Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Parents Have Homework Too: Some Suggestions to Help Children Make the Most of Homework

The following article was first published in Tri-State Family Magazine (Distributed by The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, WV). Copyright © 2007 by Dennis E. Bills.

“Mommy! Daddy!  Guess what!  I have lots of great homework to do tonight!”
     Some children carry their schoolwork home with glee and great anticipation, but I would venture to say that this child is not your own. 
     While some children dutifully complete assignments with little or no help from parents, other students struggle.  If your child is like I was as a student, he will find a paper clip more interesting than his division problems, bending them into flocks of fascinating figures (this is called “avoidance”).   Meanwhile, assignments take longer than the teacher intended, and the student grows bored and frustrated.  What was intended to be a simple, brief assignment becomes tedious and time-consuming.   Because they have not used homework time efficiently, some students then return to class unprepared, with incorrect answers, and having made little effort. Their homework time has not been profitable. 
     Teachers cannot be there to tell a child to “please put down that paper clip, keep your eyes and pencil on your paper, and move on to the next problem.”  That responsibility falls to parents. Parental involvement is essential for these students as they develop their own sense of responsibility and diligence. 
     So what can a parent do to make homework time more profitable?  Perhaps the most important parental action is supervision and accountability.  You might be surprised at how many parents do not check assignments for completeness or do not know the type, amount and difficulty of the homework their children bring home.  In order to prevent that, here are some suggestions for parental supervision and accountability: 
  • Set a consistent time and place for doing homework so that the child knows exactly what to expect on a daily basis.  For example, make sure your child begins homework consistently at 6:00, after she has eaten and had some time to play or spend with her friends outside. 
  • Make sure the place of work is comfortable and free of distractions.  If a paper clip can distract a child, imagine what TV or family members within earshot can do.   A desk in the bedroom might be a good place. 
  • Know what assignments your child must complete each night.  Check her homework notebook before she begins.
  • Check in on your child frequently and ask how things are coming along.  Make a note of how far she has advanced since the last time you checked.  Your purpose is to make sure she remains diligent.
  • Allow breaks periodically.  No student wants to sit at a desk for an hour at a time without some mental and physical escape.  
  • Make sure that the student balances speed, diligence, and accuracy.  Do not allow the child to rush through an assignment so that she can answer “yes” when you ask her, “Have you finished your homework?” (which by the way is one of the worst ways to provide accountability for many students). 
  • Check assignments for completion, effort and accuracy.   It may be a good idea to set aside the last 15 minutes or so of homework time for a joint review of your child’s assignments.   You will not know all the answers, but you do know your child well enough to evaluate whether she is trying as hard as you know she is capable. 
  • Communicate frequently with your child’s teacher.  Tell him or her your opinions about the homework.  Do you think it was too much?  Did it take too long?  Was it too hard?  Does the teacher need to give more explanation?  As you become more familiar with your child’s assignments, you can become a valuable aid to both your child and her teacher. 
     Teachers should go the extra mile during the class day to see that your child is learning.  However, they are incapable of providing academic supervision and accountability for the student at home. It is up to Mom and Dad to provide that accountability.  You see, parents have homework too.

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