Your Children’s Homework: How Not to Get Involved

When it comes down to it, parents are probably the worst people in the world to help their children with homework. They have too much at stake. Their reputation, even future can all be riding on one arithmetic problem. As you probably already know, emotions and intensity are high. As a general policy, it’s better for parents not take the front seat in their children’s homework. Think of yourselves as facilitators, not as active participants. Below are some habits guaranteed to improve your children’s achievement at school.

o It’s time for Lucy to do her homework. The time you’ve been dreading all day long–a solid hour of whining and complaining that she doesn’t know how to do it. You assume she doesn’t, but how do you know for sure. Here are some distinctions to help you unravel whether your child has a problem learning or not.

(1) Does your child ask for help on everything or is it just for certain subjects? A child who asks for help, no matter what, is more motivated by your attention than a problem learning.

(2) Does your child need help when you present material in presented by both auditory and visual modes, or just one? Learning problems are usually specific to one mode of learning, not both.

(3) Does your child start working as soon as you explain the material, or does she try to rope you into doing something else? Attention-seekers have a never-ending list of problems they have to have your help with, whereas children wanting to learn will settle down and do the work after you give them their instructions.

(4) Does your child suddenly perk up when you promise a reward, or does she continue at the same pace? Children who can regulate how quickly they complete their work have a fair degree of control over their learning materials, and don’t need as much help as they lead you to believe.

(5) Does your child stop working whenever you leave the room, or does she work steadily whether you’re there or not? If your children’s work time coincides with you being in the room, chances are they’re more interested in your audience than getting their schoolwork done.

(6) Does your child only learn when given one-to-one instruction, or can she learn in a group setting? Most children who are keen to learn will adapt to different settings, and not be deterred by the company of other children.

(7) Does your child’s performance parallel her behavior, or can she perform badly even when her behavior is okay? Children who are capable of learning may choose not to for a number of reasons (a bad mood swing for instance); whereas children with learning problems cannot learn, even if they are in a good mood.

(8) Does your child whine, complain and have temper tantrums the whole time she’s doing schoolwork or only some of the time? Children looking for attention resort to whining and complaining whenever they lose your attention. Children with learning problems are more apt to get upset when their schoolwork is too hard for them.

o Have a special study spot for your child–a desk or table in a quiet place. Don’t make it on the bed, with the T.V. on, or C.D. blasting.

o Keep some space between those studying and everybody else. This is particularly helpful for dependent children, who ask for help before they’ve even tried their questions. Resist the temptation to sit beside your children as they’re doing their homework. Make yourself accessible, but not within arm’s reach.

o If your children don’t have a problem getting their homework done, you don’t need to specify a time requirement. Otherwise the following times are recommended: elementary–one-half to one full hour; grades eight through ten–one to one-and-a-half hours; grades eleven and twelve–one-and-a-half to two, or even three or more hours.

o Television is not a good prelude to homework. It puts children into a passive mode, and you may have problems tearing them away to begin studying. It’s better to save television viewing until after homework is finished.

o If possible, have your children take a bite out of their homework before dinner. After dinner your kids are going to be more tired and more prone to making mistakes. If study time runs into bedtime, your children will either go to school the next morning feeling tired, or not have their homework done.

o Have something fun set up for your children after they finish their homework. Keep in mind that going to bed is not fun for most kids.

o Help your children set up strategies for independent work. You may need to break their work up into smaller chunks, so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Have them check their answers at least three times before asking for your help. Review their work, but don’t correct everything. If your children’s work is careless, insist they do it over again. If they don’t’ understand their instructions, explain one example and ask them to do the second one.

o It is helpful if dad can take on the bigger role in monitoring boy’s schoolwork. Boys are prone to problems when only their mothers supervise their schoolwork. Dad’s enthusiasm gives boys the message that education is important to boys.

