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How to help you with homework

10 Smart Tips for Homework Success

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 incapable 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’re at work during that time, 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. (One mom used this fun planner to get her daughter organized!)

3. Build Confidence: Best for the Intimidated

When kids don’t get something right away, they may feel like they’re not smart enough and start to shut down, says Sigrid Grace, a second-grade teacher in Almont, MI. You can short-circuit negative thinking by sitting down and figuring out the first problem together. That alone can help her remember how to do the rest. Then heap on the praise: “You did a great job on that one! Try the next one now.” (Meanwhile, here are some great confidence-boosting books.)

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 she’s finished, take her 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 he can until the timer goes off. At that point, he 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 him to go over it before he 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, 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.” (Check out even more tips to build your child’s organizational skills.)

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.

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Getting Homework Help

Does it seem like all the fun stuff has to wait until your homework is done? There’s a good reason why adults make a big deal out of homework. Homework helps you learn. And getting a good education can help you build the kind of future life that you want. So homework is important, but how can you get it done?

First, you need a quiet place without clutter and confusion. Writing on top of potato chip crumbs while talking on the phone is not going to help you finish your history lesson. Turn off the TV and other distractions. You’ll be better able to concentrate, which usually means you’ll finish your work more quickly and it’s more likely to be correct.

Set aside enough time to finish your work without rushing. You can’t just squeeze your science assignment into the commercials during your favorite TV show. Really learning something takes time. But if you find that you’re struggling even after putting in the time, you’ll want to ask for help.

Why Do Some Kids Need Homework Help?

Aside from just not understanding the lesson or assignment, kids might need homework help for other reasons. Some kids are out sick for a long time and miss a lot of work. Others get so busy that they don’t spend enough time on homework.

Personal problems can cause trouble with your work, too. Some kids may be dealing with stuff outside of school that can make homework harder, like problems with friends or things going on at home.

Kids whose parents are going through a divorce or some other family problem often struggle with getting homework done on time.

Even students who never had a problem with homework before can start having trouble because of problems they face at home. But whatever the reason for your homework struggles, there are many ways to get help.

Who Can Help?

Talk to someone (parents, teachers, school counselor, or another trusted adult) if you’re having problems with schoolwork. Speak up as soon as you can, so you can get help right away before you fall behind.

Your parents are often a great place to start if you need help. They might be able to show you how to do a tough math problem or help you think of a subject to write about for English class. But they also can be helpful by finding that perfect spot in the house for you to do your homework and keeping supplies, like pencils, on hand. Parents also can cut down on distractions, like noisy younger brothers and sisters!

Teachers also are important resources for you because they can give you advice specific to the assignment you’re having trouble with. They can help you set up a good system for writing down your assignments and remembering to put all the necessary books and papers in your backpack. Teachers can give you study tips and offer ideas about how to tackle homework. Helping kids learn is their job, so be sure to ask for advice!

Many schools, towns, and cities offer after-school care for kids. Often, homework help is part of the program. There, you’ll be able to get some help from adults, as well as from other kids.

You also might try a local homework help line, which you would reach by phone. These services are typically staffed by teachers, older students, and other experts in school subjects.

You can also use the Internet to visit online homework help sites. These sites can direct you to good sources for research and offer tips and guidance about many academic subjects. But be cautious about just copying information from an Internet website. This is a form of cheating, so talk with your teacher about how to use these sources properly.

Another option is a private tutor. This is a person who is paid to spend time going over schoolwork with you. If cost is a concern, this can be less expensive if a small group of kids share a tutoring session.

Do It Together

Some kids will hardly ever need homework help. If you’re one of them, good for you! Why not use your talent to help a friend who’s struggling? You might offer to study together. Going over lessons together can actually help both of you.

Information is easy to remember when you’re teaching it to someone, according to one fifth grader, who says she helps her friend, Jenny, with multiplication tables. “It helps me to learn them, too,” she says. “I practice while she’s practicing.”

You might want to create a regular study group. You could set goals together and reward yourselves for completing your work. For example, when you finish writing your book reports, go ride your bikes together. Looking forward to something fun can help everyone get through the work.

