And so it begins. After almost three months of stress-free evenings, homework is back, along with the havoc it can wreak. Homework drama assumes several forms. Some kids balk at having to pause play time to sit down for more school. Others are willing, but need lots of help from Mom or Dad. Then there are the kids, usually older, who wait until the last minute to do homework only to find they don’t have the right materials or underestimated how much time they need.
While homework hassles vary according to a child’s grade, temperament, and school, almost all affect the dinner hour. Helping a kid with long division or running out to Target for poster board leaves less time to prepare dinner. With older kids and teens, dinner may have to be scheduled around after-school activities and homework, resulting in some not very appetizing early or late meal times.
Here are some parent-tested, teacher-approved tips to help restore that laid-back summer evening feeling in your home:
Plan ahead: Rejoice if your child is among the many elementary-age students who bring home all or most of their homework in a Monday folder. Knowing what homework is due when helps you plan after-school activities around them. If you know Emma has piano on Wednesday and Billy’s scout meeting is Thursday, you can make sure they get all the week’s homework done by Tuesday. Fortify your kids for these extra-long sessions by ensuring that they’ve had a light snack. For those of you with middle and high school kids, most teachers have websites where they post procedures, expectations, assignments, and grades. Bookmark these pages on your home computer and encourage your child to access them regularly. Teach your child to use a paper or smart calendar to keep track of due dates. And if they have teachers who use the text-based Remind service to remind students and parents about important dates or events, by all means sign up for it.
Hover, don’t help: The whole point of homework is to give children the opportunity to independently practice skills. The urge to help our kids is strong, but try to resist it. Limit your involvement to answering quick questions about an assignment’s instructions and checking to make sure all the work gets done. If your child asks for help doing an assignment, don’t step in and complete it for them. Instead, consider jotting a note to your child’s teacher explaining that they had trouble doing the work in a reasonable amount of time. Teachers need to know if students can’t master material on their own. If struggling with homework becomes a pattern, check in with the teacher and ask for support. Homework shouldn’t be so hard that it requires a parent’s constant hand-holding.
Encourage routines: Designate a regular homework spot. Depending on your child’s age and level of independence, this could be the kitchen or dining room table, a desk in the family room or, if they’re more independent, a desk in their room. Working at the same place every afternoon or evening helps reinforce good study habits, as does sticking to a specific time. It doesn’t have to be right after school--some kids have extracurriculars or just need time to blow off steam. But younger childrens’ homework should be done at least an hour before bedtime to minimize everyone’s stress.
Stock up: Nothing disrupts family harmony more than discovering in the middle of dinner that your child needs construction paper for a project that’s due tomorrow--and of course you don’t have any. Consider school supplies as essential as toilet paper. Store them in a cabinet in the homework area or in a portable caddy, and do an inventory once a week so that you never run out of crucial items. To help you keep track of what your child needs, post the list their teacher supplied in or near your storage space. And if you want to win over your child’s teacher, buy an item or two on their “classroom needs” list the next time you’re shopping for your family’s school supplies.
Let’s face it: Kids may never find homework fun. But it needn’t be a dinner-spoiler, either.