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Bright ideas from our readers: Homework help

GreatSchools' readers share their ideas for avoiding battles on the homefront over homework.

By GreatSchools Staff

Is homework a struggle at your house? You're not alone. Many parents have been there and wrote to share their advice about what helped end the homework battles with their kids.

Establish a Routine

Many parents say setting a regular time and routine for homework is crucial.

Making homework a habit:

One parent of a fifth-grader writes: "We pick up our son from school and immediately sit down at the kitchen island to open the backpack, eat a snack and immediately start the homework.

"Our son has been doing this routine since he was in the first grade. As such, on rare occasion when a friend comes home with us after school, the friend has said, 'Bobby, what do you want to do?' My son responds, 'Well, we can do anything but not until we get our homework done.' If ever a routine has established a pattern, this is it.

"One day we were talking about colleges and we said that sometimes you can choose which days to attend classes in college, like Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and when you want to take class, like in the morning or afternoon, or evening. His comment was, 'If I did my homework right after class, then I am free to do whatever I want?'

"Let's hope this thinking pattern for homework is for a lifetime."

Five simple rules:

"Consistency is the key. Stick with a homework routine," another parent writes in sharing rules that worked for her:

  • 1. Establish a daily routine.
  • 2. Structure after-school activities to allow for homework at a set time every day.
  • 3. Stick to the routine so your child will know what is expected.
  • 4. Stay organized and keep homework area free from clutter, noise and distractions, such as television, games and radio.
  • 5. Praise your child when the homework is complete and allow free time after homework time is over.

Vary the Scene

Other parents said changing the scene helped their children focus, particularly as kids get older.

Study in a cafe:

An Illinois mother of a sixth-grade boy and eighth-grade girl writes: "When homework becomes a dreaded chore, I find new places to go and do homework, for instance, Starbucks, the library, a cafe. It's interesting to find that when you offer up a new place to study, homework appears where they said there was none."

Make the library your home base:

"One thing I have done is to take them to the library to do their homework," writes a Colorado mother of three boys, 12, 16 and 20. "There are no distractions from home, and they can focus just on the task at hand. Plus, there are all the available resources we need there. It is especially helpful to get a study room when we can. That way, we can talk and study things without disturbing anyone. The library we go to has white boards in the study rooms, which we have used occasionally just for something different (doing spelling words on it instead of writing them on paper, for example). This seemed to also break up the monotony of the homework ordeal. An added bonus is that our library has a coffee shop inside with Italian sodas, etc. This can be used as an incentive!"

Help With Time Management

Break projects into manageable chunks:

"If there is a project due, we separate it into how much time we have and then do a little each day," one mom writes. "We do the same for a book report. I count the number of pages and divide it by the number of days they have to read it and give them two days to write it. We do a 'sloppy copy' and we do a final draft. ..."

Build in breaks:

A California mom of a kindergartner writes: "Have short time frames planned out. Kids get restless without breaks. Maybe 15 minutes of work, then a three-minute break.

"Remove any distraction - TV, snacks, cell calls, don't let them think they are missing out on anything by doing homework.

"Reward them if they are focused on any given day.

"Talk about homework as if it is a natural part of your schedule. "Don't say, 'You have to do homework first.' It becomes too much of a task. Say, 'OK, it's homework time. Let's get started.' Always start (at the) same time every day. In that way, they feel it's just what you do, there are no options!"

Help Your Child Identify What Works

A trick to stay focused:

"I let my 7-year old daughter chew gum while she does her homework," says a Washington, D.C., mom. "She says it keeps her 'focused.'"

Reward a Job Well Done

Star system:

"I have a 10-year-old that sits right down the minute she gets home and does all her homework. Unfortunately, the same is not true of our 7-year-old," a mom writes. "We tried nagging, taking away privileges to no avail. Homework was a chore and stressful for all of us. Until we devised the star system. He has 30 minutes to finish his homework (they are given about 10-15 minutes worth of homework). Neatness and correct spelling count. If he beats the clock, he gets a star. He must get all five stars that week for the reward to take place. Once he has five stars he can pick anything he wants to do, and the whole family has to come along. Our weekends are now occupied with bowling, mountain biking, eating at his favorite hamburger place and the homework woes are behind us."

