Back-to-school can be an exciting time for many families. Community reconnection happens, learning opportunities emerge, and the old meets the new. But falling back into a school routine can also be very stressful, especially when the dreaded ‘H word’ starts to be assigned.
Research shows that although homework has benefits, it can be a serious source of stress for 99 percent of students. So outside of rebelling against homework, what can parents do to help their children (and themselves) make nightly homework less of a nightmare?
Here are a few back-to-school homework tips that can help.
Flip Your Perspective
One of the reasons homework time can be so frustrating is that many kids and parents see it as a time to ‘get it right.’ They assume that students should know the answers because they have already been taught the lesson. Homework time, AKA independent practice is a time for students to practice getting it right. This means your child:
- Probably won’t know all the answers
- Might make mistakes
- Will need coaching/collaboration
Another significant flip is to stop seeing homework as something to get through. This causes well-meaning parents to give the answers instead of walking through the steps. Also, if a student returns homework completed by someone else, it hurts them in the long run since the teacher will think they understand a concept with which they are still struggling.
See homework as a time to learn together and collaborate. Your attitude about homework will directly influence your child’s perspective. A sigh or a smile, the choice is an important one.
Focus on Time and Space
When it comes to homework, timing and environment are everything. At the very minimum, you need to have the following:
- A designated space to do homework that is quiet and comfortable
- An approximate window of time for completing homework
- All the supplies needed (pencils, paper, etc.)
It’s important to note that your designated space doesn’t have to be a fancy office or something you would see on HGTV. It can be as simple as a spot at the dining room table. The key is that your child knows where this spot is and that you’re consistent. It should also be distraction-free, so TVs, phones, and other attention-grabbers should be avoided.
Once you’ve identified your ‘where,’ you’ll want to work on your ‘when.’ In my family, we complete homework as soon as we walk in the door. Why? We are a family of procrastinators. Once we start to unwind, getting back into the learning routine is difficult. Finding the best timing for you might require trial and error, but carving out a time slot is essential.
So is making sure you have everything needed to complete homework readily available. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard one of my kids screaming, “I can’t find a pencil” or “Where are the scissors?”
Having what you need as soon as you sit down to study is just a good practice in general since it reduces anxiety and increases confidence.
One of the biggest suggestions for parents is to prioritize teaching organization skills over academic ones. Sure, you’ll want to walk your child through long division if they are struggling, but a child’s biggest issue with study time usually has much more to do with the process versus the problem.
Some suggestions to share:
- Write all of your assignments down in a special notebook before you leave school
- Keep a homework/study planner or calendar at home in your study space
- Study for tests a little each day instead of trying to cram it in the day before
- Place your homework/study materials back in your folder or backpack as soon as you finish with them.
Teaching your child to approach homework systematically can be empowering. However, it also requires a lot of modeling. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming your child knows how to study. Instead, sit them down and walk them through each step. Assist with the gathering of supplies, model how to write down homework, and show them how to check over their work.
Again this is a training process, and you get to be both the coach and the cheerleader.
Use Positive Incentives
Do I use rewards to encourage kids to do their homework? Absolutely I do! All humans, including adults, are motivated by rewards. As a parent and a teacher, I’ve found that extrinsic motivations can help motivate kids internally. I do what works.
There are so many systems out there (check out Pinterest and Tiktok), but I like to keep it simple. So here’s how I set up my in-home reward system for my second grader.
- I bought a sticker chart and some stickers from Dollar Tree.
- Every night my child gives adequate effort and completes her homework (without complaining); she gets a sticker on the chart.
- Four stickers earn a small treat (i.e., donut on the way to school, movie time with mom)
If you have older kids that might not be motivated by donut holes, you can still find something that works. Donuts might need to be replaced with a Starbucks gift card, and the number of stickers required stretched out to make attainment difficult. If you don’t like using food or things that cost money as a reward, you can also try some of these no-cost rewards:
- Go to bed later
- A special activity
- A coupon
- Playtime with a friend
- A trip to the park
Connect with the Teacher
Your child’s teacher is your most significant source of support when it comes to homework. If you or your child is overwhelmed, confused, or experiencing some other negative emotion related to work that is being completed at home, reach out. You can do it by letter, email, or phone. Just make sure you:
- Keep it brief
- Focus on one issue
- Keep your tone positive
- Ask for suggestions/help
In some instances, especially when a child has a disability and an individualized education plan (IEP), teachers can make modifications to homework assignments. This might include reducing the number of questions the child is required to complete or even wiping out homework altogether.
At the end of the day, you and your child’s teacher share the same goal: to help your child attain academic success.
Dr. Mary Elizabeth Dean is an Author, Teacher, and Entrepreneur. She has degrees in science, a master’s degree in business administration, and a doctorate in education.