Written by: Toni Foot
Homework can be a challenge: both for children and their parents. Although you can’t do their homework for them, there are things you can do to make helping with homework time more productive and less of a battle.
- Organize appropriate homework time. Most children are able to concentrate best in the early evening. It is a good idea to let them unwind briefly after their day at school, perhaps long enough to have a snack or their evening meal, or perhaps stop off at the park on the way home to help them get some exercise and fresh air. However, don’t leave it too close to bedtime otherwise they will be too tired to engage with the work effectively.
- Ensure their work area is adequate. They will need enough space to lay out their books and equipment, so a reasonable sized table is a good idea. Avoid letting them work in front of the TV or in a busy room with lots of people and noise.
- Check their equipment. Avoid letting them have computers or mobile phones on as these can be distracting. Obviously, some homework requires using computer or other technology but make sure they don’t have extra web pages or chat windows open too.
- Keep track of what they have to do. Many schools provide or require academic diaries, but you can provide a notebook or personal diary if they don’t. As children get older they are often expected to complete more homework of increasing complexity so relying on their memory is not a good idea. Encourage them to write down homework as soon as it is given, including any instructions from the teacher. This will help them complete the work correctly and avoid tasks being forgotten. Make sure you check this record regularly to ensure they are keeping up.
- Help, but don’t do it for them. It is important to show your children you are willing and available to help when they need it. This could involve showing them where to look for answers to their questions or asking them to show you what they are trying to do so that you can help work out what they are doing wrong. Sometimes, just explaining the method to someone else can help them see the answers more clearly. On the other hand, you must not give them the answers or correct their work too closely: remember you are not going to be able to sit exams for them so you are not helping them by taking over too much.
- Keep them healthy. Making sure children have had enough sleep will help them concentrate. If they are regularly drifting, try getting them to bed a bit earlier for a while and see if that makes a difference. Hydration is important so always offer them a drink (water is best, but if they want something else ensure it isn’t full of sugar or additives, otherwise they will have a short ‘high’ and then crash, leaving them unable to concentrate). A balanced meal or healthy snack may also give them the energy they need to get through homework time.
- Keep in touch with the school. Share your concerns with your child’s teacher if they are regularly struggling with homework. You should have parents’ evenings or reports home from teachers anyway, but you do not have to wait for these if you feel your children are not coping well.
Most importantly, try to be supportive about homework rather than confrontational. Encouraging and setting up good working environments will help them to study effectively where as negative interactions can lead to them being unable to concentrate. Avoid criticizing bad marks if you can, rather spend time looking at what went wrong and how they can improve in the future.