Helping Your Child with Homework
Pauline Turner's 26 years in elementary education have taught her one simple truth: Children need parents to help them with their homework. When parents involve themselves in their children's homework routine, the difference is significant.
"Of course their work is finished and correct," Turner says. "But they also show a genuine interest in learning and are even eager to learn. Those who don't have parental assistance make up excuses every day or things will suddenly come up as to why they didn't or couldn't do their homework."
Linda Hodge, vice president/program director of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), says the results that Turner noticed are universal. According to PTA research, children who receive help on their homework develop higher self-confidence, have a more positive attitude toward learning, receive higher grades and have higher attendance in school.
Mike Potts, father of 15-year-old Amanda and 11-year-old Alicia, says he saw a general improvement in his older daughter's grades and attitude since he and his children developed a homework routine.
"If Amanda doesn't try she gets a 'C,' and if she tries she gets a 'B,'" Potts says. "But, if she tries a little harder she can get straight 'As.'"
Potts makes "trying" easier by helping his daughters with their homework. Potts does not have a history in education or numerous degrees. He helps his daughters by simply making sure they complete their homework. "We set-up a homework table in the kitchen away from the phone," Potts says. "And we center dinner around their homework."
Turner says this is the type of involvement that children need most, because parents serve as great motivators to their children. "If the parents are motivated to learn, the child will be, too," she says.
"Alicia does not have enough homework," Potts says. "Homework helps develop study habits and helps them to learn a little bit more than they did in that short period of class time." Homework is usually based on the day's lesson plan. Some teachers, like Turner, go over the lesson again the next morning. This repetition helps children learn.
Turner currently teaches second graders. She gives them one page each of spelling, math and reading that takes about 30 minutes to complete. Potts says Alicia spends approximately that much time on her homework. Amanda spends 8 to 10 hours a week.
According to Turner, children are never too young to have homework or to have a homework routine. "I had one young girl who in the second grade was a pleasure to teach, because her mother had already taught her the importance of organization and learning," she says.
Do Your Research
Hodge suggests doing a little field research with your child before establishing a routine. Determine what time of day works best with her and what materials she will need. The easiest way to do this is to have a conversation with her the first minute they enter school.
All children are different and so are their study habits, as Hodge, also a mother, discovered. "One of my children had to come home from school and do his homework immediately, but the other one could wait until after dinner," Hodge says.
No matter what time in the evening a child starts his or her homework, research suggests that a quiet area away from the television or other distractions works best. Parents should make sure that children have materials like pencils, pens, paper, dictionary, calculator and erasers at their disposal.
Potts never had a problem motivating his girls to work, but at one point the telephone did become a problem. "The (number of) phone calls Amanda got a night were a problem, but we got an answering machine for her," Potts says.
Turner says the fewer distractions a child has, the more time it gives them to focus on the importance of what they are learning. Hodge stresses, however, that children ultimately are responsible for their homework. Parents cannot make their children do their work, especially by the time they are teen-agers, but at age 5, parents can give them the skills and positive attitude necessary to succeed. "Children need to learn time management skills," Hodge says. "Homework should be done at a consistent time every night."
Parents also can help their children with these skills by dividing larger amounts of homework into smaller tasks. Turner and Hodge both strongly recommend reviewing the homework and giving positive feedback. "Some students will put anything down, especially with math," Turner says. "Make sure they have made an attempt to do their work correctly."
Potts had this problem with his younger daughter, Alicia. "She does her homework too quickly, because she wants to go outside and play. We shut playtime down until her homework is done correctly."
The Answer is Always C?
The answer is not always "C." For many parents, several years have Passed since they graced the halls of a school. If a parent cannot answer a child's question, that's OK, and does not mean the parent can't help. Hodge says the PTA provides source lists, "so if a parent doesn't know the answer, they can call the teacher or have the child can meet with the teacher first thing in the morning."
Sometimes the solutions become more involved. Potts says last year Amanda had some difficulty with Algebra. "I tried to help, but it's been 20 years since I have taken Algebra," Potts says. "Her friends could help her but they only gave her the answers and not the equation or steps to get there." Potts and his daughter decided that she should see a tutor two to three nights a week.
For smaller problems like spelling, Hodge does not recommend telling kids the answer, but directing them to the information. "If they can't spell a word, guide them so they can figure out how to spell it by using the dictionary."
Remember to Raise Your Hand
If your child doesn't seem to have enough homework or there is too much homework or your child does not understand the homework, talk to the teacher or principal. Hodge says parents need to work with the school to develop policies on how to keep the lines of communication open between parents and teachers.
Turner suggests attending open houses or teachers' conferences. "At the beginning of the year I send out an informational letter letting the parents know what's expected of the child," Turner says.
Other avenues, like the Internet, also are available. "Some teachers may put assignments online or tip sheets about how you as a parent can get involved," Hodge says.
If there is a more serious problem, you and your child should connect with the teacher and find out what the problem is. "Meet with the teacher and make the child a part of the solution," Hodge says. "Even a 5 year old knows when they're goofing off."
Helping your children with their homework is another form of quality time. "Some parents act like they don't have the time," Turner says. "But they have to find it by making the child turn off the TV and sitting down with the child to do the work."