This article answers common questions that parents, family members, and caregivers often ask about homework. The booklet also includes practical ideas for helping children to complete homework assignments successfully. See the complete guide for more ideas!
These tips were originally published in the U.S. Department of Education's guide, Helping Your Child with Homework.
Set a Regular Time for Homework
Having a regular time to do homework helps children to finish assignments. The best schedule is one that works for your child and your family. What works well in one household may not work in another. Of course, a good schedule depends in part on your child’s age as well as her specific needs. For instance, one child may do homework best in the afternoon, completing homework first or after an hour of play and another may do it best after dinner. However, don’t let your child leave homework to do just before bedtime.
Your child’s outside activities, such as sports or music lessons, may mean that you need a flexible homework schedule. Your child may study after school on some days and after dinner on others. If there isn’t enough time to finish homework, your child may need to drop some outside activity. Let her know that homework is a high priority. You’ll need to work with your elementary school child to develop a schedule. An older student can probably make up a schedule independently, although you’ll want to make sure that it’s a workable one. You may find it helpful to write out his schedule and put it in a place where you’ll see it often, such as on the refrigerator door.
Some families have a required amount of time that their children must devote to homework or some other learning activities each school night (the length of time can vary depending upon the child’s age). For instance, if your seventh grader knows she’s expected to spend an hour doing homework, reading or visiting the library, she may be less likely to rush through assignments so that she can watch TV. A required amount of time may also discourage her from “forgetting” to bring home assignments and help her adjust to a routine.
Pick a Place
Your child’s homework area doesn’t have to be fancy. A desk in the bedroom is nice, but for many children, the kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just fine. The area should have good lighting and it should be fairly quiet. Your child may enjoy decorating a special area for homework. A plant, a brightly colored container to hold pencils and some favorite artwork taped to the walls can make homework time more pleasant.
Turn off the TV and discourage your child from making and receiving social telephone calls during homework time. (A call to a classmate about an assignment, however, may be helpful.)
Some children work well with quiet background music, but loud noise from the CD player, radio or TV is not OK. One history teacher laments, “I’ve actually had a kid turn in an assignment that had written in the middle, ‘And George Washington said, “Ohhhhh, I love you.”’ The kid was so plugged into the music that he wasn’t concentrating.”
If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can’t be avoided, your child may want to complete assignments in the local library.
Provide Supplies and Identify Resources
Have available pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper and a dictionary. Other supplies that might be helpful include a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, glue, paste, scissors, a ruler, a calculator, index cards, a thesaurus and an almanac. If possible, keep these items together in one place. If you can’t provide your child with needed supplies, check with her teacher, school guidance counselor or principal about possible sources of assistance.
For books and other information resources, such as suitable computer websites, check with the school library or your local public library. Some libraries have homework centers designed especially to assist children with school assignments (they may even have tutors and other kinds of individual assistance).
You may want to ask your child’s teacher to explain school policy about the use of computers for homework. Certainly, computers are great learning and homework tools. Your child can use her computer not only for writing reports and for getting information through Internet resource sites, but for “talking” with teachers and classmates about assignments. In many schools, teachers post information about homework assignments and class work on their own Web sites, which also may have an electronic bulletin board on which students can post questions for the teacher and others to answer. (For more information about using the Internet, see the U.S. Department of Education’s booklet, Parents’ Guide to the Internet).
However, you don’t have to have a computer in your home for your child to complete homework assignments successfully. Some schools may offer after-school programs that allow your child to use the school computers. And many public libraries make computers available to children.
Set a Good Example
Show your child that the skills he is learning are an important part of the things he will do as an adult. Let him see you reading books, newspapers and computer screens; writing reports, letters, e-mails and lists; using math to balance your checkbook or to measure for new carpeting; doing other things that require thought and effort. Tell your child about what you do at work.
Help your child to use everyday routines to support the skills he is learning—for example, teach him to play word and math games; help him to look up information about things in which he is interested—singers, athletes, cars, space travel and so forth; and talk with him about what he sees and hears as the two of you walk through the neighborhood, go shopping at the mall or visit a zoo or museum.
Be Interested and Interesting
Make time to take your child to the library to check out materials needed for homework (and for enjoyment) and read with your child as often as you can. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your child what was discussed in class that day. If she doesn’t have much to say, try another approach. For example, ask her to read aloud a story she wrote or to talk about what she found out from a science experiment.
Attend school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences, plays, concerts, open houses and sports events. If you can, volunteer to help in your child’s classroom or at special events. Getting to know some of your child’s classmates and their parents builds a support network for you and your child. It also shows your child that his home and school are a team.