As parents, we often take for granted that our kids know how to do homework. But for kids, basic things like keeping assignments straight, bringing home the correct papers and books, knowing how to find things in Google Classroom and actually setting aside time to complete the work can be elusive.
Too often, kids are overloaded with homework and those hours of extra work can be detrimental, some experts say. Kids need time to hang with friends after school, pursue extra-curricular activities and just relax during much-needed downtime. But when there’s a reasonable amount of homework, it can serve to reinforce concepts learned in the classroom, and also give you, the parent, insight into what your child is working on.
THE HOMEWORK ROUTINE
If doing homework inspires protest from your child on a daily basis, it’s time to create a routine. When homework becomes a predictable part of a child’s afternoon, not only does it become non-negotiable, it can also get done quicker and more efficiently.
For most kids, this means starting assignments after a short break to wash hands, wind down and have a brain-fueling snack (think cut up veggies and hummus, a fruit smoothie or apples with peanut butter versus treats that will provide a sugar rush and have your kid crash and burn). And while a little “brain break” that includes some physical activity is helpful, most kids will benefit from starting homework while the concepts from the day are still fresh in their minds.
If your child has an after-school activity that prevents them from doing homework first thing, that’s okay. Schedule the homework portion of the afternoon for when it makes the most sense for your family, keeping in mind that the longer you wait, the easier it becomes to forget about it and miss an assignment.
Designate a space for doing homework—this could be at the child’s own desk or at the kitchen table, as long as it’s cleared of clutter and has all the needed materials at hand. The place your child does homework should be a distraction-free zone—that means anything with an on/off switch is in the “off” position.
MAKE A PLAN
Multiple homework assignments can feel overwhelming for kids of all ages. If your child gets in the habit of writing down homework assignments in a planner, what needs to be completed and when won’t be a mystery.
Encourage your child to “eat the frog” and do the most difficult assignment first to get it out of the way. Others may prefer to start off with an easier assignment they can complete fast, which may give them a confidence boost to continue. You know your kid best, but if you’re not sure, try it both ways.
When it comes to bigger projects, have your child dedicate a little time each day to work on them so there’s no mad rush to complete a huge assignment the night before it’s due. We know—easier said than done—but this is where our push for structure comes into play.
Here are some more expert tips broken down by age level:
Parents should never be doing their kids’ assignments for them but at this age, kids can benefit from your involvement.
“Kids are more successful when parents take an active interest in their homework,” says Ndidi Onike-Onuzulike, an English teacher with KIPP Newark Community Prep. Help your child develop a love and excitement for learning by reading assigned books together, she says. This way, parents can help students uncover meaning in the books they’re reading.
When you’re in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher, Onike-Onuzulike says. “Your child’s teachers are there to support every step of the way.”
At this age, kids can begin to understand homework’s importance and to see it as something helpful (and not just as a barrier to the Nintendo Switch).
Kyra Fox, an English teacher with KIPP Rise Academy in Newark, says there’s nothing wrong with incentives to encourage homework completion. But beyond offering rewards, she suggests the idea of a homework partner or buddy.
“This may look like students in the classroom holding each other accountable to make sure their work is done before they start playing their Xbox, or even having friends do their work together in person or on Zoom, to motivate each other,” she says. “This allows for homework to incorporate socialization and joy.”
As your teens build academic skills, homework becomes less of a chore, says Mary Miele, founder of The Evolved Education Company, which supports students and parents in the tri-state area.
It’s so important to pause before jumping in. “Sometimes students don’t understand directions, or they’ve just forgotten the lesson between the time they had it and the time they are completing the homework,” Miele says. “It’s important that your child can identify their specific challenge and then work to solve the challenge.”
Miele urges parents to let their teens be independent with homework, which can in turn build their confidence. “If you find your child is needing you to complete homework—either due to the content being tricky or the executive functioning being difficult—get support for your child,” she says. This could mean working with an executive functioning coach who can help break down homework into manageable steps with your child, seeking extra help from teachers at school or utilizing community services such as homework help from college or high school students at your local library.
HOMEWORK, DONE BETTER
Here are some simple ways to make homework less of a struggle:
KNOW THY TEACHER Make sure your child understands the teacher’s expectations for completing assignments and the purpose of the work.
WRITE IT DOWN Have your child use a planner to write down daily assignments and due dates.
BREAK IT DOWN Outline the steps of what needs to be completed to make it less overwhelming.
TAKE BREAKS Kids can benefit from the Pomodoro Technique in which you set a timer, work for 25 minutes uninterrupted, followed by a 5-minute break. Repeat!
TRY AN APP Choreful (choreful.app) can help set up an accountability and reward system for schoolwork and other activities.