There are more than 2000 school days in your child’s life, most of which will end with homework. Over time that means you need to inspire your children to do about 4000 hours of schoolwork at home, when video games are calling their names. Yipes.
How can you get that mountain of homework done with less argument and frustration? There are tricks.
The first trick is to establish the habit of homework long before they actually have any. When they are little, assign time in the evening when the TV is turned off, activities are done, and you as a family can sit and read, build things, or play games that involve a little brain work. Do this during the two hours before bed and the kids will also sleep better. A win-win!
Why do we need homework?
Consider the goal of homework: what do we want our child to gain from doing it? Of course, we want them to learn the material. More importantly, we want them to learn how to learn, and to love doing it. We want to furnish them with skills that will prove useful in real life. If homework can teach your children to examine facts, explore knowledge, organize and take personal responsibility for their work, and manage their time efficiently – what might he or she accomplish in life? These are the very skills that form a foundation for success.
Choose a place. There is no “right” place. If your child does better in a quiet environment, a desk in his room would work well. If he or she needs a little supervision, the kitchen table might work better. Wherever you choose, turn off the TV, videogame, and cell phone (quiet music is usually fine, and sometimes can even help children concentrate). Make sure they are comfortable and the lighting is good. Have the supplies they need – pencils, paper, calendar, dictionary? – nearby. Get rid of any distractions.
Pick a time. Again, there is no “right” time. Some kids will do better right after school; some will need to blow off steam and may do better after dinner. Choose the time that works best for your individual children, involving them in the decision. Then make this schedule a routine, because children’s brains accommodate habits well. People don’t argue over something they have done every day for years; they argue endlessly over change and unpredictability.
Give your children a warning a few minutes before their free time is ending, so they can finish whatever they are doing before your drag them away.
Keep your expectations appropriate for your child’s age. As a general rule of thumb a child should have about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Children in elementary school will need help organizing their work and staying on task; teenagers should be able to do their work without supervision. Somewhere in middle school they learn to take responsibility. Hopefully.
Start the hardest subjects first; position assignments which require memorization (spelling, math?) early and repeat after breaks.
Since you as parents won’t always be around to supervise, let your teenager fail in high school when they make poor choices. Summer school is cheaper and immensely less life altering than flunking out of college; repeating algebra is torture, but less traumatic than loosing a job. To paraphrase: give a child an organized notebook, and he will pass one test; teach him how to organize and he will have a skill for all of his life (sorry, couldn’t help myself).
Expect problems; they give you a subject of conversation to share with your child! Approach problems with diplomacy and respect for the person who is your child. Label the problem: “You get distracted by your cell phone.” Don’t label your child: never “You’re lazy.” Be wiling to compromise with your child to solve the problem. “If you will turn off the cell phone while you do your work, you can have 5 minute breaks between subjects to catch up, call and text.” Agree to the compromise; it is a contract with your progeny. If you need to, write it down and both of you sign it.
Rewrite this contract when the first one flops, until you find an arrangement that enables your child to learn and you to not run screaming from the room.
Allow the child’s input as much as possible. Let him decorate his workspace up to the point where he puts in distractions. Let her decide subject order, as long as it works. Let them choose their break activity, up to a time limit.
We as humans are hard wired to respond better to rewards than to punishment. How long would you go to work if you did not get a paycheck?
Sadly, it is not realistic to expect a better grade to be your child’s only reward. That grade is too far into the distant misty future, over a mountain of hard labor.
Rewards work best if they are small, and given for small increments of good behavior. A hug, a smile and pride in their accomplishment is all they need when they are small. When they are a little bigger, take time to read a book together or play a game. Keep rewards simple, small, and frequent.
Older children also need small, frequent rewards, though probably not as simple. They always have items that they want, but don’t need; these items make great rewards. Study time, completed homework and test grades can all earn them points toward a goal. There is no need for an argument when he or she doesn’t do their work before picking up the phone; they just won’t get that essential point.
They win, because even if they don’t get that A in History, they retain the points toward that skateboard or new game. And Science is coming!
Homework is training for life. Choose the place and time, working with your child to fit it to your family routines, your child’s personality, and his or her age. Endeavor to teach self-discipline, time management and responsibility equally with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Reward success. Keep in mind that the goal is not to learn how to spell that list of words, but rather to inspire a love of learning which will propel your child to succeed, now and into the future.