Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Homework Help

Now that we are a couple months into the school year chances are your child is facing the daily task of homework. I'm both a parent and a teacher so I've worked this angle on both sides.  Here's my take on homework and some tips for success.

Homework comes in differnt forms

1.  Daily Reading - most teachers will have some sort of reading program in place.  The benefits of daily reading practice, reading for pleasure and reading with parents are huge.  Some reading programs are simply to read books and log them.  Others have a more detailed plan, such as reading journals to fill in. 

2. Extra practice - this is where your child's teacher sends home some work that reflects what they have been learning in school, reinforcing what has been taught

3.  Work that wasn't finished in class time - this is where your child needs to compete work that should have been completed in class

4.  Projects - any sort of bigger, ongoing work related to a concept in school.  These projects usually require some research time and may or may not involve your child getting together with another child to complete work together.

5.  Family homework - these are tasks related to what your child is doing in school that gives you and your child opportunity to work together

6.  Spelling words - usually sent home on a Monday and tested on a Friday.  These words will be commonly misspelled words or words related to a topic of study.

How much homework to expect?

The general rule of thumb regarding homework is about 10 minutes a night per grade.  For example 30 minutes for a student in grade three.  This is not an exact science.  Some children will fly through certain tasks.   You know your child best.  My son will take no time at all to work through a math sheet, but balks at printing practice.  It shouldn't take him as long to do as it does and wouldn't if he didn't fuss about it so much.
If it seems like your child is getting a lot of homework for his age see if you can find out why.  If they are getting a lot of work not finished at school sent home there is usually a reason.  Is your child talking or daydreaming instead of working?  Do they understand the work set in front of them?  Talk to your child's teacher to see what is going on.  Most teachers have a homework philosophy.  Ask for an appointment and see what is going on and how to make a plan together for best success. 

Setting up a home plan

Routine and schedules are so important for your children.  What kind of routine do you have at home?  How are you supporting your child's learning?  What kind of work space do your children have?  Have you built time in your day for homework?
Here's what our routine currently looks like.  I know that on Mondays we have hockey in the evening and Wednesdays we go to a community dinner at my husband's college.  This means that afternoons before supper are the best time for homework.  We never do homework immediately after school.  I know that my son has had a long day at school already and needs a break.  We spend a good half hour to an hour at the school yard playground to play.  Once we are home, my kids have a snack.  Then it's time for homework.  My son unpacks his backpack with me there.  We read his planner together and check his homework folder.  He works at his homework at the kitchen table.  This way I'm close by (making supper) for any help he needs.  It is also a flat working space.  Practice reading (for reading journals) we do together on the couch (although reading logs we do at bedtime).   For his spelling words we have gotten into a routine of me randomly quizzing him whenever throughout the week (in the car, after supper, at bedtime, whenever).   Repeated practice works.
Home plans are also great for supporting school projects.  If you see a class project has been assigned, then help your child plan out when it will be worked on.  (The night before it is due is not the time).  Teaching them how to plan out larger tasks and breaking them down will help them later in life.  That could be for when they have large essays in college, have a work project at work, or even getting their taxes done. 

Supporting homework, not doing homework

Teachers know when parents do their child's homework.  It's pretty obvious to us.  You can guide them through it if they are stuck, but it really doesn't benefit your child if you do it for them.   They also know when parents don't take the time to help their child.   You can help your child simply by setting up a homework routine and making sure it gets done.   If getting homework done is a big production (an exasperating fuss) that's when you need to come up with a plan.  Homework isn't going to go away.  I added 'homework without a fuss' to my son's sticker reward chart.  That's what works for him.  What works for you child?  Is there a deeper issue going on?  Are they having difficulty for a reason beyond that they don't want to do it?  That would be a reason to sit down with your child's teacher to discuss.  Remember that the best meetings with your child's teacher are going to happen when you set up a time and go in with an attitude to work together to help your child. 

But my child doesn't have any homework!

There are three reasons for this:
1.  your child is not bringing it home on purpose (aka - they don't want to do it)
2.  your child is disorganized
3.  your child's teacher has a no-homework program 

If the answer is #1 - find out why they don't want to do it and help them as best you can to get it done
If the answer is #2 - then you need to look at teaching your child some organizational strategies, or, find out if there is a deeper issue in terms of organization.  Most classrooms have student planners in which they are to write down their homework or any important information that needs to be communicated at home.  Do they have the proper books that they need to get a job done?  Are they bringing everything home that they need to?  Do notices and assignments frequently get lost?  Maybe they need a folder to put every important paper into. 
If they answer is #3 - this is a new model that some schools and teachers are trying out.  The only homework assigned is class work not done and reading at home.  

Homework can be a daunting task if you aren't prepared for it.  It is even more daunting if you and your partner work full time, and/or have your children in full time extra-curricular activities.  It shouldn't be so overwhelming it can't be done.  Look at how your family spends their time.  I'm a big believer in the following things happening every day:
-outside play for at least half an hour (longer is better)
-family meal time (sitting down at the table together)
-setting routines for daily tasks (making beds, brushing teeth, making and eating meals, bath time, bed time...and homework)
-reading time
Other things are better in moderation
-extra curricular activities
-screen time (TV, Computer, Video Games)

Your child is going to have many, many teachers in their lifetime.  All of them will have their own philosophy in regards to homework.  Some will be big believers in repetition and mastery, others will be believers in the no homework philosophy.  Whichever kind of teacher (or teachers) your child has this year, you can be prepared and organized to help your child achieve success.


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