o Use all your child’s senses to increase their chances of learning. Some forms of visual learning are writing, copying, and drawing. Three samples of auditory learning are listening to tapes, talking on tapes, and repeating aloud. Hands-on learning include manipulating counters and using flash cards.

o Do you get tired of making comments like “My, you’re doing a good job,” or “Wow, this is great.” If you’re bored of saying them, you can bet your children are bored of hearing them. Try to make your reinforcing comments interesting and specific to what your children are doing. For instance, “You sounded out those hard words like you were making a speech in front of one hundred people,” “I see you’re using my favorite colour, green,” “I love the story you wrote; it reminds me of when I was your age” are descriptive comments which will motivate children to try.

o As your children read their textbooks, encourage them to write down summary sentences for each paragraph they read. At test time they can make up questions for each summary sentence.

o “I don’t know what to do my science project on.” Sound familiar? Here is a fool-proof recipe for kids needing ideas:

a) Ask your children to gather all the science books they can find.

b) Tell them to look through the books and daydream about ideas.

c) Ask them to write down everything they can think of, even ideas that seem goofy at first. Thirty ideas is a good place to stop.

d) Next, ask your children to look over their list, and cross out any long shots, as well as those ideas that don’t interest them. Leave about four or five possibilities.

e) Ask your children to think through what each idea involves.

f) At this stage your child are ready to talk over their ideas with you. Resist telling your children what to do, even if they choose a dead-end project. Try instead to help your children realize on their own what each project entails, by asking them questions.

g) The last two steps involve planning. Ask your children to make up time schedules for their projects, being sure to allot more time than what they think they’ll need.

i) Suggest your children make a list of all the parts comprising their assignments. This way they can monitor their progress, and feel some accomplishment at each stage.

o Many underachievers look disorganized: papers falling out of their desks, assignments handed in two days late, lunches forgotten at home. You can help your children get organized by keeping a daily log of everything they have to do. My girlfriend has a huge wipe-clean board mounted beside their kitchen table. Set aside time every morning or night to update your children’s planner. All materials needed for your children’s next day at school should be set aside the night before.

An aside note about your child’s organizational skills. Very often they reflect your family’s lifestyle. Some parents feel being too organized stifles their children’s sense of freedom and creativity. It’s true, too much organization can make your children compulsive and perfectionistic which may interfere with their school and life achievement. A small dose of chaos and ambiguity keeps your children flexible, which helps them survive the outside world, however too much freestyle makes it hard for your children to fit into the school system.

o Underachievers can benefit from helping younger children who are also having problems learning. In the process of helping, the helper is helped the most. They are motivated to do their best, and their confidence is given a boost from feeling needed and being useful.

o The old adage “Two heads are better than one,” is true when it comes to children doing their homework. Studies have shown that children working in pairs do better work than either child alone. Each child has a chance at being both a teacher and learner, plus they can check their answers without fear and make their corrections without penalty.

o “I haven’t started; I’m still thinking about it.” Is your child a procrastinator? Here are some easy steps for children who like to put off what they can do today for tomorrow:

a) Allot plenty of time.

b) Don’t expect your children to swallow a big project whole; cut it up into smaller chunks.

c) Sprinkle their work time with some fun activities. Don’t make these contingent on how much work they do.

d) It’s not always a good idea to start your children’s session with their toughest assignment. True, you’ll get it out of the way, but you also risk them getting discouraged and giving up. You might want to ease your children in with an easy task, then progress into the harder assignments. P.S. Don’t leave the hardest till last.

e) Give your children recognition for each of their accomplishments. This does not always have to be tokens, lollipops, and trains. It could be just taking five minutes out of your day to talk to them.

f) If your children are obsessed with doing the perfect job, don’t shield them from the agony of defeat. Perfectionistic children need to see that their world won’t fall apart when they try a new task, and it doesn’t pan out the way they hoped it would. At least they dared to try something they’d never done before, and enjoyed doing it.

g) Keep a daily log of your children’s progress. Read it over every day, so they can see how much they accomplished.