Dr. Mary Ann Smialek
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Homework Tips

Homework accounts for one fifth of the time that successful students are engaged in academic tasks. So many children both in regular and special education classes have homework problems. What is needed are some coping skills to deal with their homework woes from time to time. The main problem lies in the fact that the teacher assigns the tasks to be completed at home in an environment over which she has no control. We all recognize that aspects of family life influence students’ homework outcomes. Homework is a unique opportunity for you to share in your child’s success in school, personal growth and future learning. It is a chance for you to participate on a daily basis and to let your children know that you care and believe in their potential.

Your child’s ability to be successful with homework assignments begins with the value you place upon responsibility, effort and hard work. Success also requires helping your child develop essential homework strategies and developing a working alliance with your child and his teachers. Completing homework assignments is a challenge to say the least for both students and parents. It doesn’t have to be a frightening experience if you have a plan.

Homework has been a part of the U.S. education since the beginning of the nineteenth century. What is the role of homework in your children’s learning process? Teachers sometimes depend on it to complete unfinished class work, give additional practice and most importantly to keep parents informed of their children’s progress. Teachers and parents believe that doing homework helps students take responsibility for themselves and develops personal management skills. If you are like most parents, you feel mixed emotions about homework. Even in well functioning families under ideal circumstances, homework can be one of the biggest contributors to a parent-child crisis. If you are like most parents, you feel a mixture of emotions about homework. Some of them are positive but many of them unpleasant. You can turn these negative feelings into positive ones by following these proven approaches and methods.

1. Adapting the Home Physical Environment Is Foremost in Establishing Homework Success.

  • Choose an appropriate place
    Where homework will be done (desk in the child’s room, at the kitchen table, quiet corner in the family room) is as important to its successful completion as the academic skills needed. A designated homework area provides the framework for an environment that will reduce poor organizational habits and procrastination.

  • Gain consensus
    All family members must first come to an agreement on the value of homework. Set a certain place and time for assignments to be done without distractions (pets, video games, television, friends). Gaining this consensus establishes an atmosphere conducive to sustained effort.

  • Develop a routine
    Consistency is a vital element in learning processes especially for the child who needs structure. A set homework time helps in establishing the value of homework by putting it on your regular schedule and sticking to it. This customary schedule over time becomes a habit - "just the way we do things around here" and is not questioned or argued about. Frustration, annoyance, boredom, confusion and even anger are the many negative emotions, you as well as your children, express when it comes to homework. Most of us did not like homework when we were kids and probably don’t like it any better as parents but it is a fact of life! The sooner we adjust our attitude and the homework environment the closer we come to school - work satisfaction.

  • Create a homework checklist
    Design a homework checklist or poster that is easily accessible and in clear view in the designated "homework place". Answers to the following questions will give a quick review as to the quality and the thoroughness of homework assignments. Refer to it before, during and after an assignment is complete:

    • Is your name on the paper?
    • Did you follow all the directions?
    • Is your work neat and your handwriting readable?
    • Does each sentence begin with a capital letter?
    • Do other important words need capital letters?
    • Does each sentence end with the correct punctuation?
    • Is each word spelled correctly?
    • Is each sentence a complete thought?

This strategy may seem a bit cumbersome, at first. Yes, it will take some extra time but in no time at all, it will become second nature and part of the learning process your children will come to rely on. How quickly you’ll see results. In just a few minutes every week you’ll power up your kid’s potential, sharpen their skills, and help them stay ahead of the homework game.

  • Put up a DO NOT DISTURB sign.
    Your children can decorate it as they wish. Hang it up in a prominent spot where all can see. This visual cue emphasizes the seriousness and importance of the task at hand.

  • Supply a HOMEWORK SURVIVAL KIT.
    Fill the kit with desk supplies. Have it in the "homework place" ready and waiting at your child’s fingertips.

2. Identify Tasks That Your Child Can Do Independently.

The manner in which you will check over the completed work also needs to be established. After the independent assignments are finished help your child tackle that work that needs your assistance. Not everyone works equally well with a particular child. If neither parent or older brothers or sisters can work effectively with your child then perhaps a tutor is needed. It is important for all concerned that the relationship established during the "homework time" should be given strong consideration.

  • Do easiest work first.
    Start with the work that your child can do independently. This will build confidence and set the tone for the particular homework session.

