I think about homework nearly everyday. I think about my own homework (which currently consists of marking and report writing). I check whether my students are completing their homework (and far too often they are not). My husband expresses his frustration about his students not completing their homework. And these sorts of useful articles find their way into one of my news feeds (note sarcasm alert – the article is not at all useful in my opinion!)

We’ve discussed before why we think homework is important, especially when it comes to maths. Perhaps in an ideal world, kids could go to school, learn at their own pace, have a tailored individual learning programme and take as long as they needed (maybe 18 years instead of 12) to master the skills and concepts in the curriculum. And in this ideal world, all this could happen between 8.30 am and 3 pm, Monday to Friday.

But in the world we live in, there is a certain amount of curriculum to cover that must be taught to all students and assessed for all students, and this must all be done within very real and often very tight time constraints. Students will tend to master the content at varying degrees and speeds and often homework is the necessary activity that allows for extra practice and consolidation so that students can maintain a pace of progress with their learning.

Of course, one of the main flaws with homework is that it is to be completed at home, away from the usual learning environment. Some students prefer to work at home than at school, but most do not, and away from their specialist teachers and more industrious peers, many kids just can’t seem to develop good study habits.

This is where parents come in and this is where the battles sometimes begin.

As teachers we are often asked by parents for strategies to help them deal with their kids and homework. Each child and household is different, so when it comes down to it you need to make the decisions that will work for you and your child. Here are some general guidelines that might help you devise a plan for your family.

Start routines at a young age

As soon as children can learn that days are composed of unique rhythms and schedules, the more easily they can adjust to what school life asks of them.

Introducing routines and patterns for a child’s morning, their meal times and their evenings will allow children to feel the layout of their day and adjust to new items in their schedule. While it doesn’t need to be regimented, days that are too loose and without regularity will only cause difficulties when a child attends formal schooling. Even children as young as babies thrive on routine. It gives them certainty and comfort in knowing what to expect and what is expected of them.

Set aside practice time for primary aged children

If your child plays a musical instrument I’m sure they have their scheduled lessons and are then encouraged to practice certain pieces and skills throughout the week. We would never expect that a student could become proficient playing the piano without practice. This also applies to reading, spelling, writing and mathematics. Certainly students get more practice time at school for these areas than they do in a weekly music lesson, but often more practice is required. Often just learning to practise and set aside time for skill development is a worthy goal of its own.

For primary aged children it is healthy to develop a regular routine and to call it practice rather than homework. Just as you might encourage your child to practise their goal kicking or throwing, helping them practise their spelling, reading and multiplication tables is also vital to their progress and development.

Create homework friendly hours and spaces

Kids don’t want to do homework when there are so many more exciting and interesting things to do. Let’s face it, who wants to do any sort of homework when other people in the family are laughing loudly at a funny TV show or having a great time playing a game? I know I wouldn’t. It’s harder now to avoid distractions than it ever was when you or I were at school. We had a few TV channels and the radio to listen to and one home phone to share with the whole family. Can you imagine being a teenager today and dealing with all these distractions?

If your child isn’t naturally conscientious and needs to be nagged and coerced into doing homework, then help them out by creating a quiet, distraction free hour in your house. While they work, the wifi can be off and you can use the time to do something with younger siblings, do some reading, meditation, exercise or just talking with your spouse.

Provide them with a space that is distraction free and check up on them every 20 minutes or so to help them keep on track and stay accountable.

Actively involve yourself in your child’s homework

Kids who aren’t motivated at home aren’t all that motivated at school either. The difference is that those around them are working and they have a teacher reminding them to get on task and prompting them with the set task. Even then the teacher is working with another 25 students or so and kids can easily slide under the radar and achieve very little in a lesson.

These sorts of students need to do even more at home to keep on top of the work. As frustrating as this might be, you’ll need to be more actively involved to make this happen.

For these kids you might need to sit with them as they work. Help them manage their time and prioritise their tasks and ensure that in the time they have they get at least something done from each of their subjects. You might want to discuss with them what they’re learning and help them achieve understanding through oral means rather than through their writing. If the maths homework is too much, you may need to select questions from the list to help them make progress.

This is onerous, frustrating and not very enjoyable. Hopefully if you’ve started young then high school homework won’t come as such a great shock to them. But if high school is their first real experience of homework and practice then depending on your child’s nature and personality, you might need to have a greater input and you might need to decide on what sorts of consequences you’ll impose as an extrinsic source of motivation.

Help older children devise study plans and a rewards system to stick to it

As students reach the senior years of their schooling they become more agreeable about doing homework. It becomes clear to them that not doing any homework or completing any practice is starting to seriously influence their marks and results. Often they want to do well and they want to adopt positive study habits, but since they’re not used to it they don’t know where to begin and start to feel overwhelmed.

Take the time to devise a study plan with your child. Work around your family routines and their extra-curricular involvements to come up with a plan that allows them time to do what they love, have time to relax and also put some serious hours into their academic subjects.

Once you’ve devised a plan, help them stick to it. Keep the plan on the fridge. Refer to it. Revise it every 4 weeks or so. Provide them with mini rewards and signs of encouragement whenever you can to help them maintain momentum

There are very few people in the world who enjoy homework and after a long day at work no parent really wants to put considerable hours into learning. But as I mentioned earlier, we don’t live in an ideal world and we have to do the best we can to support our kids and help them succeed. Getting good practice and homework routines in place is a necessary step on the journey. The younger your children are when you start, the easier your journey with them and their homework will be as they get older.

Photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)