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Homework. Whether you’re a fifth grader or a freshman in college, the mere thought of homework can be overwhelming. And actually doing homework can be quite difficult. But homework doesn’t have to be something your child dreads.

As a former high school English teacher and researcher who specializes in what it takes to make it through college — and a co-author of a forthcoming revised edition of a book about academic success — I’ve studied homework since 2010. Here are six ways I believe homework can be made more manageable and valuable, whether your child is in elementary school, middle school, high school, or graduate school.

  1. Set priorities

    Establish a list of priorities based on the class syllabus or assignment list. This can be helpful for tackling difficult tasks, creating motivation, and activating your child’s sense of control and independence when it comes to learning. The priority list helps maintain goals and gives your child a sense satisfaction to cross things off the list as they are completed.

  2. Tackle difficult tasks first

    Starting with the most difficult assignments first helps make the most of your child’s energy level and focus at the beginning of a work session. Your child can attend to the easier or less time-consuming assignments at the end of a work session.

  3. Break tasks down to smaller steps

    Your child may not know how to start a major task, which could trigger procrastination or feelings of defeat. To guard against this, break major tasks into three or four smaller steps. Within one homework session, your child can feel a greater sense of accomplishment by completing each small step toward the larger whole. In some cases, your child might be able to spread these tasks over the course of a week.

  4. Create evidence of learning

    Your child will get more out of the time they spend reading, reviewing notes, or otherwise studying if they create something in the process. For example, creating flash cards, a graphic organizer, chart, or notes with bullet points can help your child become an active learner rather than a passive one. Organize the tools created with the homework assignment by date and topic so that your child can review those items to prepare for quizzes, tests, or projects.

  5. Build a network of support

    If certain homework problems could not be solved and your child is stuck in a rut, figure out what’s confusing your child and have them write or record their thoughts. Jot questions down and be as specific as possible in order to seek out additional support from teachers or tutors. The more your child can identify sources of confusion, the more they can proactively reach out to a support network — teachers, tutors, and others — in order to get additional help.

  6. Revisit goals and set new ones

    At the start of each homework session, establish goals for completion of your child’s tasks or assignments. Revisit the goals at the end of the session and acknowledge a sense of completion. This goal-setting process builds confidence over time and helps your child realize their potential even when faced with difficulties. A productive homework routine will help your child realize that learning is an ongoing journey. The journey may be difficult, but getting organized will make it as stress-free as possible.

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Updated: December 9, 2019