Homework—in plenty of households, it’s a cringe-inducing word for both children and their parents. While it’s unlikely to ever be anyone’s favorite pastime, it is certainly a necessary and worthwhile aspect of school (and it probably isn’t going away anytime soon). With these 10 simple strategies, you can make nightly homework a painless event for everyone involved and help your student get all of the academic benefits it is intended to provide.
1. Create a designated homework space
As is true for adults, having a dedicated space to concentrate and work can be a big help for children. Make sure that your child has a space that is specifically set up as his or her homework station. It should be well-lit and comfortable and have all of the supplies (pens, calculators, highlighters, etc.) that he or she may need. For younger children, an area in the family room or kitchen where they can be monitored may be best, while older children will want (and deserve) a quieter, more private space like a desk in their bedroom or family den.
2. Avoid procrastination
We’ve all been there—putting off a project and feeling it grow larger, more intimidating, and less appealing as the deadline creeps closer. Help your children avoid this situation with their nightly homework. Set a designated window of time for homework to be completed, preferably in the hours soon after your child gets home. That way, they have a chance to truly unwind and relax before bedtime.
3. Help with time management
Time management is one of the key skills to productivity, and it’s one that needs to be taught. Talk to your children every night about the assignments they have, and ask them how much time they think each will take. If their expectations aren’t reasonable, help them determine more realistic timeframes. If they have larger assignments or projects, help your children break those down into smaller pieces, and develop a schedule for completing each piece.
4. Do YOUR homework at the same time
While your child is working on homework, try to work on some of your own “homework” assignments, like balancing the checkbook, paying bills, finishing a take-home project from work, or simply reading quietly. Modeling concentration-based tasks like this will help your child focus during homework time. This strategy is even more effective if you can tie your own “homework” to your child’s assignment, helping him or her see the real-world value of what he or she is learning.
5. Develop an incentive system
Sometimes, we all simply need to be rewarded for hard work. So, try offering your child some kind of incentive for diligently working through all of his or her assignments. This could be allowing more screen time after homework is completed or offering a short break after a certain amount of time spent working. It doesn’t have to be much—just a bit of delayed gratification.
6. Make a “Phone-a-Friend” list
Most children will experience confusion on the details of an assignment or mix up due dates at some point. When this happens, calling on a friend from class can be a lifesaver. Help your child make a list of three or four classmates that he or she can call if ever a little clarification or reminder is needed. If your child is in the early elementary grades, it may be helpful to connect with the parents of these classmates as well; they will probably be glad for the networking opportunity themselves!
7. Provide guidance, not answers
Although some assignments do specifically call on students to enlist their parents, the point of homework in general is to provide practice for the student. So, when your child comes to you with questions about an assignment, don’t make it too easy. Offer strategies to help guide him or her in the right direction, and model your thought process aloud so that he or she can begin to feel confident following the same steps independently. Avoid simply giving away the answer. Children will only improve their understanding if they do the work themselves.
8. Communicate with your child’s teacher
Every teacher has his or her own philosophy and system regarding homework. Many educators have specific procedures about how homework should be completed and turned in, as well as their own incentive systems in place for students. Connect with your child’s teachers, and ask them what their expectations are for homework and how they feel that you can best support your child. Being on the same page can help you see where your child may struggle and guide you in determining how to motivate and encourage him or her.
9. Listen to frustrations, but don’t indulge them
Everybody has tough days—things don’t go as planned, schedules fall behind, and events don’t go our way. As an adult, you know that this can be frustrating and sometimes overwhelming. So, when your child is having a day like this and homework has become a battle, acknowledge his or her frustration. Empathize with your child, and help him or her understand his or her feelings. This will help your child feel validated, blow off some steam, and follow your suggestions more readily. Once your child has had a chance to vent, encourage him or her to get started and focus on what needs to get done.
10. Model a positive attitude
It can be surprising just how much children pick up on by watching and listening to the adults in their lives. So, it’s very important for parents to demonstrate a good attitude regarding homework. Express your own interest in the subject of your child’s assignments, and be sure to talk about the role that homework plays in doing well in school and learning new things. Your positivity will rub off on your child and equate to smoother nights of homework.
Looking for more tips to make homework time less painful and more productive in your house? The U.S. Department of Education and Scholastic both have great resources on the topic. For helpful info on staying engaged in your child’s education, you can also take a look at Edmentum’s blog post on 5 Questions All Parents Should Ask Their Child’s Educators.