Study Session

How parents can help kids with homework

Study Session

Homework doesn't have to be an ongoing battle with your kids. Try our 10 homework tips to make your children's study experience a more pleasant one.

Along with the books and the lunch bags, heading back to school also typically means having homework.

There’s much debate around the issue of homework itself; some parents and academics say it’s imperative to help kids get ahead in the world, while others are vehemently opposed to the task, especially among younger students. Then there are differing ideas on how much homework is enough and how much is too much.

Controversies aside, there are several ways parents can help their children if they do have to hit the books on the home front.

1: Let them eat.

One of the first things kids should do when they come home from school is to have a healthy bite to eat. Food and water will refuel their body and their brain.

“Give them a snack,” says Barbara Mathieson, an instructor of early childhood care and education at Capilano University. “When they come home from school, they’re hungry. They don’t get much time to eat at lunch, and they are busy all day. They need to eat if they’re going to have energy to do homework.”

2: Let them relax.

A typical school day runs from around 8:30 or 9 am to 3 pm. Those six-plus hours may seem easy to working parents, but that’s a long day for young people, especially those in elementary and junior high school. Just like adults, kids require the chance to chill out.

“They need some downtime,” Mathieson says. “They need time just to be kids. They’ve already had a full day of school, and even if they’re just listening, they’re tired; it’s a lot for them. They need a break.”

Although “screen time”—time spent in front of a computer or TV—is another area of debate, downtime can be whatever makes a child feel grounded. Maybe it’s reading, doing art work, playing a board or card game, having a picnic outside, or hanging out in their room.

3: Set up a specific homework area.

Mathieson suggests having kids do their work in an area where mom or dad is close at hand.

“Set your computer or the child’s desk somewhere where you’re nearby so that you can keep an eye on them without hovering,” Mathieson says. “Maybe they’re in the kitchen or dining room while you’re making dinner. That will keep them off the internet,” and really help them pay attention to the task at hand.

4: Ensure the homework area is appropriate.

Remember that your kids’ work space should have adequate lighting and be located away from distractions such as a television. Comfortable seating helps too. Not everyone can be ergonomically perfect at home, but it’s worth ensuring that children are not sitting in awkward positions that could cause muscle strains or posture problems.

And make sure they have all the tools they need: pencils and a pencil sharpener, erasers, pens, markers, paper, rulers … For little ones, getting all this stuff set up can make homework fun.

5: Set a timer.

Mathieson suggests allotting a specific amount of time for homework, whatever you feel is appropriate: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour, depending on the child’s age and your own judgment. A time of day that seems to work well is just before dinner; kids have had a chance to take it easy after school, and they won’t have to deal with homework in the evening before bed.

If they’ve finished all their work before the time is up, they can use that time to visit parent-approved websites or to move on to something else.

And if they’re not done, you can still close the books, which brings us to our next tip.

6: Know when to say “enough is enough.”

Linda Cameron, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, says that school work shouldn’t end up overtaking a child’s after-school hours or taking away from other important activities. Just make sure you help your child explain to the teacher why the homework isn’t done.

“Don’t leave it up to your child to defend unfinished work,” Cameron says. “I wrote many notes to school, saying we spent this much time on it and enough is enough—we need family time.”

7: Help your kids be organized.

“Family calendars are critical,” says Cameron. Ask your child’s teachers to let students and their parents know when big assignments are due or exams are scheduled. Mark these down well in advance on a calendar that everyone in the family looks at daily. If a project is due or a test takes place the day after a soccer tournament or a concert, this will give you all a chance to plan and not be left feeling stressed at the last minute.

8: Avoid doing the work for them.

Remember, parents, it’s their homework, not yours. A social sciences project that has been assigned to a group of grade 6 students should end up looking like it’s been done by grade 6 students, and not perfectionist, eager-to-please, highly skilled adults.

“Be at the elbow, but don’t hold the pen,” says Cameron. “You need to inspire and encourage your child, help them find resources, and provide honest and constructive feedback but not the answers.”

9: Don’t fret if your child doesn’t get a gold star.

Sure, if your son or daughter is applying for university, good grades are important. But it’s okay not to ace every single assignment. “It’s not the end of the world if your child doesn’t get top marks all the time,” Mathieson says. “If they do get a D in something, that in itself is a learning experience. They will learn from that and find ways to avoid that the next time.”

10: Communicate with the teacher.

It’s entirely possible that your kids’ teachers are unaware of exactly how much time homework is taking or if a particular child is feeling overwhelmed. Cameron suggests arranging a meeting if possible. “Say something like this: ‘I’m concerned with the amount of homework my child has, and I’d like to discuss ways of helping him manage better.’”

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