How much should you really worry about your kid's homework?
If you ask your children, chances are they'll tell you their homework is no big deal. But as an educational tool, homework does serve an important purpose.
As parents, it's our job to foster a healthy desire for learning in our children, and homework is a big part of that. If you're anything like me, though, you might be a little rusty at geometry and you aren't 100 percent certain how accurate the answers are. Or perhaps it isn't you who is struggling with an assignment, but your child.
Just how important is it to get homework right? Should a premium be placed on the work, or on the act?
"I think homework in and of itself is not where worry should be directed, as much as consistent accountability and structure is," says Priscilla Johnson, second-grade teacher and instruction-technology specialist at Windsor Hill Arts Infused Elementary School in North Charleston, South Carolina.
When children are younger, such as those of elementary school age, homework should focus more on forming good habits and encouraging development.
To accomplish this, Johnson follows a few specific rules strategically when handing out assignments. "I only assign work that can be done within 30 to 45 minutes, and the assignments are based on direct instruction given previously in the classroom," she explains. "My homework assignments are recurrent so that my second graders can develop a routine around completing their assignments at home."
As children get older and progress in their academic career, shifting the focus slightly to pay more attention to accuracy gets more important.
"Kids are more likely to follow through when they know that their parents are holding them accountable for their school assignments at home. Parents' main concern should be placed on creating a comfortable working place for their children, making sure their children have copied their assignments down accurately and going over completed assignments afterward to ensure that they have been done thoroughly and accurately," says Johnson.
As your child moves from elementary school into middle school and beyond, more opportunities emerge as a parent to start a dialogue with your child about homework and schoolwork as a whole.
"Ask your child about homework with the same natural interest you would display when asking a friend about a good book," advises Joella Good Newberry, a fifth-grade teacher at Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado. "Use the same respect for what your child is reading and doing as you would for a friend's new job or project at work."
In high school, a child's homework load may increase exponentially, leading to a larger time commitment and, naturally, more reticence on the part of your teen. At this point in your child's academic career, it is particularly important to both give your child more freedom to do homework when and where (notice that didn't include if) they choose. However, failure to complete assignments at this juncture could lead to far more serious repercussions than, say, a missed assignment in elementary or middle school — e.g., compromising GPA, jeopardizing scholarships, etc.
At this age, staying in tune with your child's academic life can be as easy (or as difficult, as we all know) as sitting down for dinner.
"A simple way of value learning is to discuss learning at the dinner table," says Dr. Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., in Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide for Solving Common Homework Problems. "For example, each child can take turns talking about what was learned that day at school. You can talk about work experiences or current events. These discussions might also involve problems or conflicts that were encountered at school or work, solutions that were chosen and questions that remain. Such discussions communicate that effort, interests and even making mistakes are vital in the process of learning and growing."
Additionally, Goldstein encourages reinforcing homework with field trips or exploration of topics that spark your child's interest. Think museums, historic monuments... even taking a photography or creative writing class with your child.
"The encouragement of interests will be significant in moving your child towards independence — and can be more important in the long term than the specific grades your child receives," says Goldstein.
Andrea Greibner, a mother from Southern California, echoes this notion from personal experience. "My daughter Lily's teacher wrote us a thank-you note for taking our daughter up to the La Brea Tar Pits," she shares. "This was while she was studying the time period, and she did a report on saber-toothed tigers. She included information she learned at the museum, along with pictures she had taken. Her teacher thought that was awesome!"
In a sense, you can consider these kinds of conversations as your homework as your child grows older and prepares to leave the proverbial nest.
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