“I’ve got no homework tonight”. This simple phrase fills the heart of every parent with joy, possibly even more than their children. Nobody likes doing homework, even the child to whom it comes easily. They would much prefer to be playing, reading, or doing something else. Homework is here to stay though, so let’s make it as painless as possible.
Your role as a parent: Mentor, Motivator and Monitor.
You are there to guide, model best practices, boost their motivation (using every trick in the book) and check that it’s done. Unfortunately, you can’t do it for them, or their learning is compromised (it can be tempting sometimes, but don’t give in).
Your central objective should be to keep the atmosphere positive. This is vital. If homework is already a battleground, why not have a family meeting about it and see what can be done to make things better and get a fresh start. Hear from your child what they feel and what help would be most useful to them. An agreed special reward for after homework might be helpful, if it’s completed within an appropriate timeframe, or without a fight.
The key areas to think about beforehand:
- Is all the homework being written down at school correctly? If not, ask the teacher to help
- Set up a quiet place where your child can work uninterrupted. The same place should be used every day. Minimise distractions. No devices.
- For most, a snack and play break before homework is good. Or does your child work better by diving in straight away?
- Be available to them to help, without hovering over their shoulder.
- Encouragement and praise are essential. A positive mood is the best tool. And this isn’t easy when you are hungry, stressed out, tired or distracted. What do you need to do to prepare for homework time so you can show up in a positive mood?
- Think about one or two short breaks in between for some movement (disco breaks keep things fun).
Treat organisation as a subject in itself. It’s always the first subject to tackle!
This is great training for your child, building executive function. It includes:
- Planning out the time that’s needed. If your child struggles to understand or feel time, use an analog timer, or mark it on the clock (homework time and play time). Analog timers show how much time remains, so this is really useful. Digital timers are not much use to a young child.
- Laying out the books in order with your child, so they can work through them and move them to the other side of the table when they’re done. One is a To Do pile, and the other is a Ta Da pile (said like a magician completing a trick). This gives a visual sense of achievement and helps your child to practise self-management (what do I want to do first? A hard one or an easier one? This might vary from day to day.)
- Putting everything back in the bag at the end, and anything extra that’s needed for school tomorrow (like PE kit)
Get Set Up for Success
- Have a quiet, tidy place for homework with good lighting.
- Do your homework at the same time. This could be reading a book, writing a journal or letter, checking bank statements, or making a meal plan, for example. You can make good use of this time and it sets a good example for your child. It means also that you are available to help but you aren’t looking over their shoulder.
- Have everything you need to hand. This would include pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, markers and/or a pre-written alphabet and number line (on card), a multiplication square and/or fraction map. An abacus is also really helpful. It’s useful to keep all this stuff together in a Homework Box. Maybe also include a mascot teddy, and you can add some surprise stationery from time to time to keep interest up (a sparkly pencil can brighten a tough afternoon).
- Celebrate small wins. When each task is done, move it across from the ‘To Do’ pile to the ‘Ta Da’ pile, and give praise and encourage your child. Praise works best when it’s specific, so rather than “Good job!”, try something more observant:
“I like that you kept trying with those sums even though they were hard. I noticed that you flew through the last line, you really got the hang of them”.
Praise effort and determination over the outcome, as this encourages them to be persistent (and we all want a bit of that).
Specific Tips for Primary School
Reading – if your child is struggling with a word, ask them what sound it starts with. That’s sometimes enough of a prompt to get them to guess. After one guess, just give them the word, and move on. The meaning of the reading is what matters, and that can be lost if you agonise over each word. If your child struggles with a lot of the words in the reading, it is a good idea to read it over a second time to let the new words sink in a bit more.
Writing – make sure the paper is positioned correctly, at an angle to the edge of the table (you can see images for this positioning on lots of sites like this one) Check your child’s pencil grip (look up the froggy leg grip if you aren’t sure how they should hold it). These tips give your child the best chance of controlling the pencil for tidy writing. If writing is a battleground, feel free to negotiate – “how about I write the first couple of words and you finish the line?” (This can also work with reading, where you could offer to read alternate lines).
Maths – if your child is stuck in this area, it’s worth asking them to go back through the book for previous examples of the sum or method. The book usually explains each new approach as they go along. Bear in mind that there are new ways to do some things (like place value and “carrying the one”) so you should take a few minutes to look at the way it’s being explained to your child in order to help effectively without causing confusion.
Your child’s teacher can tell you how much time your child is expected to spend on homework each evening. If it is taking longer than that on a regular basis, or is causing a lot of upset for your child, discuss options with them. If your child has a diagnosis that reduces their ability to complete homework within the suggested timeframe, negotiate a useful compromise like doing every second question, or targeted work that demonstrates understanding of the topic at hand. Teachers are usually very open to working things out, when they see that you are engaged and an effort is being made.