Use healthy activity as a reward:

"Homework has been a breeze with one of mine but with the other it has been an unbelievable uphill battle, especially this year," writes a single mother of three daughters, two of them school age.

"Our town just built an indoor pool and since it is winter in Vermont, swimming at this time of year is considered 'awesome' by all three of the kids. So, we set up a reward program: Every night that they can show me that they have completed their homework while at the after-school program or did as much as the people there could help them with, then we will grab a quick sandwich at home and swim for about two hours before the pool closes. Either one whose homework was not done due to lack of genuine effort has to come and just sit on the pool deck to do their homework while the sisters and I swim. This has worked like a charm!

"Find a good, wholesome activity that your kid really likes and that you know you can commit to every night if your kid lives up to their end of the bargain, then make it contingent upon their completion of homework (or for older kids, hard work on it for a set amount of time). If they can't do the activity because they did not do their part, they have no one to blame but themselves, right?"

Turn Work Into a Game

Beat the clock:

Our son has yet to get real homework, but he does math and reading practice work," an Oregon mother of a six-year-old writes. "There are many times that he tries to complain and get out of it. A good tool is using stop watches for math. Boys like being challenged and to beat their previous time. ...

"We also try to divide some of the homework (on weekends), half in the morning, the other half at night (reading is good at night and for 30 minutes). It also helps if mom/dad or sibling is sitting too, doing their homework or busy work at the same time to show that he/she is not the only one who has to do something."

Be Available

Many readers emphasized the importance of being available to help, even though it can be a challenge for a busy parent to carve out time every day to do so.

Make the kitchen table a homework center:

A Connecticut mother of two, ages 9 and 13, says talking to her children about homework is valuable for them - and for her. "I give my kids a snack with a drink while doing their homework. Also I sit at the table, discuss it with them. They like to share their homework with me and I also have learned from them ...When they have a test coming up in school we play a game out of their studying to make sure they know the material for the test..."

Do your own "homework" at the same time:

"I find that it is helpful to let my daughter have her snack after school, watch a little television and unwind from the long day before I have her start her homework," writes a single Arizona mom of a 7-year-old. "I also take time from my busy schedule to sit with her and either read or do my bills so that she understands it is quiet time. She doesn't feel so bad if she's not the only one concentrating on something. Believe me, not all days are so easy!"

Helping a child with ADD:

"My tips are certainly not new, but they have been very instrumental in helping my son with ADD do his homework," writes a mother who describes herself as a "military mom on the move." "We have learned that giving short breaks help along with allowing the child to pick what subject they want to tackle first. Giving your child options lets them feel more in control of their surroundings, which in turn creates a better work environment. This would be great for all kids, not just children who have a hard time focusing. I also recommend setting time aside for your child, in case they need help. I make sure I sit in the same room with my child and can get to him quickly when he gets frustrated or needs help.

"I also have a child who needs no help with homework. Don't take this for granted. Always ask what they are doing, if it is difficult and if they like a certain subject or not. This may help eliminate surprises when it is time for progress reports/ reports cards to be sent home."

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

09/6/2011:
"I appreciate the useful information provided by this site but where is the insight from working (and single) parents? Really, an afternoon snack is not going be a practical solution to homework issues when you can't physically be with your child after school. I am sure in a perfect world we would all be "stay-at-home" moms (well, no actually a career is just as important for women) but I would suggest broadening your help articles to accommodate real working parents and to maintain a diverse audience base. "
09/6/2011:
"I have an 8th grader and a 4th grader. Our most important homework rule is: no TV, video games or gameboys from Mon-Thur. We have a busy after school schedule with sports, daycare (and Mom's at work until 4.30pm), so homework gets different time slots and venues every day, but it gets all done. "
09/24/2009:
"I am the mother of a 1st grade. and I would like to suggest, if the teacher can hand out home work everyday to student, because not all of the student had Internet or the parent's have time to look up thru Internet"
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