Handling homework horrors


By Michael Grose

Homework causes more headaches for parents than it does for children. Some parents worry because their children don't seem to do enough while others are concerned because they do too much.

But for many parents homework is that time of the day when they routinely harass, hassle and harangue their child to JUST DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Okay, what to do?

The first step is to know the homework policy of your children's school and understand what is expected of you as a parent. Most schools have parent interviews and information sessions at the start of the new year so make sure next year you get a good handle on how your children's teacher expects you to assist your child.

It is also useful to find out what your children's teacher will do if your child doesn't complete set tasks. Homework is basically an agreement between a teacher and a child so it should be up to the teacher to ensure the homework is completed. That means the teacher becomes the bad guy-and puts some consequence in place if the homework is not completed. Your role as a parent is to support the school if a consequence is put in place, such as missing some recess to complete or whatever.

Parents need to be mindful that it is hard for teachers these days as they don't have too many options available to ensure children complete homework.

The nature of homework

There is good homework and bad homework. Bad homework is anything that can be seen as time-filler or that is not understood by children. Sometimes a task is not understood because your child just hasn't picked it up yet. It maybe useful in these cases to write a note back to your child's teacher letting him or her know that your child is struggling with the concepts or skills. That's good communication and the teacher should appreciate that.

Homework is good when it:
  • consolidates and supports in-school learning
  • accounts for different learning rates
  • increases children's confidence and enjoyment in learning
  • is interesting and engaging (although some learning tasks despite best intentions will be boring)
  • develops productive long-term habits of organisation and planning
  • is followed up by the teacher

Here are 10 tips to help you handle homework in a relatively sane way:

  1. Establish homework time and stick to it each day. If children tell you that they don't have any formal homework then they can read, revise or organise their work. My feedback tells me that sticking to a routine despite the fact that no formal homework is set extremely useful and helps avoid battles.
  2. Put the onus back on your children to take responsibility for their work. Ask children at the start of a homework session to state how much homework they will do. At the end of the session check it to see if it matches with their intentions as well as yours. If you are more concerned about homework than them then it is you not your children who is responsible for homework.
  3. Homework is as much a time management issue as anything else. Encourage students to work reasonably quickly and efficiently. Have a set time limit, which they should stick to. There is generally little point slogging away once they become frustrated or tired. Give them an egg-timer or use a clock and get them to work hard for small chunks of time. A little work each night is more productive than packing it into one weekly session.
  4. Help children decide the best time to do homework and then encourage them to stick to those times. Maybe on some days homework is tackled after dinner for any number of reasons. If having homework done straight adter school is important to you then consider feeding children ONLY after homework is completed. Food can be a huge motivator for some children!!! (As mentioned in point 1 it is important that there is a homework routine, but the timing can vary.)
  5. Establish a good working environment for students. Make sure they have a quiet area away from distractions that is well lit and with good ventilation. A table or desk makes a good workspace, although don't be surprised if they spread work out all over the kitchen table. Some kids hate to be stuck away in their rooms and prefer to work at the kitchen table and can do so productively. Others are easily distracted and work in short bursts. Work out what is best for YOUR child.
  6. Use the motivating research tool of the 21st Century - the Internet. It is quick, convenient and gives access to huge amounts of information. Nevertheless, children should still know how to access information from more traditional means such as books. Check with your child's teacher as to their specific recommendations and preferences.
  7. Encourage children to get organised by thinking ahead and planning their homework around their extra-curricular activities. A weekly planner or diary will help older students get organised. Assisting children to become organised is perhaps the best way parents can help at home.
  8. If you are helping a child with a particular task, keep your explanation as simple and practical as you can. If you become upset or frustrated and the atmosphere becomes tense then stop helping.
  9. Be realistic and don't expect to solve all homework difficulties. When in doubt send a note to your child's teacher letting him or her know the problem. The teacher will appreciate this good communication.
  10. If you have concerns about the how much homework your child is set or the level of difficulty of homework contact the teacher and arrange a time to discuss your worries. Such discussion is the basis of true partnership between you and your child's teacher.
Homework hassles have always been around and always will be. The place of homework is routinely questioned by education authorities (now is currently one of those times in Australia) but my gut reaction is that children will always have homework. The name may change and the activities may vary but it will always be homework.

I urge schools to make sure homework is varied, interesting, engaging and purposeful for children and parents.

Parents also need to be patient with both children (if they struggle) and schools that are trying to find a balance between too little and too much in these busy times.

For more practical ideas, free parenting courses and resources to help you raise confident kids and resilient teenagers visit www.parentingideas.com.au. While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids Michael Grose's free email newsletter and receive thought-provoking, up-to-date, practical information about children and parenting in your inbox each fortnight.