Last month, I talked about homework tips. As a follow up this month, I would like to address what to do if your child is struggling with homework. Many children come home with math problems they are unable to solve, spelling words they need to practice, assignments they don’t understand, and projects they have to complete.
Homework doesn’t have to be horrible, for you or for your child. Looking at your child’s work helps you understand what he or she is doing at school. It’s also a great opportunity to spend time focused on your child, your relationship, and the fact that you are on his or her team.
Homework should not be a punishment. Still, homework can strike fear in the hearts of many parents. You may not remember facts you learned in school, like significant military battles or how to cross-multiply fractions. Some things you learned are obsolete now: Pluto is no longer considered a planet, for example: it was demoted in 2006.
It’s enough to make even the smartest grown-ups cringe. But here’s the good news: When it comes to homework help, asking the right questions is more important than knowing all the answers.
Use these smart questions to direct your child’s work:
1. Do you have a written assignment to follow? Students may struggle with homework because they don’t recall what they were supposed to do. Make sure your child knows what the assignment is. Use the guidance provided by the teacher, so that all the objectives are completed. Encourage your child to track progress by crossing off completed tasks. It sounds simple, but these are very important organizational skills.
2. Do you understand what your teacher is asking you to do? Even a detailed assignment won’t help if your child doesn’t understand it. Make sure your child grasps the particulars before she begins, so she doesn’t waste time doing the wrong things. It’s important to consult with the teacher if unclear expectations are a problem or if your child seems to have no idea about how to do something.
3. What materials do you need? Tracking down materials creates unnecessary distractions. Encourage kids to gather supplies before starting homework, so their work isn’t interrupted by a frantic search for the calculator, scissors or glue stick. For easy access, keep items that are often needed in a box or homework caddy.
4. Are there words or ideas you don’t know? Your child may get stuck because he or she doesn’t understand certain crucial concepts. Help identify these obstacles and search for clarifying information. Encourage kids to find answers in their textbooks or online, rather than offering your interpretation. Students who can find information on their own become empowered learners.
5. Did you do similar problems in class? Most homework assignments are opportunities to practice skills kids learned at school. Direct your children to class notes and worksheets for examples; then review them together for a memory refresher. Kids should repeat the in-class procedures to solve homework problems. Shortcuts may lead to omissions or errors; teachers often require students to show the work step-by-step.
6. What is the timeline for completing this assignment? Kids may fail to finish big projects because they wait until the last minute to begin. Older children with assignments that may take several days or weeks to complete will probably need help in learning to manage those assignments. You can help your child learn to be a better manager of time. Clarify steps your child must accomplish and write due dates on the calendar. Kids should make their own deadlines for initial steps, like gathering supplies or doing research. Project planning reduces stress for everyone.
7. How can we break this homework or project into smaller chunks? Breaking assignments into segments can help kids get started and maintain momentum. Divide assignments into a list of tasks and, if necessary, use a timer to stay on track. It’s easier to read social studies for 15 minutes than to plod through an entire 35-page chapter. Short breaks between work periods will allow kids to stretch and refresh.
8. Where can you find the answer to the question? Textbooks use section headings, bold words, text boxes, graphics and summaries to present material in an accessible way. Smart students use these tools to locate answers quickly and to organize information. Help your child use textbook cues to hone search skills, take notes, and create personal study guides. Structured material is much easier to learn and remember than unrelated ideas.
9. How did you get your answer? Monitor the homework process by checking kids’ work. If there are errors, help kids self-correct by asking them to explain their logic or to show you what source of information they used.” If your child insists his wrong answer is right, then let it go. Errors show the teacher what needs to be covered (again) in class.
10. Where can you go to get extra help? Your child may be anxious that there isn’t an instructor standing by during homework. Let her know it is okay to reach out to you if she’s stuck. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.