How to tackle the dreaded H-word: homework

At-home enrichment doesn’t have to incite a battle between you and your kid.

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Homework—almost no one likes it. And for many parents, seeing their children remove a folder stuffed with loose sheets of photocopied multiplication problems and spelling study guides might bring back a visceral sense of revulsion from their own childhood.

But homework is nonetheless a vital part of the education process, providing students with regular reinforcement of their daily learning. Rather than let your child toss his or her backpack on the living room floor until the next morning, consider these do’s and don’ts of supporting a successful homework routine:

Do …

… create a plan in the fall

Develop a brief list of homework goals with your child and review them a few times during the school year to make room for any needed changes.

… offer a break between the school day and homework time

Jenn Barr Weiss, a Fairfax mother and former educator who works as a consultant for charter schools on their talent strategy, notes the importance of a buffer between the school day and homework time. “School is an intense experience, so making sure that kids have that break that they can [spend refilling] their bellies and their brains” is important, Weiss says.

… find the best time for your child to work

Every family has a different schedule, and each child has different “rhythms.” For some, completing assignments right before dinner works well, and for others, the morning might be the best time.

… locate a quiet space that allows for deep focus

Find a spot in your home—whether the kitchen table, the basement or your living room—where your child feels comfortable and is away from the distractions of television and other electronics. (Find tutor- and designer-approved tips for creating a study space right here.)

… develop a routine

“Making a habit out of homework, just like so many things in life, is probably the key so that your kids know what to expect every day,” Weiss says.

Don’t … 

… repeatedly turn in forgotten homework for your child

Maybe cut them a break once or twice, but rather than rushing to school each time your child leaves his or her completed homework on the kitchen counter, consider a few reasonable consequences for the memory lapse, such as creating an additional assignment or charging an older student a quarter or dollar each time an assignment is left at home.

… stand over them or complete their work for them

Contrary to what one might think, a 2014 study published by Harvard University Press shows that overly involved parents might not encourage increased student success at school. Parents who don’t stand back and let children do their own work might be doing them a disservice in the long run. 

When it comes to homework, parents should take a cue from teachers. “In school, your teacher doesn’t sit over you and monitor the execution of each assignment,” Weiss says. “It’s hard for parents, especially in the helicopter-parent age, to think through, ‘This is actually my child’s responsibility.'” The skill learned from regularly sitting down and working independently, Weiss notes, is critical to college readiness. 

(Back to School Guide)