"I Finished My Homework"
Hear those magic words with a minimum of poking and prodding
By Abby Margolis Newman, Scholastic Parents
Doing homework independently. Sounds like an unfamiliar concept these days, doesn’t it? Margaret Briggs, a mother of two boys from Roxbury, Connecticut, recalls that from the first day homework started coming home, her older son Benjamin (now 11) delayed, complained, and repeatedly asked for help and attention from his mother. Briggs felt herself becoming too involved in her son’s homework. After a few years of trial and error, she recently found an effective way to draw the line: "I remind him that I already completed the sixth grade, and I don’t need to do it again. So I’ll help him with directions if he needs it, but I won’t check over his math or write paragraphs."
Cathy Vatterott, Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, likes this approach. When your child begs for help, "be straightforward," she says. "Tell her, ‘Mom’s not taking algebra this year.’ Then let her know you will be available for questions or proofreading, but that she needs to complete the work the best she can by herself."
Of course, homework help should be age-dependent, decreasing in intensity as your children get older. Your first grader may need you to sit down with her each day in order to make sure she understands her assignment and has the materials necessary to complete it, while your fifth grader should be able to work independently. But children of any age can feel overwhelmed or confused by homework from time to time. Assist by reviewing directions and helping to set priorities.
The 10-Minute Rule
Part of the issue, say many teachers and education experts, is that children are often being given too much homework too soon. The National Education Association (among other organizations) recommends no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. In other words, a second grader should be spending about 20 minutes a day on homework, and a sixth grader no more than an hour.
If you find that this 10-minute rule is greatly being exceeded, that assignments are going unfinished, or that exhaustion and frustration levels (both your child's and your own) are running high — it's time to talk to the teacher. She may need to modify the type or amount of work; or your child may need some extra help in certain areas. "If a student is struggling to complete what I’m giving him at night, I want to know about it," says Betsy Rogers, a first and second grade teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, who was the 2003 National Teacher of the Year. "Parents and teachers should work together to avoid turning homework into a nightly battle."
It’s important to tell the teacher if your child consistently needs your intervention to do his work. "If your child can’'t complete homework without help, try to determine if the assignment is too hard, if the directions are unclear, or if he didn’t understand the information when it was taught in class," says Vatterott. Teachers want this kind of feedback, she points out, and most will be happy to give a child a chance to redo an assignment.
Every Child Is Different
Another landmine in the field of homework involves parental expectations. My oldest child, Jonah, a fourth grader, has always been self-motivated when it comes to schoolwork. He comes home from school, unpacks his backpack, sits at the table and does his homework, without a single word of prompting. For his third-grade brother, Aaron, doing homework is akin to getting his fingernails pulled out, one by one. So, my approach to Aaron is necessarily different. I need to be more involved, more vigilant, more patient. I ask questions, offer encouragement, and check in regularly on progress.
Dealing with siblings with such vastly divergent styles can be challenging. "Know thy child" is the most important commandment for parents, according to clinical psychologist Ruth Peters, Ph.D. Pay attention to each child's personal study habits. For example, don't hover over a self-starter, but do let a wildly energetic kid ride her bike for 15 minutes after school before settling down to do homework.
Tips for Easing Angst
Whether the kitchen table is Homework Central or your child works better in the quiet of his own room, there are several things you can do to ensure that assignments are completed with maximum efficiency and minimum angst. Click here to read some helpful tips!
"There’s a fine line between helping and doing too much for kids, so they're not learning," says teacher Betsy Rogers. Walking that line may take some adjustment, but finding the right balance will result in less chaos and more self-sufficient kids in the long run.