By Sharon Zonnefeld, K-5 Extended Learning Program (ELP) Facilitator
Homework provides a practice venue for the skills students are learning at school. Has homework become a battleground at your house? Does it seem like your family is consumed with it? Or maybe you are excited to see your student engaged in learning outside of school. Whether you love it or hate it when your student brings schoolwork home, consider these tips for healthy homework habits.
Leave well enough alone. If grades are looking good and teachers are reporting no concerns, choose not to micromanage your child’s homework habits. Consider asking your student to share how he’s managing to get things completed appropriately and on time. This provides an opportunity to validate good choices.
Know what’s reasonable. In general, students in K-2 should expect to spend approximately 30 minutes, Grades 3-6 up to an hour, Junior High 1-2 hours, and High School about 2-3 hours. If your student is spending more than this amount on a regular basis, attempt to identify the issue. Is he or she actually on task for this amount of time? Does she need a homework space with fewer distractions? Is he understanding the concepts necessary for completing the homework? Enlist the help of your student’s classroom teacher to help you identify the cause of an overwhelming homework load and generate possible solutions.
Create routines. Evaluate your family’s schedule and designate a period of time for homework. If there isn’t any homework on a particular day, use the time to work ahead on a long-term project or enjoy some leisure reading. Especially if homework tends to be stressful for your student, establishing a routine can alleviate some avoidance behaviors and promote healthy habits.
Maximize time. Life is busy. Are there homework pieces that can fit into transition times? Younger children can practice Math facts and read aloud on the way to Gymnastics, then dance and sing Spelling words while you fix dinner. The time freed up might be just enough for a round of Uno before bed! Ask your older student how he is using study hall, waiting for pick-up time, or the bus-ride to the away game. Encourage her to make a plan and stick to it.
Try some tricks. For students who struggle to stay on task, set a timer for what seems like a reasonable amount of time and lay out the expectation for what needs to be completed. When the job is accomplished, celebrate with a race up the stairs, a skip into the kitchen for a bite of Oreo, or 3 jumps on the trampoline. Gear up the timer for the next task, knock that one out, and before your student realizes it, homework will be finished! Making a routine is key; only allow the agreed upon celebration.
It’s his deal. If your student is doing project-based learning at home, resist the temptation to “adultify” it. A student project should look like a child or teen made it. If she’s struggling, assist by asking questions such as, “What is your goal/what are the expectations?”, “What have you already tried?”, or “How could you make that happen?” When adults impose their ideas, they give the impression the student’s ideas aren’t worthwhile. A.J. Juliani in his book, Launch, notes, “When students say, ‘I don’t have any ideas,’ it usually means, ‘I don’t think my ideas are good enough.’”
Time Management. Many students find it difficult to break a large assignment or project into manageable chunks. Teachers will often provide a timeline for large, multi-step projects like Science Fair or a Research Paper. If not, require your student to set intermediate deadlines and put them on the calendar. Expect him to follow through in the same manner as the final due date.
Resist the urge to rescue. Allow your student to experience the natural consequences of unfinished, late, or lost homework. It’s perfectly appropriate to bring over the paper left on the kitchen counter--IF your student is generally conscientious, it happens once a year, and you can reasonably work it into your schedule. Everyone makes a mistake sometimes! However, for students that find organization difficult, agree on a set number of “helps”, maybe 2 or 3 a year. After that, choose not to fix the situation for your child. Change is difficult; developing organizational skills is a huge undertaking. Rescuing students from the natural consequences of disorganization removes an impetus for change.
Pray for and with your child. Don’t underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to motivate and encourage learning.