School starting means homework will again become a part of our daily lives. As parents, we need to help our children not only remember to do their homework, but also give help when needed. But, how much help is too much? What is the best way to help our children with homework?
Recently, I volunteered to help check math homework for my son's 2nd grade class. I was shocked on more than one occasion to see that the parent had clearly completed the homework for the child. Sometimes, this same child had multiple assignments turned in at once - some were in the child's handwriting and skill level while others were neatly written and 100 percent correct. How can a child learn what he needs if Mom or Dad does the homework for him?
Additionally, how many times have you noticed parent-done science fair projects? Some children may be conscientious enough to have a project so perfected, but most are not. Yet, you'd think it was a science fair for the parents to show off their skills!
What are some ways parents can help their children with homework without doing it for them?
Create a learning environment
Find a place that your child can concentrate and work effectively. For some, this may mean on the couch or at the kitchen table. Others may prefer to work alone at a desk in their bedroom. Avoid distracting things like television, loud music or rambunctious siblings. Distract younger kids with drawing, coloring or looking at or reading books. Sometimes soft instrumental music can enhance concentration and learning. Find what works best and stick with it.
Have a schedule
Kids are often exhausted and in need of a break when they get home from school. Give children 30-60 minutes of free time before diving into homework. Depending on your family, it may be necessary to work around sports or after-school jobs. Make sure these other activities do not get in the way of schoolwork. Some families may need homework done before dinner while others may not start until after the evening meal. If a child is in daycare after school, have her work on homework she can easily get done with distractions. Set a schedule based on family routines that allows adequate time for homework to be completed. Make it a daily routine.
After working hard for a while on homework, it may benefit your child to have a break after completing a certain amount. Watch your child for cues that may indicate the need for a break, such as wiggling or staring into space. Allow your child to get a drink, have a snack or walk around before getting back to work.
Homework = practice
Just like learning to play an instrument, after the lesson, children are expected to practice and learn the piece before the next lesson. Homework reinforces what the child was taught in class. It gives her an opportunity to practice what she learned and to gain better understanding of the concepts.
Helping vs. doing
It may be tempting, if your child is struggling, to just do it for her by telling her how to do it step-by-step. This will not help her actually learn the material. Resist doing your child's homework by using these tips to help, instead:
1. Give examples rather than solve the problem for him
Using a similar example, show and explain how to do the problem. Ask for his input on how to solve it and have him tell you what is the next step. Then, allow him to use the same method to solve the original problem.
2. Draw pictures to illustrate the problem
Not only is this useful for a parent to show the child visually how to solve the problem, but she can also use this technique on test day. Drawing a picture (especially when it comes to math) can help your child understand what the problem is asking and how to find the answer.
3. Talk with the teacher
If it seems like your child is really struggling, the teacher needs to know. Some teachers offer office hours to help students. One-on-one time with the teacher can help address misunderstandings and help your child to ask questions without his classmates around.
4. Be available to answer questions
While your child is working on assignments, be available. You don't have to sit with him the whole time, but your willing presence may be needed. Have patience and try the best you can to guide your child to find the answer.
5. Read the how-to instructions from the book or look online for help
Sometimes refreshing your child's memory is all that is needed. There are also online resources available. Some teachers have websites they like to reinforce what is learned in class. Some noteworthy sites include www.infoplease.com, www.homeworkhelp.com, www.discoveryeducation.com or www.math.com. Students can use this alone or with parental assistance to find explanations to help with homework.
Kids go to school to learn. As parents, we need to do the best we can to help facilitate a learning atmosphere, not by doing their work for them, but by helping, supporting and encouraging when we can. We can help them to understand concepts more fully and teach them how to seek answers by themselves. Not only will they be more prepared for tests, but many concepts build upon previously learned ones. Assisting our children in appropriate ways with their homework will help them succeed.