Author: Alison Johnson
For many kids, the hardest part about starting a new school year isn't the first day of classes - it's the first night of homework. For parents who dread the thought of constant nagging, unfinished work and grouchy children, the best word to remember in establishing a good homework routine is "pattern," parenting experts and academic tutors say. That applies to where, when and how kids do their work.
"Children's brains are pattern-seeking," says Michele Tryon, community outreach coordinator and a parent educator at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters. "They respond well to consistency."
The catch is that all kids are different. Some do better working out of sight of any adults, for example, while others need a parent at least within earshot. And some prefer to knock out their assignments right after they get home, yet others can't function without a break to play or have a snack.
"Sometimes you just have to try it several ways and see what works," says Amy Scott, district director for the Huntington Learning Center in Virginia Beach. "You want to give kids some autonomy over when they do their work, but sometimes - for everyone's sanity - you need to pull back and look at what's working and what isn't and make adjustments."
Set up a designated homework area.
Kids often do best if they have one place that signals to them, "It's time to work." For younger kids, the ideal spot tends to be quiet but not too isolated, such as a desk in the corner of a dining area or in a den with the door open. That way, the child isn't too distracted but still feels connected to the family. Older kids often prefer to work alone in their bedrooms.
Get kids involved in creating that space.
Students might help choose a homework spot, clear or organize a desk, set up supplies, decorate a storage bin, pick out extras such as a stress ball or fidget toy to squeeze or make a poster that says, "Homework Zone: Quiet Please".
Stock up on supplies.
If possible, buy doubles of each item on class supply lists (look for sales or hit the Dollar Store). Keep basics such pens and pencils, rulers, scissors, glue, calculators and dictionaries in a plastic bin or shoebox, which are easy to access and can transform any spot into a homework zone.
Keep electronics and cell phones out of reach and avoid sitting kids down in areas with lots of visual distractions, including window traffic and pets or younger siblings at play.
Establish a general homework time.
While assignments and family schedules will vary each day, try to determine when a child does homework most efficiently: right after they get off the bus, after a designated amount of playtime or in divided chunks, such as 30 minutes of one subject followed by a break, and then 30 minutes of the next.
Get the child's input on a schedule.
Kids feel empowered if they can make simple choices on when they do homework, with some parental control. For example, "You can do your homework before or after your snack, but it needs to be done before you watch any TV," or, "Let's see what you have for homework tonight so we can decide when would be the best time to do it."
Create a visual schedule.
One idea: laminate a large sheet of paper with days and times. Write down "events" such as chores, homework, outside time, family time, meals, sports practices, television and video games on small pieces of paper and arrange them to show the child which events will happen when. That can boost time management and negotiation skills.
Look at a family calendar each week.
If homework can't happen around the same time each day, aim to set patterns for individual days of the week. So if a child has soccer practice at 5 p.m. every Monday, he does homework right after school on Mondays, but maybe after an hour of playtime on Tuesdays. Also write down big tests and projects on that calendar to help kids plan out study times.
Find out from a teacher how much time a child should be spending on homework. A general rule is 10 to 15 minute per grade level, at least in elementary school. If a child isn't finishing her work because she's struggling with a skill, look for extra help. But if she's just not focusing, try this: give her a certain amount of time to get the homework done. Once that time is up, stop, make a copy of any unfinished work and send a note to the teacher saying that she'll finish it over the weekend (and do the weekend work even if the teacher doesn't require it). Her homework grade may suffer, but hopefully she'll learn to budget time and accept consequences.
Discuss academic goals.
Help a child set targets for grades at the beginning of each year, and explain how important homework will be in reaching those goals.
Give pep talks.
Many kids don't understand the point of homework. Tell them it's a chance to show off how well they understand a skill. Boys in particular might respond to sports analogies: players don't just play games (tests), they practice for their coach (studying at home). Or compare school to an adult workday, which goes for about eight hours - so homework is that extra time after classes end.
Source: Tidewater Parent Magazine