incentive, motivating the child to do homework with care and in a timely manner. For children who are not motivated by grades, parents will need to look for other rewards to help them get through their nightly chores. Incentive systems fall into two categories: simple and elaborate.

Simple incentive systems. The simplest incentive system is reminding the child of a fun activity to do when homework is done. It may be a favorite television show, a chance to spend some time with a video or computer game, talking on the telephone or instant messaging, or playing a game with a parent. This system of withholding fun things until the drudgery is over is sometimes called Grandma’s Law because grandmothers often use it quite effectively (“First take out the trash, then you can have chocolate chip cookies.”). Having something to look forward to can be a powerful incentive to get the hard work done. When parents remind children of this as they sit down at their desks they may be able to spark the engine that drives the child to stick with the work until it is done.

Elaborate incentive systems. These involve more planning and more work on the part of parents but in some cases are necessary to address more significant homework problems. More complex incentives systems might include a structure for earning points that could be used to “purchase” privileges or rewards or a system that provides greater reward for accomplishing more difficult homework tasks. These systems work best when parents and children together develop them. Giving children input gives them a sense of control and ownership, making the system more likely to succeed. We have found that children are generally realistic in setting goals and deciding on rewards and penalties when they are involved in the decision-making process.

Building in breaks. These are good for the child who cannot quite make it to the end without a small reward en route. When creating the daily homework schedule, it may be useful with these children to identify when they will take their breaks. Some children prefer to take breaks at specific time intervals (every 15 minutes), while others do better when the breaks occur after they finish an activity. If you use this approach, you should discuss with your child how long the breaks will last and what will be done during the breaks (get a snack, call a friend, play one level on a video game). The Daily Homework Planner includes sections where breaks and end-of-homework rewards can be identified.

Building in choice. This can be an effective strategy for parents to use with children who resist homework. Choice can be incorporated into both the order in which the child agrees to complete assignments and the schedule they will follow to get the work done. Building in choice not only helps motivate children but can also reduce power struggles between parents and children.

Developing Incentive Systems

Step 1. Describe the problem behaviors. Parents and children decide which behaviors are causing problems at homework time. For some children putting homework off to the last minute is the problem; for others, it is forgetting materials or neglecting to write down assignments. Still others rush through their work and make careless mistakes, while others dawdle over assignments, taking hours to complete what should take only a few minutes. It is important to be as specific as possible when describing the problem behaviors. The problem behavior should be described as behaviors that can be seen or heard; for instance, complains about homework or rushes through homework, making many mistakes are better descriptors than has a bad attitude or is lazy.

Step 2. Set a goal. Usually the goal relates directly to the problem behavior. For instance, if not writing down assignments is the problem, the goal might be: “Joe will write down his assignments in his assignment book for every class.”

Step 3. Decide on possible rewards and penalties. Homework incentive systems work best when children have a menu of rewards to choose from, since no single reward will be attractive for long. We recommend a point system in which points can be earned for the goal behaviors and traded in for the reward the child wants to earn. The bigger the reward, the more points the child will need to earn it. The menu should include both larger, more expensive rewards that may take a week or a month to earn and smaller, inexpensive rewards that can be earned daily. It may also be necessary to build penalties into the system. This is usually the loss of a privilege (such as the chance to watch a favorite TV show or the chance to talk on the telephone to a friend).

Once the system is up and running, and if you find your child is earning more penalties than rewards, then the program needs to be revised so that your child can be more successful. Usually when this kind of system fails, we think of it as a design failure rather than the failure of the child to respond to rewards. It may be a good idea if you are having difficulty designing a system that works to consult a specialist, such as a school psychologist or counselor, for assistance.

Step 4. Write a homework contract. The contract should say exactly what the child agrees to do and exactly what the parents’ roles and responsibilities will be. When the contract is in place, it should reduce some of the tension parents and kids often experience around homework. For instance, if part of the contract is that the child will earn a point for not complaining about homework, then if the child does complain, this should not be cause for a battle between parent and child: the child simply does not earn that point. Parents should also be sure to praise their children for following the contract. It will be important for parents to agree to a contract they can live with; that is, avoiding penalties they are either unable or unwilling to impose (e.g., if both parents work and are not at home, they cannot monitor whether a child is beginning homework right after school, so an alternative contract may need to be written).

We have found that it is a rare incentive system that works the first time. Parents should expect to try it out and redesign it to work the kinks out. Eventually, once the child is used to doing the behaviors specified in the contract, the contract can be rewritten to work on another problem behavior. Your child over time may be willing to drop the use of an incentive system altogether. This is often a long-term goal, however, and you should be ready to write a new contract if your child slips back to bad habits once a system is dropped.

Click here to download the homework planner and incentive sheet.

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