Still Having Trouble?

Sometimes even after trying all these strategies, a kid still is having trouble with homework. It can be tough if this happens to you. But remember that everyone learns at a different pace. You might have to study for 2 hours instead of 1, or you might have to practice multiplication tables 10 times instead of 5 to really remember them.

It’s important to put in as much time as you need to understand the lessons. Ask your mom or dad to help you create a schedule that allows as much time as you need.

And keep talking about the problems you’re having — tell your parents, teachers, counselors, and others. That way, they’ll see that you are trying to get your homework done. And when it is done, make sure you find time to do something fun!

How to help your kids with homework (without doing it for them)

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners

Monash University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU.

Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. Parent involvement in their child’s learning can help improve how well they do in school. However, when it comes to helping kids with homework, it’s not so simple.

While it’s important to show support and model learning behaviour, there is a limit to how much help you can give without robbing your child of the opportunity to learn for themselves.

Be involved and interested

An analysis of more than 400 research studies found parent involvement, both at school and at home, could improve students’ academic achievement, engagement and motivation.

School involvement includes parents participating in events such as parent-teacher conferences and volunteering in the classroom. Home involvement includes parents talking with children about school, providing encouragement, creating stimulating environments for learning and finally – helping them with homework.

The paper found overall, it was consistently beneficial for parents to be involved in their child’s education, regardless of the child’s age or socioeconomic status. However, this same analysis also suggested parents should be cautious with how they approach helping with homework.

Parents helping kids with homework was linked to higher levels of motivation and engagement, but lower levels of academic achievement. This suggests too much help may take away from the child’s responsibility for their own learning.

Help them take responsibility

Most children don’t like homework. Many parents agonise over helping their children with homework. Not surprisingly, this creates a negative emotional atmosphere that often results in questioning the value of homework.

Homework has often been linked to student achievement, promoting the idea children who complete it will do better in school. The most comprehensive analysis on homework and achievement to date suggests it can influence academic achievement (like test scores), particularly for children in years seven to 12.

But more research is needed to find out about how much homework is appropriate for particular ages and what types are best to maximise home learning.

When it comes to parent involvement, research suggests parents should help their child see their homework as an opportunity to learn rather than perform. For example, if a child needs to create a poster, it is more valuable the child notes the skills they develop while creating the poster rather than making the best looking poster in the class.

Instead of ensuring their child completes their homework, it’s more effective for parents to support their child to increase confidence in completing homework tasks on their own.

Here are four ways they can do this.

1. Praise and encourage your child

Your positivity will make a difference to your child’s approach to homework and learning in general. Simply, your presence and support creates a positive learning environment.

Our study involved working with recently arrived Afghani mothers who were uncertain how to help their children with school. This was because they said they could not understand the Australian education system or speak or write in English.

However, they committed to sit next to their children as they completed their homework tasks in English, asking them questions and encouraging them to discuss what they were learning in their first language.

In this way, the parents still played a role in supporting their child even without understanding the content and the children were actively engaged in their learning.

2. Model learning behaviour

Many teachers model what they would like their students to do. So, if a child has a problem they can’t work out, you can sit down and model how you would do it, then complete the next one together and then have the child do it on their own.

Instead of watching TV in the evening, set aside time to read a book while your child does their school work. from shutterstock.com

3. Create a homework plan

When your child becomes overly frustrated with their homework, do not force them. Instead, together create a plan to best tackle it:

read and understand the homework task

break the homework task into smaller logical chunks

discuss how much time is required to complete each chunk

work backwards from the deadline and create a timeline

put the timeline where the child can see it

encourage your child to mark completed chunks to see the progress made on the task

4. Make space for homework

Life is busy. Parents can create positive study habits by allocating family time for this. This could mean carving out one hour after dinner for your child to do homework while you engage in a study activity such as reading, rather than watching television and relaxing. You can also create a comfortable and inviting reading space for the child to learn in.

Parents’ ability to support their child’s learning goes beyond homework. Parents can engage their child in discussions, read with them, and provide them with other ongoing learning opportunities (such as going to a museum, watching a documentary or spending time online together).