There's a war that's waged daily in homes across the country. Every day, when students come home from school, they toss their backpacks aside and head to the pantry to refuel. Just as they're settling on the sofa with a bag of chips in one hand and the remote in the other, the first volley is fired in the form of a question from Mom: "Any homework?"
It's usually just a few seconds before all out bedlam prevails, and the suburban scene is shattered with shouts and accusations.
There's another way, a better way, to get homework done.
Just like you need a few minutes to switch from woman to mom when the kids walk in, the kids need a few minutes to switch from school to home. So establish some guidelines and talk about them when everyone's calm -- like at dinner or over the weekend, not when it's homework time and everyone's stressed.
Let your kids know that on a normal day, you'll give them 20 to 30 minutes to have a snack, hang out, play outside, or whatever else they want to do before starting homework. For younger kids, set a microwave timer as a reminder. Older kids can be told that they need to be sitting at the table and working at a specific time.
When after-school activities are on the calendar, you may need to tweak the schedule. But be up front about it. "On Tuesdays, you have Boy Scouts at 4, so you need to start your homework right after school." Make a calendar that your kids can check to see what the schedule is on the different days of the week. When kids know that they will have some uninterrupted free time, they're more likely to comply.
Get a clear plastic bin and load it with everything your kids need for homework. Pencils, erasers, crayons, markers, rulers, glue, paper -- whatever they need, have it on hand and available. Consider also investing in a large timer, and have kids work in 20-minute bursts with 5 minute breaks. Most elementary school students shouldn't spend more than 20 minutes on a subject nightly.
You can also provide some one-handed, healthy snacks for during homework. Carrot sticks, string cheese, and apple slices are good choices to keep kids energized and focused.
Limit distractions. Some kids might enjoy working with classical music playing in the background. Others need silence. Keep the TV off, turn off the phone, and let your kids concentrate on work.
Maybe the problem with homework is that you're not set up for success. Do your kids have a designated space to do and store their work? A kitchen table works well; the sofa in the TV room is a poor choice.
Younger kids should probably do their homework in a central location where you can keep an eye on things and answer questions as needed. Older kids can also benefit from doing work under a watchful eye. Give kids the freedom to make their own choices, but hold them responsible. If your eighth grader starts doing homework in her room at the same time her grades start slipping, step in. Make her earn the right to choose where she does her work.
At the end of the day, you want to remember that it's fine to wage war on homework, but you and your kids are on the same side.
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