Saturday, July 26, 2008


Homework- the renowned parent-child battleground! Unfortunately, the success of your child in school depends on his ability to complete homework…and remember it. Parents and teachers have challenged the value of homework since the early 1900’s, but whenever the amount of homework decreased, grades and test scores plummeted. Current studies demonstrate that children who spend more time on regularly assigned, meaningful homework, on average, do better in school, and that the academic benefits of homework increase as children move into the upper grades. Here’s 21 tips on how to teach your child to be homework savvy:
1. Teach time management skills. True, he must get it done before bedtime, but that’s too vague. The youngest of school-age children can differentiate between short-term and long-term projects. You'll learn more about teaching this skill as you proceed through the 21 tips.

2. Create a specific “Study Area” with good lighting. Have it chock full of essential school supplies in a space that’s distraction free. All children have an attention span, but many attend to everything, including fido getting a drink from the dog bowl or a TV blasting two rooms away. Have a closed room with no TV or stereo, away from the household hubbub, and where you can easily “drop by” to check how he’s doing. Cell phone, TV, iPod, stereo…whatever, are to be shut off. Funny thing about text messages- you can always view them later. Hint: Some students learn better with quiet music in the background. If your child is one of them, first have him complete homework in the beginning, then gradually allow his music to be played.

3. Have a homework planner available; it’s the “workhorse” in winning the homework war. Have him record the day's homework for each subject and check it upon home arrival…daily. And, if a particular teacher (s) assigned no homework, he should write “No homework” in the planner.

4. Hang a magnetic or non-magnetic dry erase board hung in the “Study Area” (See No. 8).

5. Have him double-check his planner before leaving school to go home so all essential materials and textbooks are packed in the backpack.

6. Decide with him on a specific homework time to prevent procrastination. Many parents follow the time-honored rule of requiring all homework to be completed before playtime begins. I’m against this! Many children need to unwind upon arriving home from school. Allowing them to let loose some pent up steam before doing homework is OK. Hint: Researchers tell us that the optimum time for the adolescent brain to work is from 7 – 8 p.m. and they should study their toughest subjects at that time.

7. Foster good time management skills by helping your child determine how long each subject should take and touching base on how to proceed. figure out how to break up long-term projects. For many children, it’s a new concept to plan something over a long period of time. Parents can be most helpful in the areas of organization and time management.

8. Record long-term assignments on a large calendar or on dry-erase board (See No. 4). Then, the long-term stuff is constantly in plain view. You can then help your child to tackle them in “baby steps”. Even younger children can learn “Salami Tactics”. A huge salami may look unmanageable, but when you cut it into smaller slices, you‘d be surprised how the whole salami disappears. Use salami tactics for large projects.

9. Don’t stand over child’s shoulder, but periodically stop by to check on your child. Is he on task? If he’s stumped on something, answer his questions instead of immediately jumping in to solve the problem.
10. Check homework upon completion.

11. Have your child pack his backpack the night before school. Store completed homework, tests, worksheets and papers due the next day in one (not a half dozen for each subject) brightly colored, durable plastic folder. Have your child put it in his backpack.

12. Encourage your child to tackle more-difficult subjects first--before he or she gets tired or frustration sets in (See No. 6).

13. Train yourself how to help your kid with homework. For teaching tools and homework help, check out The book “Winning the Homework War“ by Fredric M. Levine, Kathleen M. Anesko, State University of New York at Stony Brook Homework Clinic is a good read for parents.

14. Don’t feel guilty and get upset if you’re losing the homework tug-of-war with

your child. Consider a homework club, hire a tutor, or check to see if there‘s an after-school program with tutors. Tutors are helpful anytime your child is turned off by a particular subject. Some public libraries offer tutors at no cost.

The material may be over his head. Remember, learning proceeds from the “known” to the “unknown” and some children need more “knowns” before the “unknowns” are introduced. A tutor can provide focus on the “unknowns” to turn the situation around. Even a half-hour of tutoring can save the day because a teacher is lucky to give him 5 minutes of individualized time a day. How about teaming up with a friend to help each other’s kid out?

15. Eat breakfast! Children need energy to think and stay on task. A Harvard Uiversity/Massachusetts General Hospital study found that children who eat breakfast perform better on standardized achievement tests and have fewer behavior problems in school.

16. Determine if your child is studying too much. The National Education Association (NEA) armed with observational research recommends the following age-appropriate nightly homework time: Grades K-2 = 10-20 minutes; 3rd to 6th grades = 30-60 minutes; 7th to 8th grades = 2 hours; and in high school = 2-2½ hours. I’ve heard experts say study times should be roughly 10 minutes more for each grade level; i.e., 1st grade = 10 minutes and 6th grade = 60 minutes. Hint: Study breaks are needed for elementary and middle-school kids. They lack the sustained concentration that most high school students have. Allow a 5-10 minute break every 20 minutes of so for 6th to 8th graders, and longer breaks for younger children.
Hint: Every teacher has academic expectations for students. Ask your child’s teacher how much time she/he expects students to spend on homework each night.

17. Inspect the planner if the school uses one. It will have space to write in daily assignments and in-between dates for long-term projects. Use the planner yourself to review projects and due dates with your child. A growing number of schools have online sites to view daily and weekly assignments in each class, long-term projects and due dates, and what is currently being covered in class. Bookmark the school's site on your computer!

18. Downsize if necessary to keep homework the No. 1 priority. How busy is your child’s schedule? Does he partake in too many other activities? Signs of a child being overscheduled and overloaded are: feeling tired, exhausted or depressed; not enjoying the activity they once loved; earning lower grades in school; complaining of headaches or body aches, which may be due to stress or lack of sleep; and having stomach pain due to missed meals or stress (Boys Town Pediatrics). Keep school academics and homework the No. 1 priority! If your child is having a difficult time keeping up with the pace and demands of the classroom, think about dropping an activity.

19. Become a diagnostic teacher. Professional teachers don’t need a test to learn academic areas kids are having difficulty in. They observe while floating up and down the aisles, noting how much time a child takes to complete a task, whether or not he shows frustration, if he erases too much or asks too many questions in order to complete the academic task. Observe at home. If the frustration persists, contact his teacher. Don’t wait for the school to contact you. Chances are, the teacher has noted the frustration in class, too. Let him/her know what your doing at home and ask if there’s specific activities you can do to help your child master the material.

20. Encourage daily effort and improvement instead of waiting to praise final product. Yes, I know, test and exams are important. But, it’s not all about the end product, but about the process of learning. For example, say your child is having difficulties in math. He studies the math chapter each night for a week, then earns a 64 percentile, or “D” on the chapter test. Keep encouraging his efforts in the subject. If he earns a 69 percentile on the next chapter test, you can’t praise him by saying, “You did great. We’re proud of you!“, because he’ll realize you’re obviously insincere. However, you can say, “Johnny, we saw you studying hard for that test and you got 5 percentage points higher…you’re improving because of your efforts!”

Hint: That’s what diagnostic teaching is all about (See No. 19). Become a good observer and you can encourage your child every day by commenting positively on his effort and improvement, no matter how small.

Hope this site gives you some ideas to win the homework war. In the right-hand margin, don't forget to take the Homework Poll, watch the videos on homework research, and read "Hot Off The Press", which has today's headlines about school homework.


Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. has retired from his positions of School Psychologist and adjunct professor in the School of Leadership & Policy Studies at Bowling Green State Univeristy. A portion of Ad sale revenue from this site is donated to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. Questions? Comment? Concerns about family, parenting, educational or personal concerns? Contact him on the secure Bpath Mail Form.