5 Ways to Help with Homework (Without Helping Too Much)

posted: 09/02/15
by: Blythe Copeland
woman and child doing homework together

1. Set a routine.

A homework routine is essential for helping your kids get into the homework habit. Set up a homework station with all the supplies they'll need for their assignments (this can be a dedicated spot in the living room, their bedroom, or your office) so they won't waste time looking for colored pencils, blank paper, or glue. Then spend some time figuring out what type of schedule works best for your little ones. Do they need a break right when they get off the bus for 20 minutes of active play, a snack, or a little time to talk about their day with you? If your kid requests screen time after school, does he transition smoothly back to "work mode", or does it work better to reserve screen time for after dinner? Maybe your student races through worksheets before dinner and prefers to do his assigned reading time just before bed--or the opposite. Ideally, most homework will be done with plenty of time to play before bedtime; leaving it for the last minute means kids (and parents) are tired, and more likely to get frustrated or upset with more difficult concepts.

2. Make a plan.

Sit down with your kids each day and work out a plan for their homework. Go over the assignments due the next day and help them choose what to do first (this is also their chance to talk about what they may need your help with, so you don't end up trying to quiz them on spelling words while putting the baby to bed). You should also look through any long-term assignments the teachers sends home and help your kids enter the due dates onto a calendar; then talk together about setting aside a little time each day or week to study for the big test, build a diorama, or work on a book report so it's not left for the last minute.

3. Figure out their learning style.

Everyone learns differently: Some kids are more tactile and will grasp math concepts by using stacking blocks or counting coins, while others need to see the numbers written out. For some students, a stack of spelling word flashcards is an essential tool; others will pick up the order of the letters by seeing the word on the page and sounding it out. Young kids probably aren't going to be able to identify the system that works best for them, but by paying attention to how they study you can figure out their innate abilities--and help them capitalize on those. This short quiz from Scholastic suggests whether your kid learns by listening, seeing, or through physical activity, and offers study and learning tips for each style.

4. Don't help too much.

Teachers assign homework as a way of reinforcing what students learned in class and measuring how well individual kids are picking up the concepts. If you do your child's homework for him, it's that much harder for the teacher to gauge his success--and you're not doing your child any favors, either. A 2014 study found that higher levels of parental involvement with homework didn't improve kids' standardized test scores. Better options: Read to young kids every day; talk with older kids about their plans for college; and emphasize the importance of education instead of just the importance of winning first prize at the science fair. You can also end up doing more harm than good if your own dislike of a subject comes through when you're trying to help your kids: One study from the University of Chicago "found that children of math-anxious parents learned less math over the school year and were more like to be math-anxious themselves--but only when these parents provided frequent help on the child's math homework."

5. Set your boundaries.

Being available to your kids while they're working on more complicated assignments or topics that are difficult for them means you may be able to ward off some of their more frustrating moments by anticipating that they need a break or some extra assistance. But you will get to a point where they want to stop -- and that's when you need boundaries already in place. During the first week of school, make your family homework rules clear to your kids: Define the activities they are (or aren't) allowed to do if they haven't finished their work -- watch tv, call their friends, practice a sport or instrument; set any rewards or incentives that may motivate them to stick with a difficult assignment; and decide whether you are going to fight them to finish their work. Teaching your kids to take responsibility for unfinished work is one of the most effective lessons you can offer: If they refuse to keep going, then leave the major consequences up to the teacher.