Like it or hate it, homework is part of most Aussie families lives. Many of us think of homework as the traditional sit-down-with-pencil-and-paper task, but schools are encouraging more creativity in homework too, such as helping someone around the house, or measuring in steps the length of your street. Technology is also being used more in our children’s homework than we would remember from our own school days. Many parents want to be involved in their children’s learning and homework, but are not sure how to go about it or even how much involvement is needed.
Let’s have a look at some ideas of how you can be involved and helpful when it comes to your children’s homework, from the perspective of a child psychologist
What to do before we even start homework:
- Be aware of the messages you are giving about homework. Our kids are very tuned in to our attitudes about homework and will adopt similar attitudes themselves. While not everyone agrees homework benefits children academically, there are other skills kids build when engaging in homework including:
a. Time management
b. Self discipline, fostering independence and building responsibility
c. Problem solving
d. Planning and organisation
Focusing on these skills may help you both to see the benefit and relevance of homework for your kid.
- Allow wind down time between finishing school and starting homework. This will vary from child to child, and according to daily family schedules, but having a break before starting homework can help your child to feel refreshed and alert. Usually this wind down time involves eating a healthy snack, and having time for some creative or active play. Try and avoid screen time as this is very hard to draw kids away from and also can be used as an incentive for completing homework – this is the most common challenge we deal with as a child psychologist. If homework is a struggle in the afternoons, consider whether your child may be more alert and focused in the mornings before school.
Planning for success
When faced with homework, whether onerous or not, supporting our kids with planning and organisation can go a long way in reducing stress and battles:
- Establish routines around homework – when, where, and what.
a. You can use guiding questions such as “what do you have to do?”, “when are you going to do it?”, “what order are you going to do these tasks?”, “how long do you think each tasks will take?”.
b. Encourage your child to break down larger assignments into smaller tasks and start with the most difficult parts when your child is fresh and focused. Give your child the opportunity to have most of the control over these factors.
c. Some kids don’t need help with the work but do with keeping on track, so it can help to sit with them or nearby doing your own tasks.
d. It can help to have family homework time when everyone is working on things, rather than expecting your child to be doing their homework while the rest of the family are watching TV.
- Set boundaries and the environment – help your child establish goals (e.g. complete English section today), reduce distractions (e.g. charge mobile in another room), and set up an area that has good lighting, space for their homework, and pencils, etc. Factor in breaks, such as when a task is completed or after a certain amount of time. Let your child know you are there to support them with their homework, not do it for them or teach them. You may agree that you will do the first problem in a set together (so you can see your child understands the concepts) then your child completes the set himself, or that your child marks all the tasks she thinks she can do herself before she starts and focuses on doing those before asking for your help with the other tasks.
How to motivate kids to get through their homework
We all need a little motivation at times. Parents can support kids with homework by using the child’s interests, strengths, and support networks to their advantage:
- Use incentives and rewards – Let’s face it, we all work better on a task when we have something to look forward to or work towards. Motivation is often the most important consideration in child psychology when trying to understand child behaviours and helping them learn. Make an agreement with your child before they start their homework about what that reward may be (e.g. video game, play with the neighbour, homework free day tomorrow). Some families like to use a point system to trade for a reward at the end of the week, or to help their child get started on a task. Help your child to see homework time as one-on-one time with you, and make the homework relevant to them (e.g. how learning about measurements can help with their design business they want to set up, or link to their culture and language). Praise effort during homework by:
a. Focusing on persistence, progress and improvement rather than difficulties.
b. Using encouragement (and avoid criticism) to help your child problem solve when stuck, e.g. “How can you use the same ideas from this problem that you got correct to help you solve the next problem?”
c. Encouraging mistakes – they help us learn and come up with new ways of doing things.
- Obtain help from others – You do not have to be your child’s only support for homework activities. Some parents alternate who helps depending on their own strengths e.g. you help with maths while other parent helps with English. If you feel out of your depth, you could ask a neighbour, other family member, or tutor to help. Some kids like to get support from their peers and work well in a group dynamic. Communicate with teachers about their expectations and how you, as parent, can best support your child’s learning.
- Adjust if necessary – Review homework with your child so you are in a position to gauge if your child just doesn’t want to do the work, or if they are feeling overwhelmed by the work. If necessary, speak with the teacher about adjustments to the work such as prioritising sections, your child doing what he can, or trying one problem in each section.
Homework can be more than book learning – it’s about developing life skills
Homework is meant to be a revision of skills and work learnt at school. It is usually academic in nature. Parents can help their kids widen their skill-set by involving them in everyday routine, or extracurricular leisure activities. This can help our kids learn about the work-life balance and manage self-discipline when it comes to doing things we don’t really feel like doing.
- Encourage your child to be involved in other “real life” learning opportunities to complement academic learning such as:
- Creative play: things to write with, draw with, construct with
- Active play – outside
- Reading – parent to child, child to parent
- Life skills – cooking, sewing, grocery shopping, household routines
- Social skills – spending time together as a family where people have to speak with each other, listen to others, and share
- Manage whinging by empathizing so your child knows he has been heard and you understand, “I get it! It’s no fun having to sit down and do your homework when you want to be outside riding your bike!” then help them re-focus on the job at hand, “Let’s get this done so you can get outside before dark”. If the complaints continue, keep your responses minimal and firm – the more you respond, the more your child will whinge.
Parents can be an important source of support for kids when it comes to doing homework. Some kids will need more support than others depending on the child’s age and grade, individual learning needs, personality, and life stressors. Encouraging kids to have some control over the the situation and allowing kids to complete homework as much as they can themselves will help with motivation, give them a greater sense of achievement, and provide a great opportunity for parents to acknowledge and praise their efforts.
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