Getting elementary kids to do homework is a major issue in many households. Not surprisingly, most children don’t like homework. In reality this is very similar to the way that as adults we don’t want our work invading our free time at home. Modeling home study, showing interest and taking the “work” out of homework is a great way that the whole family can help minimize the stress on younger students.
Parents need to show a genuine interest in the child’s academic career right from the first day of school. This means talking to the child about what is going on, what they are learning and in monitoring homework. Parents don’t need to hover, but they do need to provide encouragement, support and some mentoring or tutoring skills when required and requested. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, consider having a high school or college student come in and tutor your child two or three nights a week. This can be a real self-esteem booster for your child and provide him or her additional motivation and learning opportunities.
Another key element is modeling. Parents need to be doing something academic while the children are completing homework. This shows a value in education and a value in the work ethic. Parents may be reading, helping the children or even doing a bit of “homework” themselves. It is important that parents aren’t doing something really entertaining that the children would rather be doing during homework time. This will build up resentment and frustration for the child and may lead to more arguments when the kids get a bit older.
Block off a reasonable amount of time where everyone in the family is doing homework. Most children, especially in the elementary grades, should have less than 30 minutes of homework per night. This may include math, spelling, reading, composition work and computer research time. As kids progress through middle school and beyond homework may take up considerably more of their free time, especially with larger projects over the weekend. If your child is doing more than 30 minutes to one hour of homework and is becoming stressed and frustrated, be proactive and talk to the classroom teacher. Research shows that excessive homework has no positive impact on learning or test scores and may, in fact, cause a child to have lower scores.
Parents can help by teaching children scheduling and prioritizing when it comes to homework. This means sitting down with the child for a few minutes and deciding how much time to spend on each activity. This helps keep the child moving along and provides changes in the subject matter. A simple stove timer or an alarm clock on your computer works wonders and provides a motivator for the child. If the clock seems to stress the child, don’t use it.
Spelling practice can be turned into a game. Mom or Dad can create a series of square tiles out of stiff paper with each of the letters in the spelling words. Starting with just the letters for the individual word, the child can rearrange them or unscramble them for the correct spelling. Points can be kept for correct spelling using the tiles. As the week progresses more than one word can be included in the scrambled tiles and Mom or Dad calls out the word in random order to complete the practice.
Math facts can be done with flash cards as well as with boring old paper and pencil drills. While computer games for spelling and math are available, kids love to have Mom and Dad helping out and giving encouragement. Older siblings can also join in the game but they have to be positive and supportive and not overly competitive with the younger learners.
Use time in the car for quick quizzing and review and to allow the child to talk about what he or she has learned and what they are interested in. Make this fun and upbeat, not a grueling oral exam on the way to school. You may also come up with easy to remember jingles, poems, acronyms or a memory trick from your school days that can be a terrific sharing and teaching moment for your child.