Many students of all ages struggle with homework. Some struggle to understand the material; for others the sheer volume they’ve been assigned is overwhelming; for others still, finding time for homework in between extracurricular activities is difficult.
Parents of students in any of these situations can find it challenging to help their children get through homework happily and with minimal anxiety. It’s something that both parents and students will need to deal with all year long, though. Now is the time to get a strategy in place to ensure happy homework time.
I reached out to some education experts for advice for parents. Here are insights from Gaye Weintraub, a private tutor and former public school teacher; Janet Ruth Heller, an author, former college English teacher, and president of the Michigan College English Association, Amy Fouracre, who has worked as a teacher, principal, and professional development provider; Tanya Mitchell, a mother of four, and chief research and development officer at LearningRx; and Richard C. Laryea, who has been an English teacher for over 25 years.
The Epoch Times: What strategies do you recommend parents employ to make homework time as happy and productive as possible?
Gaye Weintraub: I [recommend] a homework calendar. I utilize a monthly calendar to keep track of major projects and assignments, including tests, quizzes, and writing assignments, so the student can prioritize study times and not have any last-minute surprises.
I highly encourage my parents to visit teachers’ portals and websites on a regular basis to maintain the calendar and make sure they are well-informed of their child’s assignments.
Janet Ruth Heller: Parents should make the home quiet when children are doing homework. Also, each child needs his or her own desk or table and space for studying. Without some privacy, children may have trouble focusing on homework.
Parents can help by making sure that they have plenty of paper, pencils, pens, and other material that children need for doing homework.
Amy Fouracre: Know your child. The most effective homework is differentiated for students based on the teacher’s knowledge of what each student needs and is capable of completing, as opposed to assigning the same exact homework to all students at all times.
If your child is overwhelmed by his or her homework report that to the teacher as soon as possible. A quick note to the teacher can be helpful in ensuring that your child is being assigned homework that is reasonable and supports his or her learning. If you find the homework is too easy for your child, report that to the teacher as well. This will assist the teacher in assigning work that your child finds interesting and challenging without being overwhelming.
Tanya Mitchell: Set up a specific study area. A comfortable area stocked with school essentials can help keep your student focused on their work.
Make homework technology-free. Unless they need to type a paper or do research on the internet, require that all phones, tablets, and computer be off.
Designate a regular homework time. Some kids need to come home from school and unwind. Others do best if they complete homework right after school. Either way, give them a healthy snack to sustain their energy.
Get them personal brain training. One-on-one brain training targets the cognitive skills that make up the foundation of all learning. These include brain skills like memory, auditory processing, attention, processing speed, logic and reasoning, and visual processing. It also gives kids a huge boost of confidence!
Richard C. Laryea: Guide the process. There should be structure at home—learning spaces clearly defined, learning materials organized, no distractions, and a culture of doing it routinely.
The Epoch Times: What tips do you have for students in extracurriculars who are doing homework on the go?
Ms. Weintraub: Students need to assess what extracurriculars will affect study time and must create a plan to ensure everything gets done on time. The most frustrating thing for students is waiting until the last minute and feeling overwhelmed. By having a study plan in place, the child can enjoy their fun activities and still feel relaxed about completing assignments.
Ms. Heller: Students who want to participate in many extracurricular activities need to be well organized. The students should bring their textbooks and homework along with them, in case a sports game gets delayed, a drama practice has moments when the students are free to do something else, etc.
I also urge students not to sign up for too many activities outside of their classes. They have their entire lives to explore different hobbies, sports, etc. They need to allow enough time to complete their assignments each day.
Ms. Mitchell: Personally, I would not do homework on the go, but wait until they get home and can do homework at a table. I have my kids do their homework at the kitchen table while I make dinner, I get to have their company and they can ask me questions or get my help when needed.
Mr. Laryea: [Homework] should be done in the car, on the track—wherever there is a moment to spare. In these circumstances the student develops the skills of switching his or her attention sharply, focusing on the task at hand and doing it to the best if their ability within the time available.
The Epoch Times: How should parents help kids with their homework?
Ms. Weintraub: Know when to seek outside assistance. Private tutors are able to work directly with the child at his or her current level and make sure the child understands the classwork and assigned homework.
Ms. Heller: Parents can help kids by carefully going over assignments together and explaining confusing directions. For example, one English teacher used a French word, précis, in an assignment, so the student whom I was tutoring, who did not know French, thought that this was a very difficult task. As soon as I explained to the student that précis means summary, the student no longer was scared by the assignment.
Ms. Fouracre: Remember who the homework is for. Assisting your child in developing healthy habits for completing work is helpful, doing the work for your child is not. This includes taking it personally when your child is overwhelmed or unable to complete the work to your satisfaction. When parents interfere in allowing a child to pass in incomplete or inaccurate homework then teachers cannot form a true understanding of what a child knows and can do on his or her own.
Ms. Mitchell: Ensure they’re taking the correct level classes. Advanced placement classes can help prepare your student for college, but not every class is a good match for every student. Talk to the teacher and evaluate if it’s the right fit for your child.
Have them do the hardest work first. Do the most difficult work when their brains are primed. Once it’s behind them they’ll feel relieved to breeze through the easier homework.
Check their work. Go through their assignments every night and review their homework.
Mr. Laryea: Immerse yourself in [your] child’s curriculum, read around it, gain a decent familiarity with content and skills, and help as a pro.
Homework time could improve with the promise of a little reward if certain homework scores are met and it is done without being prompted.
The Epoch Times: When should parents consult their child’s teacher regarding homework?
Ms. Weintraub: The only time a parent should contact a teacher regarding homework would be if the child is struggling to complete assignments, and the parent would like more insight from the teacher about what she or he perceives the problem to be. Teachers are very adept at letting the parent know whether the child needs additional help, may have a learning disability or just needs to set aside more time to study.
Ms. Heller: If an assignment is so confusing that both parents and kids don’t understand it, then the student should ask the teacher questions about the homework. Some teachers allow students to e-mail questions to them. Students can also ask questions during classes.
I think that parents should avoid asking teachers questions about homework. The questions should come from the students. This interaction between young people and their teachers will help students to mature.
Ms. Fouracre: Ask how homework is being utilized in class. The purpose of homework is to support what is being taught in school. Sometimes this means it is a refresher, or practice for what was covered in class, and other times it is preparation for what is to come the next day. Homework that is not connected to classwork in meaningful ways tends to feel burdensome to students and rightfully so. Talk to your child about how homework is being used in class. Utilization of homework is key. Students today know when their time is being wasted and as a parent you can help by advocating for homework that is meaningful.
Ms. Mitchell: As a general rule, homework should take (the child’s grade x 10 plus 10 minutes). So 1st grade should take 20 minutes to complete, 2nd grade = 30 minutes, 3rd grade = 40 minutes, 4th grade = 50 minutes, 5th grade = 60 minutes. If your child is taking considerably longer to complete their homework, you should have a conversation with the teacher to determine why.
Mr. Laryea: [Parents should consult their child’s teacher] when they see shoddy feedback, when they find concepts and applications are still fuzzy during homework time, and when it doesn’t follow a schedule.