Homework-Help Hacks Real Moms Swear By

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Yes, parents may be celebrating the return to school and the end of summer stress. But they may also be dreading the return of homework and the arguments, cajoling, and bribing that often comes with it. If you’ve struggled to get your kid to complete school assignments, you’re not alone. We asked moms with kids of all ages how they handle homework in their own households.

After all, a new school year is the perfect time to set new expectations and routines, so why not try some of these tricks out for yourself this year? Who knows, maybe a mix of advice and luck could turn the 2019-2020 school year into one where no one is crying at 10 p.m. while making a last-minute papier-mâché volcano or insisting they’ll never learn trig. (Our fingers are crossed for both parents and kids. You’ve got this.)

Find a balance.

“Our public school district in CA actually had a ‘no homework policy’ for elementary school, a trend that is growing around the country and is backed up by science. Still, my children have homework from piano lessons, and occasionally they have a school project to work on outside of school. My top strategy is to fuel first; I always ensure that my daughters have some downtime after school to unwind and have a snack before starting homework. After-school restraint collapse is very real, and I find that taking five to 10 minutes to let them settle before broaching the topic of homework does wonders for their attitude. Another strategy is that when they work, I work; if they have reading homework, I make sure I’m reading a book or newspaper, not on my phone or doing anything else distracting.” — Jill Koziol, co-founder of Motherly

“I recommend having your child divide the homework into small chunks of time. Don’t make them start as soon as they get home. Let them unwind. We find timers work for everything! Set a timer for the relaxation time, with the knowledge they will start homework when it goes off. Then, set the timer for 10-15 minutes of homework time divided by small breaks to incorporate movement.” — Manda J

“I use a strategy that I like to call ‘coupling.’ This involves coupling an exciting activity with homework — but the homework must be done first. If the homework is not done, he cannot watch TV. His favorite TV show plays on Monday at 8 p.m. — and on Mondays, his homework is all done before he even gets home. Somehow he manages to do his homework in between classes and at lunch. On other days, it drags on and he is not done until late at night.” — Jesse Harrison, HopeTree Legal Funding

Figure out what’s best for your kid.

“Figure out when and where your child is best able to concentrate. She might focus best right after school and extracurriculars or she may need an hour of downtime at home before diving into homework. If your child stays with an after-school sitter or in an after-school program, decide how much homework needs to be completed during that time. Next, choose the right location in your home with the least distractions (no TV, phone, video games, etc.). Some children work best at a desk in their bedroom; some work best at the dining table before dinner. Wherever your child can be the most productive, make sure the right school supplies are within reach.” — Aubry Parks-Fried of Sittercity

“My son used to call school ‘eight hours of torture.’ And for him, it was torture as he was a very social kid, with a mild case of ADD who was constantly in a state of motion. He needed to move! Sitting in a desk at school all day was hard enough but then to come home and have to do homework was even more torture!

“So I figured out a way for him to 1) have the chance to move and play WHILE doing homework, 2) be outside and 3) regulate himself by giving wide parameters for how he got the work done while insisting he did homework as quickly as possible right after school. Our family’s philosophy was to get it out of the way so kids could unplug and play, relax and do whatever was needed in the evenings. After school, we’d have a healthy snack, and he would set out to the trampoline to do his homework… When he felt the need, he would set it to the side, jump and flip to his heart’s content, and then get back to the homework. The trampoline was located under some trees, so he’d have the benefit of being outdoors, which is so helpful for concentration as well as emotional development. Sometimes it took a while to get through a simple assignment, but he was in charge of himself and getting done what he needed to get done.” — Ann McKitrick, MS, Nurtured Noggins
homework help mom
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Create a homework station.

“Set up a homework caddy with supplies for every type of assignment. Little kids often get homework that requires cutting, coloring, and pasting. My daughter has a plastic bin filled with school supplies she may only use for homework and school projects. Keeping a separate bin for school supplies is necessary in a house where the little ones enjoy coloring/creating art projects.” — Caitlin Houston

“Have a dedicated spot for homework but be prepared to work on the run. We have our daughter do her homework on the kitchen table while we are making dinner so we are nearby to help if she has any questions. But we also have a homework kit for the car, because weekday schedules can get hectic with sports, PTA meetings, etc. She has a clipboard with a Ziploc full of pencils, crayons, glue sticks and other supplies in the back of our Jeep.” — Amber Faust, Faust Island

An ounce of prevention…

“My kids are 12, 10 and 2, and the best way I have found to help us plan and prepare for doing homework is to ask them about their assignments while we are on our way home right after school, when the information is fresh in their mind and before we get distracted by snacks, preparing dinner, activities, etc. This way, by the time we are home, we all have a clear understanding about what will need to get done, and when.” — Alexandra Fung, CEO of Upparent

“My biggest homework hack is having a set time each week where we all do homework — including me. We all sit round the dining table, get our tasks out, and help each other. The kids groan at first, but give them five minutes, and they’re actually enjoying it.” — Rachel King

When the going gets rough…

“When my kids were in middle school and the homework started to get out of my ability to help, I hired a high school kid to come over for homework help. The kids really looked forward to her coming and spending time with them and working with them.” — Leslie H. Tayne, debt relief attorney

“My younger son has ADHD and struggles with executive functioning, specifically with how long any task will take to complete. Because of this, he always saw homework as taking ‘SO LONG’ to do. This was frustrating for both of us until someone told me about the TimeTimer.

“Here’s how it works: He says, ‘I don’t want to do my math; it’s going to take so long to do it!’ I say, ‘How long do you think it will take?’ ‘I’ll be stuck here for an hour doing this!’ he says. ‘Okay, let’s set the TimeTimer for one hour and then see how long it really takes to get done.’ Invariably, it will take significantly less time to complete any project. This takes the arguing out, and the student feels a sense of empowerment and control in managing their own time.” — Lisa Dooley, Organization Coach

How to Help Kids with Homework
Image: Flamingo Images/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

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