Helping kids with homework is like spotting for a weightlifter at the gym. As the spotter, a parent’s job is to encourage the lifter to complete as many repetitions as possible independently and intervene only when necessary.
Empowering your kid
Contributed by Steve Reifman
When I do step in to help with homework, I provide the smallest amount of assistance required to keep the bar moving. Doing too much of the work denies the lifter a valuable growth opportunity while doing too little will result in frustration (and possible injury and the likely end of our friendship). The following tips will enable you to achieve the goal of empowering your child to become more independent with homework.
Develop a homework policy with your child
Completing homework should not require a nightly battle. Does your child need to start homework by a designated time? Does your child need to complete all homework before being allowed to play or watch television? The specific details of your plan are flexible. The key is consistency. Your child needs to understand the specific expectations of your plan and know that you will follow through.
Provide your child with a quiet study area
If possible, supply a desk and a spot to keep all necessary books and materials organized. With or without a desk, however, it is critical that your child have a consistent, well-lit place to study that is free from distractions. Providing such an atmosphere will not only enable your child to have an easier time studying, but also it will send a clear message that you think doing homework is an important priority.
Go over assignments together
Review the day’s assignments together before your child begins working. Kids can easily become overwhelmed by the amount of homework they have. Identifying the specific activities they are expected to finish provides an overview that can calm children down and help them see the big picture.
Make a plan of action
Determine the order in which the activities will be done. As part of the overview described in the previous step, ask your child to determine the order in which these assignments will be completed. Doing so gives your child a sense of control. Many kids like to start with the simplest or shortest activity to build confidence and facilitate a greater sense of progress.
Answer questions beforehand
Clarify all directions and answer questions in advance. I believe this recommendation to be the most important one on this list. Many kids who are still working toward becoming more independent tend to ask questions every time they encounter challenging material or are required to put forth serious mental energy. By having your child read aloud all directions to you and reviewing all parts of the assignments in a proactive way, you set your child up to be successful once he begins working.
Leave your child to work alone
Expect your child to work independently from beginning to end. Once an order has been established and all questions and directions have been addressed, leave your child to work alone. If necessary, walk into a different room to reinforce the point that you expect your child to proceed through the homework independently.
Intervene only when absolutely necessary
You and your child may have different definitions of “absolutely necessary,” and it may take some time and effort for you to convey this point to your child. If you find that your child is asking for help far too frequently, consider some type of “chip system.” If, for example, you provide your child with three chips, she can only ask for help that many times. Once the chips have been used that day, no more questions may be asked. When implementing this system, start with a larger number and seek to reduce it over time.
Go over all work at the end
After your child has finished the day’s activities, review everything to check for accuracy and neatness. This is a fantastic time to work on spelling and other writing skills. It is also the time to reinforce your high expectations and hold kids accountable for high standards of quality. Insisting that your child re-do a piece of work that does not meet these standards is not a punishment; it sends an important message and can serve as a valuable learning opportunity.
Steve Reifman is a national board certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker based in Santa Monica, California. His books include Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time, Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8, and his two new “Back to School” PDFs, The First 30 Days and The First 10 Minutes. Steve is the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. For Teaching Tips and other strategies on teaching the whole child, visit stevereifman.com. Follow Steve on Twitter @stevereifman and subscribe to his “Teaching Kids” YouTube channel.