For those of you who know me, you know that I teach high school students. The approach to high school is very different than the approach I take with my elementary-aged child. First of all, there’s no evidence or research that supports homework in elementary school. In other words, students didn’t show much growth or benefit from doing homework, and, in fact, homework could possibly do more harm than good in lower grades. However, that changes once students get to junior high and high school. With that said, these tips can be used for any age or grade level. Unfortunately, homework is not going away any time soon, so here are some practical homework tips I use in my own house, with my own child.
Fit homework into your schedule, not the other way around.
Find a time that works for your child to do homework. I know when my son first gets home, all he wants to do is unwind, eat a snack, play with his toys, or watch a bit of television. I let him. I know when I get home right after work, sometimes I just want to stare at the wall. Why wouldn’t it be the same for him? I also schedule homework around extracurricular activities. His teacher gives the week’s worth of homework each Monday, which seems to be standard practice in elementary school. Since on Tuesday nights he has karate, we don’t do homework on Tuesday. I check his folder for any important announcements, but I don’t even mention homework unless I know he’ll have time to do it. Having to do extracurriculars and homework all in one night is too much. For high school, this gets a bit trickier, since some assignments are due the next day. If you have a kid in junior high or high school, and they are involved in extracurriculars, help them plan out their time! They still need your help with time management!
Remember, homework is independent practice.
I emphasize the fact that homework should be done independently because this is, after all, practice of what they’ve been learning in class. Sure, I’ll answer a question if he has it or I’ll double check when he’s finished, but I am not sitting at the table while he completes it. Usually I’m cooking dinner while he sits at the kitchen table and works on his homework. If he doesn’t understand something, and if I don’t understand something, I’ll write a note to the teacher. But, at the end of the day, I want him to be able to do it on his own. If I help him every step of the way, how will he do on his own when he’s asked to do the same in class? This is also where I’ll stand on my soapbox and say “meeting at Starbucks with a group of friends to do homework or study is NOT helpful!” I’m looking at you, gaggle of teen girls with your frappuccinos on a Wednesday night.
Give as much choice as possible.
If they can complete homework in colored erasable pencils, let them. If it doesn’t matter the order of assignments, let them choose which assignment they want to do. Sometimes my son wants to do his math homework when it’s “reading practice.” I let him. The order doesn’t seem to matter. Sometimes he wants to sit down and do the whole week’s worth of homework. I’ll let him. I have found that giving choice as much as I can makes homework time a little easier. Again, this works better for lower grades because once students hit high school, they need to understand the importance of following directions.
Set a timer appropriate for their age.
Some nights, he looks at his homework and decides he wants nothing to do with it. I get it. Having to write an entire page of letters seems overwhelming. This is when I’ll set the timer for 10 to 15 minutes (keep in mind, he’s in kindergarten). He only has to work on his homework until the timer goes out. Finished or not, when the timer goes off, he can stop. Most of the time, he’ll end up just finishing it even after the timer goes off because he sees he’s almost finished. If your child has a phone or computer, have them PUT IT AWAY while they work on homework. Chances are, they will work way more efficiently when they aren’t checking SnapChat every few minutes.
When in doubt, throw it out.
No, not literally throw out the homework. But, if homework is a constant struggle in your house, I want you to take a hard look at the work itself. What’s its purpose? Is it something your child has already mastered? Do they struggle with it? Do they even know why they are being asked to do it? If you aren’t sure the purpose of the homework, you might want to rethink forcing it. Or at least send an email to the teacher to find out how the homework fits into the bigger picture. I also want to encourage you to find out the school’s grading policy on homework. At my son’s school, homework is never graded. Does he need some of the extra practice? Probably, but homework is not the mountain I want to die on. I’d rather skip it and read with him instead.