Making Homework Work for Your Family

Homework should be meaningful. It should help you grasp a concept or process, prepare for a test, strengthen a skill, or build your knowledge in a specific subject area.
—Peter Benson, Judy Galbraith, and Pamela Espeland, What Teens Need to Succeed

While public discussion and recent studies reflect a growing ambivalence toward the amount and kind of homework that produces optimal results in student performance, schoolwork is certainly a central reality of kids’ lives. You can help your kids develop confidence in their academic abilities and make the most of their school years by modeling positive attitudes, approaches, and routines with regard to homework. Here are ideas that will make homework “work” for your children:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • At this age, the best things you can do to support your children’s learning and readiness for school are to read, read, read to them and help them safely discover and explore the world.
    • Some preschoolers, especially those with older siblings, may be excited by the idea of doing homework. Consider asking a preschool teacher to send home simple worksheets, or make or buy your children age-appropriate workbooks (in bookstores, toy stores, or at the magazine stand). Don’t worry about whether the work is completed; keep it fun and make it part of the game of “school.”
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Establish a consistent homework routine at a time that works for your family; stick with it as often as possible. Make sure lighting is bright and the seating is comfortable. Turn off TVs, radios, MP3 players, phones, organizers, and hand-held electronic games to encourage your children’s concentration. Create a nightly electronics-free zone, and unless children need to use a computer for schoolwork, turn it off.
    • Sit near your children when they’re doing homework, and do work of your own: write a letter, pay bills, balance your checkbook, or read work-related material. Continue this routine as children grow older.
    • Keep all commonly used school supplies in one place, including markers, crayons, pencils, paper, stapler, tape, glue sticks, scissors, and a dictionary. Buy several sheets of posterboard at a time and keep them on hand for periodic school projects. Kids enjoy choosing a variety of poster colors.
    • Encourage children who participate in after-school childcare programs to do at least some of their homework there so that you have more family time in the evenings.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Keep in contact with your children’s teachers to be aware of the quality and quantity of work being turned in. Sign up for school e-mail alerts, and don’t hesitate to communicate with teachers by telephone or e-mail when you can’t visit them in person. Teachers appreciate signs of your interest in your child’s schoolwork.
    • Set up a “school shelf” for your family. Stock it with school supplies and include a dictionary, thesaurus, almanac, desktop encyclopedia, and atlas or globe. Add references on specific topics as needed. If you have a home computer, consider buying an encyclopedia on CD-ROM, or learn how to access online encyclopedias and reference sites. School libraries sometimes provide families with passwords for free access to research databases. Show children how to use reference materials if they have questions.
    • Encourage your children to form study groups with other students when appropriate. Help them outline complex material, and teach them how to read and evaluate arguments with a critical eye.
    • When your children ask for help, provide guidance (but don’t give them all the answers right away). Remember, children only need to do their best, not your best.
    • Investigate tutoring options for your children when they fall behind in their studies or need more support than you can provide—teacher help sessions before and after school, peer tutoring, and after-school private tutoring are all options.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Continue to attend school conferences with teachers, and ask how your children are doing with homework completion. Continue with the study strategies outlined for earlier ages.
    • Encourage your children to spend time in their high school guidance office, reading through career and college planning materials.
  • Share books, articles, news items and podcasts with your children on subjects that excite them. Connect them to adults working in fields that interest them. Communicate to your teens that learning is for life!

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