By: Sheila Gaudet
Everyone remembers doing homework, or not doing homework, as a child. It’s a right of passage as our kids grow and develop. Those first assignments are so cute, we save them when they come home with a big smile sticker on them-clearly an indicator that someone else has recognized our child’s brilliance. That might carry you through the first few years but then it gets serious. You start investing in posterboard by the multi-p age packet. You save shoeboxes like people saved water for Y2K. You have learned ten facts about the country of your child’s choice, which is usually one you know nothing about. At some point it occurs to you that YOU already did this once.
Now, I’m not talking about those parents who do their children’s homework for them. That’s a whole different topic. You know the ones, the dioramas that had the letters cut out with someone’s die cutter at work and use commercial quality printing on the posterboard complete with photos ordered off ebay. I’m talking about the normal process of assisting your child with completing assignments. Every child has their strengths and weaknesses and you get to spend time coaching through the weaknesses. As they get older it gets more complicated (and not just the math..which is taught in a completely different way than it was when I went to school…so now I’m just wrong, whether I know the answer or not). Working with a teenager on rewriting an essay is challenging in the best of times. In the worst of times (say 11 pm the night before it’s due), it can get downright ugly. This is not the time to say, “why didn’t you do this three days ago?” There is no answer that will help you feel better.
What you can do though is plan for homework and ways to make it as positive an experience for both you and your children as possible. The key is: Be Prepared.
- Pick a spot– This is going to be different not only for each family, but for each child. My children both struggle with remaining on task so they generally have done best doing their homework at the kitchen table. It’s big enough to spread out, an adult is usually accessible, and there are few electronic distractions. Some kids might do best in a quiet study area away from the family. Other kids (believe it or not) do well shut up in their room, listening to music, or some other background noise. If your child wants to try a different spot from your choice as they get older, listen to them. Sometimes they know what they need!
- Set a time– Some kids need to take a break after school, go play outside, have a snack, or chill out and can come back and attack their homework with fresh eyes after dinner. Mine can’t. We are all happier when they do their homework immediately after school (and maybe a snack). With my younger son, once he’s done, he’s pretty much free to go so that’s motivating. With my high schooler, it’s harder because he has a lot more going on in his schedule. He’s playing sports, which means practices and games during the week, he has more chores, and he also has a social life, which he reminds me about regularly.
- Invest in supplies– I know you just finished shopping for school supplies for the classroom, including antibacterial wipes, tissues, and dry erase markers. You need to do the same thing at home. We have a table in the kids playroom that is stocked with construction paper, markers, crayons, colored pencils, glue, tape, graph paper, scissors, pens, pencils, rulers, lots of erasers, protractors, and other things I can’t think of right now. I have a little plastic desk accessory that holds the basics and then a rolling cart with shelves that holds the paper and other things. I also keep a stash of poster board in the closet to avoid the late night runs to the store now. Having all the supplies in one location, amply stocked, can reduce the time spent on homework as well as the frustration you feel when your child has to cut out and paste/glue pieces to a page and the only thing you can find that will work is your crafty glue gun…which you have to dig through the Christmas bins to find. Not that that would ever happen to any of you.
- Be realistic – Some days life gets in the way. I’ve found, particularly in the early years, that sending in a partially completed homework assignment with a note attached explaining that your child completely melted down during the assignment and couldn’t complete it, or that due to an emergency trip to the vet you just didn’t get to it goes a long way. Usually we can finish it the next day. Sometimes, the fresh eyes in the morning can make an assignment a breeze to a young child who was tired and frustrated the night before. I’m not talking about blowing off homework because you want to watch the 30 nights of Christmas because face it, we all have to do things we don’t want to do sometimes. But helping your child by explaining to the teacher what is going on opens lines of communication and often leads to a much more positive feeling about school and homework. Schools usually have a guideline of how much times should be spent on homework for each grade. If it is taking your child much longer than that, talk to the teacher.
- Ask for help – If your child is truly struggling with an area of homework, talk to their teacher. Often they have some ideas that can help your child be successful (or at least explain the methods used to you). My son is a good speller but will do anything to avoid spelling homework because he has difficulty with writing. I reached out to his teacher to explain he was fine with the shorter assignments but melted down about writing sentences with the spelling words in them. She has an option available where he can type his spelling assignments on the computer and bring them in or post them to her blog (she is so cool!). He now loves doing the spelling because he loves the computer. He spends much more doing this assignment than he would have if he’d had to write it all out. Teachers want your child to succeed, that’s why they entered the profession.
Some kids will breeze through most homework without a whole lot of help from their parents. If you have one of those, be thankful. For the rest of us, try and think of it as an investment. Some day our kids will realize that we don’t have all the answers and some day we might not be able to help them. Try to remember the words of one of my college English professors on the first day of class, “No class, no assignment, no grade is worth becoming distraught over.” Same goes for homework assignments.