  • Use association.
    Address the non-mastered skills assignments by associating the material with something that is known: "If you can spell book, try to spell cook – just change the first letter." or "2,000 lbs. = 1 ton; a compact car weighs about 2,000 lbs." Use math knowledge to solve real life problems: "How much gas did we use on our last car trip?" "What percent of our weekly food money goes to snacks?" or "Think of a candy bar divided in 6 pieces. Would you like to have 1 of the 6 pieces (1/6) of it or 5 pieces (5/6)? Apply the relationships of problems like these to the skills needed to complete the assignment.

Be in close proximity to your children while they’re doing their homework even if they chose to do it alone. Some children will need a parent sitting right next to them. Some will need you to read over the directions with them. Make sure that they understand and follow them. You wouldn’t believe how many homework assignments are done wrong and turned into the teacher without their parent’s signature on them. Student’s assignments are usually done wrong not because the child lacks skills but because of distractions, other priorities or just passive involvement at best. As your child gets more proficient at the "homework game" your proximity to him may be lessened gradually, as he becomes more confident in his own abilities.

  • Set goals for homework completion
    Set goals and use a clock or timer to help your youngster to develop a sense of timeliness for required tasks. Encourage your child to take responsibility for his homework. Don’t allow yourself to get trapped in lengthy discussions or arguments.

3. Give Direction and Guidance for More Difficult Tasks

When your youngster doesn’t seem to grasp a concept when the solution is so apparent to you, frustration mounts. If this happens to you, try some of these tips:

  • Separate text from graphics.
    Direct your child to look over pictures, charts or graphs before reading. Visual cues give information that is needed to answer questions without sometimes reading the text first.

  • Use analogies
    When doing math problems, make up a short list of steps to help remember all the procedures that need to be done in order. e. g. when working with division problems write DMSB or Dad, Mother, Sister, Brother on top of the paper to remember the steps in long division problems: Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring Down.

If the tug of wills during homework involves "normal stress" for you, tell yourself what you tell your children about homework: "It is just something you have to do". However, if it is truly negatively affecting your parent/child relationship, it’s time to get yourself out of the mix and seek some help. Some suggestions that work for parents are using a neighbor, high school student or a paid tutor that offers homework support. You and your child will be the better and happier for it if you can’t seem to work well together.

  • Reverse Roles.
    Try reversing roles when doing homework. Play the role of the student and have your child play the role of the teacher. Explaining concepts to others is one of the best ways of learning concepts.

4. Accept Responses as Genuine Effort. We all don’t work on full capacity 24/7. Your child, who appears to be lazy may be just tired from a busy day. Poor handwriting may be the result of having no lines on the paper or perhaps not enough space for the answer. If your young one is tired or frustrated by the length of the assignment you could alternate reading paragraphs on the page with him. In math or spelling assignments alternate working on math problems. Say to your child: "You do the odd numbered problems and I’ll do the even numbered ones. We’ll be done in no time at all."

  • Adapt and Modify Homework Processes and Procedures
    Be creative! The benefits of adapting and modifying homework procedures far out weigh disciplining your child. Keep the tempo upbeat. Remember the goal of homework is to fine tune skills by practice. New approaches offer fresh alternatives for learning and growth. Even young kids come up with novel and original observations. They should be encouraged to be imaginative and adventuresome in their thinking and to express themselves in their own words. Nothing could be more discouraging to a small child than to come to a parent with some discovery or revelation, only to be met by indifference. When young children bring you questions or want to share their insights, listen with interest. You need not applaud every idea or even agree with it, but you should treat your independent thinker with genuine respect.

  • Express Affirmation for Diligence. Let your children know what you think of their effort and hard work for diligence and creativity during a homework session. Give affirmations such as: "Your ideas in this paragraph show lots of imagination." or "You really stuck with it. You finished it so quickly! You did a great job!

5. Focus on the Goal of the Assignment

Often a social studies or science homework activities can turn into a remedial reading lesson. Keep in mind the focus of the assignment and do not let poor skills in reading, spelling and math interfere with the intended goal of the lesson. By telling your child an unknown word or numeral, you are permitting your youngster to gain knowledge or locate an answer rather than teaching reading mechanics. In this way, you are fostering a possible liking for social studies and science rather than a dislike of reading.

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