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Parent: Rescue Homework Time

Rescue Homework Time!


Homework...the word alone conjures up such dread, such loathing!

Homework...I can hear the whining now…

You and teacher are a team. You are the eyes and ears on the learning process at home. If the work is too hard or too easy or your child is constantly confused or overwhelmed or even if the work is sucking the intellectual curiosity out of your child (cough, cough, down with busywork!)--the teacher needs to hear about it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. At its best, homework can give you important insight to what and how your child is doing in school. It can also help instill some important life skills.

But this doesn’t just happen. Traditional homework and traditional attitudes about homework won’t make it happen. But things are about to change and you are about to rescue homework time.

Step 1: Set your child up for homework success.

Make a family plan: Sit down, get out a calendar and plan when, where, and how you will all work together to get homework done. Don’t try to tuck it in on the seams of the day or kinda “wait and see.” Be proactive. And keep in mind, “just before bedtime” rarely works. This is a tool I use to help my family get a plan.

Remove distractions: This one is obvious but SO HARD to act on. The tractor beams of the TV/phone/tablet/gaming system are powerful! But no one in the history of homework has done better work while multitasking. Teach your child he is no different in this regard--no matter how old he is. Help your kids with this by not letting anyone in the house play/watch until everyone is done (this includes you). This homework board is a great idea for limiting distractions for elementary kids. Keep fighting the good fight because if your child can learn to remove distractions--he will be a productivity ninja as an adult!

Don’t overschedule: If you find that the only time you have to do homework is in the car, as you drive to x, y and z, your child is too busy. Make some hard choices and set some limits. The one thing you should always prioritize in your schedule--sleep! Teaching your child to budget her precious resource--time--will give her a great advantage as an adult.

Keep a good attitude: Kids are like dogs and horses, they intuitively now how you really feel and act accordingly (I’m from farm country, so that comparison makes sense). So get on the homework train! Homework can teach kids some valuable life skills and give you a window into what they are learning (more about that in the next paragraph). BUT if the homework your child has is really not accomplishing those tasks--well, then you need to have a frank conversation with the teacher (read on--I’m getting to that part).

Step 2: Don’t help with the content but do help with the process.

To not help or not to help, that is the question. When it comes to homework, I believe less is more and I’m sure your child’s teacher agrees with me.

Homework is a way for teachers to gauge how well your child has learned something. If you are really doing it, then you’re showing the teacher how well you know something. Not helpful information.

So don’t help with the content. Instead, help with the process of planning, executing, and reflecting on the task. These are important life skills that you, as a parent, can instill in your child.

Planning: We’ve already talked about getting a family plan. The US Department of Education has a good list of questions that can help you teach your child how to plan before they begin working. Here are my favorite:

Do you understand what you're supposed to do?
Do you need help in understanding how to do this assignment?
Do you have everything you need to do the assignment?

Executing, especially starting a task, is skill that needs some practice. One habit of mind  discussed on this podcast, that will really help your kids (and you, too) is to identify the “next action.” Instead of getting overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done, just figure out the next doable thing you can move the task forward. This will lead to execution.  

Reflecting. I think reflecting on the process of how you are learning (called “metacognition” in teacher-speak) is a super important part of the learning process that can easily be reinforced at home. By asking our kids to reflect on how they learned, we’re teaching them to not just follow their textbook or worksheet or teacher. We are helping them learn the way to do something for themselves. And when you take away the textbook, worksheet or teacher, they will still be able to do it. You can read more about it here and find a handy, dandy printable list of reflection questions in the toolbox.

Another important life lesson that kids can learn from homework is the concept of follow-through. Repeat after me: Nobody dies if the homework isn’t done. So do not bail out your kids. Learning that there’s a consequence, early on, for not completing a task will serve your child well in life.   

(Although---side note, I have a very fond memory of the night my mother and I stayed up late working on my 9th grade poetry notebook. She typed up the poems while I hunted through old magazines for illustrations. I was very thankful she helped me until the wee hours of the morning and I’m still a fairly responsible adult. So, you know, sometimes helping a forgetful teenager is the right thing to do).

Step 3: Keep the “home” in homework.

You and teacher are a team. You are the eyes and ears on the learning process at home. If the work is too hard or too easy or your child is constantly confused or overwhelmed or even if the work is sucking the intellectual curiosity out of your child (cough, cough, down with busywork!)--the teacher needs to hear about it. (Read here if you think your child may need more support or here if your child is struggling with reading)

For example, my son (5th grade) brought home a chapter to read in his history textbook. It was way too hard for him and would’ve taken hours of frustration and tears. Did I mention it was all in Spanish? Spanish is not his first language. It’s barely his second (we’re working on it). So I wrote a note to the teacher and said, “Sorry--this was too hard. L read three pages and together we skimmed the rest. If you want him to complete it over the next few days he can.”

The teacher was grateful for the feedback and because we often talk about how my son is doing in class, I felt completely comfortable telling her that this was beyond his ability.

This isn’t the same as making excuses for your child. This is about letting the teacher know how your child is doing with the material outside of the classroom so he or she can decide what this may mean for instruction in the classroom.  

Step 4: Push back on homework that doesn’t help your child learn.

Let’s be honest. Sometimes homework is a complete waste of time. And sometimes it isn’t a complete waste of time but you need help seeing the intellectual benefits. Either way, you gotta pipe up.

Start by sending your child’s teacher or principal this article. It outlines some workarounds to traditional homework.

Also, ask. Just ask the teacher to explain to you the purpose of the particular homework and if it isn’t accomplishing that purpose, work together to come up with some alternatives.

With the right homework and the right attitude and right plan--homework can be a valuable bridge between the learning at home and the learning at school.

Start here: Print out the reflection questions in the Toolbox and post it somewhere you usually do homework.

Challenge yourself: Send this homework article to your child’s teacher and PTA president. Get the conversation started.

Want to read more? Check out this article on homework and this one.

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