As a child I struggled with homework. I was an avid reader and spent most of my time with my nose in a book, however when it came to academic study I struggled to organise myself and had difficulty beginning tasks. I also found maths extremely difficult and I was easily discouraged when I couldn’t work out a problem. I avoided homework and found the whole process disempowering and stressful. This experience is partly why I became a teacher. My heart breaks when I see a student going through the same challenges I did.
Somewhere along the line in high school, I gained more confidence and learnt how to problem solve when it came to homework. Suddenly the work seemed beneficial to me, and I liked that it helped my understanding in class the next day. Establishing a routine and combatting my deeply ingrained avoidance tactics, when it came to homework, has taken some time (it is something I am still working on!).
I do not believe in overloading kids with homework as I feel they work pretty hard when at school. However, I have seen the benefits of appropriate home study to the overall learning of a student. I also think it is a great way of establishing a routine prior to the study needed for tests or exams. As I can attest, it is very difficult to suddenly start establishing solid study routines at 17 years of age when the stakes are high.
Now that the holidays have ended, it is back to the daily grind of school and work. If your child’s school sets homework, you will now doubt already have some work trickling home. Homework can be a cause of stress for families under the pump to get dinner on and catch up in the evenings. By establishing routines at the beginning of the term and by making the process fun and engaging for kids you can avoid conflict. Even if your child is lucky enough not to have homework yet, it still makes sense to have time in the evenings for reflective reading, puzzle building and time away from electronic devices.
Here are some tips for setting the tone for success.
Have a regular routine regardless of whether your child has homework every night.
As a child, on arriving home, my parents would ask me ‘Do you have any homework’, I would cheekily say ‘no’ and then promptly head off to play. You can’t blame kids, they have spent the entire day at school and it is natural to want to relax. However, I also remember how ill I felt from the stress the next day when I didn’t have my homework ready. Children exist in the moment, and it is often difficult for them to foresee consequences. One thing I have learnt through teaching, is that kids really respond to routines. If there is no homework set for the night, have some quiet time set aside for reading or revising. If your child knows that every night they will be doing some sort of work, then they will be much less likely to try and avoid homework by telling you that they don’t have any.
Check your child’s homework diary/planner
I have looked at a fair few planners in my teaching career and I have found that there is a direct correlation between the accuracy of recording, to the success of an assignment, test or homework task. Many kids just write down something like ‘Maths HW’ on the relevant day without recording the details. They then forget the details of the task and feel anxious when it is time to do the work. If this sounds familiar, teach them to write down detailed instructions. Let them know what you expect to see in their diary for each assignment. Teach them to write down: What is due? When is it due? What resources are needed to complete it (a textbook or some coloured card)? What instructions were given by the teacher for completion of the task? How long should the task take? This may seem obvious, but it is amazing how many kids struggle with this and therefore miss out on important content.
Have a time limit
One potential problem that can occur with home-based work is that children are used to being paced through work at school and then struggle with time management on their own at home. They become confused about how to prioritise tasks, will often over focus on a problem and become frustrated with the length of time it takes to do things. Have your child complete homework in a room where you can watch them. Is he/she spending too long cutting out pictures for a poster instead of crafting the content? Help your child to prioritise work by making short lists before beginning, assign a time limit to each task and help them to stick to this as much as possible. If you feel your child is spending too much time on certain tasks, find out from the teacher how long the task should take on average. It may be that your child has misunderstood the assignment or needs extra assistance.
Let your child be teacher
Ask your child to teach you something they learnt at school that day. Explaining a concept can help strengthen neural connections to new ideas. Studies show that students who explain what they have learnt to someone else are far more likely to retain the information in the long term. It is also a handy way to start conversations over the dinner table and find out about their day. The key to this, is to demonstrate to your child that you genuinely want to learn. Many children ‘switch off’ when pressure is applied, so it is important to make them feel like it is not a test they have to pass.
When chatting to your child about what they have learnt, try to connect the new concept to something they already know. The more connections that can be made to an idea, the stronger the neural pathways will be, and the easier it will be to retain and recall the information. Sometimes, the sillier the connection the better, as it is automatically more memorable. ‘So hot air rises and expands? Remember those hot air balloons we saw? Do you think they work on that principle? We are heating our room right now, do you think the air close to the ceiling is hotter or colder? Should we check? Remember the firefighter demonstration? Why do you think it is important to crawl along the ground when there is a fire in the building?’
Focus on challenges rather than perfection.
Treat problems as positive opportunities to learn. Teach your child to problem solve when they hit a bump in their learning. Help them to access resources, ask a friend, ask a teacher, search the internet or look up the answer in a book. ‘Oh, that exercise is a little tricky isn’t it? Lets look up how to do it together, it will be fun to work it out’. Make them aware of what challenges them and help them to develop ways in which to talk about it. ‘Tell me the hardest thing you learnt today? What was hard about it? ‘
Hopefully with these simple steps you will be able to avoid a homework melt down in your house. It takes a long time to establish a routine and some kids need more help than others with it. I wish you luck! Here is to the beginning of a new term, fresh stationary and fresh beginnings.