Today is the first day back to school. I woke up ridiculously early, with excitement (nervousness?) to go to my schools and see all my kiddos. The FDOS is always so chaotic and fun for me. Of course, I get to hold kindergartner’s hands, sooth the cryers (moms, I’m looking at you!), see my 6th graders from last year now towering over me in height from just one summer’s growth, and see all the teachers all nice and fresh and ready to change the world. Here I go.
But not everyone experiences an easy, breezy, beautiful cover girl FDOS. Some kids have difficulties transitioning back into the groove of things, including the homework ritual. So, without further ado, parents, here are some tips for back-to-school homework challenges. Teachers and school psychs, if you have others, do share!
1) Ensure the homework workload is appropriate. In general, students should be working on 10 minutes of homework per grade level. For example, a 1st grader should have about 10 minutes of homework, a second grader should have about 20 minutes of homework, and so forth. This does not include shared book reading time, which is often about 30 minutes or more a night. If your child is spending more time on homework than this general rule of thumb, have a conversation with the teacher about the level of difficulty or workload. Tell the teacher how long it takes your child to do the work and then ask the teacher if that is typical. It is good feedback for the teacher if skills are not automatic for your child, then s/he knows what concepts to re-teach. Homework is designed to reinforce concepts, not teach new ones for the child to struggle with at home.
2) Develop a homework routine. Provide a consistent workspace and time for homework. Have a discussion with your child about when and where s/he will be able to focus best. Some children need to be sitting with parents or siblings to get help on homework, and some children prefer to do it in their rooms in an area free of distraction. In general, homework should be done before dinner time, but there is flexibility in when they should start. Some children are still in “school mode” and like to get it done right away, some need exercise or a snack first.
3) If you child complains about homework, consider developing an incentive system. Some children are motivated by a sense of completion or getting a grade back on homework, while others are not. You can set up a simple incentive system together, such as allowing a fun activity after homework is completed. This is called the “Premack Principle”: First you do X, then you get Y. This is often sufficient to spark your child into action. Some children show more resistance, and benefit from a more elaborate system, such as earning points for doing their homework, earning bonus points for not complaining about homework, and so forth. These points are then redeemed for rewards that the family decides upon together. To prevent sibling rivalry, use the incentive system will all family members, even if the other sibling is doing his/her homework without any issues. It never hurts to reward good homework habits.
4) Do not accidently step over your bounds and end up doing your child’s homework for him or her, for the sake of getting it done. It is better to leave items undone with a note to the teacher saying that your child did not understand the concept than to give the answer to your child. Giving the answer deprives your child’s teacher of needed feedback to tailor instruction to your child’s needs.
5) Check your own attitudes about homework. If you didn’t like homework when you were younger, chances are you may implicitly impart this message to your child. The messages you send about homework can be subtle. If you say, “Just get it done/over with” or “I know it’s just busy work”, you send that message to your child that homework does not have value. Instead, emphasize that homework is a way to share with you all the interesting things they have learned in school, and teaches good work habits. Praise the process, not the outcome. “I like how hard you are working on your math facts” or “Look at you working through that tricky question and not giving up!” sends a message that learning is a process, not a product.
6) Acknowledge and address difficulties if homework becomes a nightly struggle. Tell your child that you can see that homework is frustrating for him/her and resolve to figure it out together. You may need to enlist the support of your child’s teacher, or the school psychologist. School sites often have student success teams in which key stakeholders get together and problem solve academic difficulties and put interventions and supports in place. Sometimes, there are after school tutoring programs, modified assignments, or additional community resources that can be tapped into to help your child.
Secondary School: Middle & High (6-12th grade)
In addition to all of tips above, there are a few special considerations for students in secondary school:
1) Parents should think of their role as changing from the elementary years as a “Homework Manager” to the adolescent years as a “Homework Facilitator.” Chances are, if your child developed good homework habits in elementary school, they will continue into the secondary grades. Offer yourself as a support or resource if they get stuck on assignments, and check in periodically to make sure that they are feeling competent in their homework. If the first progress report of the year comes back with low homework grades, then you can have a discussion with your child about changes that need to be made in your role.
2) If your child struggled with homework in elementary school, chances are they may experience more challenges in middle and high school because they will have more teachers and subjects to juggle. In this case, you may need to have a conversation with your child that you would like to support them in making homework an easier and more fun process for them and brainstorm supports. Again, you may be looking at incentive systems as well as increased communication with teachers for the student who is not motivated by completion or grades alone.
3) It is important to impart the message that you are involved in their homework because you care. Teenagers often want to have a sense of control, and sometimes see parent monitoring as a negative trait, that they don’t trust them or are trying to control them. Reinforce that you are involved because you want them to do well in school and feel proud of their work. Assure them that you will not need to manage their homework routines when they start showing responsibility.
4) If your child complains that they don’t want to do homework, check to make sure that it is not because they can’t do their homework, or they have difficulties writing down assignments, planning for long-term assignments, or remembering what to do. Often, adolescents would rather look defiant than incapable. Collaborate with your child’s teachers in the areas they are resisting homework to make sure there isn’t a larger problem underneath the resistance. Your school psychologist is another resource for better understanding your child’s challenges and problem-solving interventions to support him/her.
5) Teenagers also need homework routines. They may be more involved in determining the time and location than in the elementary years. They may say that they have more energy to do homework at night, or they want to do homework with friends. As long as they are completing their work and going to bed at a reasonable time, this can be allowed. You can also let your teenager suffer the natural consequence of staying up super late–they will be tired and cranky the next day and may think twice about procrastinating in the future.
6) If you are finding yourself in a nightly battle over homework, and it is putting a strain on your relationship with your teenager, consider outside assistance. At times, there are peer tutors at the school who can work with students on homework. College students often offer tutoring and study skills assistance. Since many teens are socially motivated, working with an older peer on homework may be a good solution to removing yourself from the negative interaction.
And I’m off….get ready for the famous Kindergarten quotes of the day…