Tackling Homework With Your Kids

With the new school year come challenges and opportunities to help your children succeed in school. Every family and every child is different, so it can be hard to know what approach to take with a perennial struggle with homework. Whether a child is in one house or two, there are some approaches that can help bring about success. In Podcast Episode 17, Kate Reese spoke with Ann K. Dolin, M. Ed., the founder and owner of Education Connections, a tutoring business that serves the Northern Virginia area. Ann shared some useful perspectives and practices that apply to all families with school-aged children. 

Across the Ages, A Routine Leads to Success

No parent wants to be a nag, chasing after their child to get them to commit to and complete their homework assignments. Like brushing teeth and other habits, setting up a routine for homework reduces tension, and helps keep students on track. Ann distinguishes a routine from a schedule because setting a specific time of day does not allow the flexibility that is needed with after-school activities, custodial changeovers, and other interruptions. A routine like "homework begins half an hour after you get home," lets the child have some critical downtime, but sets an expectation of starting work after a breather.

Younger children may not have homework, but the routine can be established at an early age by starting homework time by reading books, doing extra exercises, or studying for a test. This way, by the time the child begins middle school and homework steadily increases, the routine is in place. Setting a firm starting time is more likely to succeed than a specific end time. For children who have time management challenges, a deadline doesn't get the work done, whereas a habitual start time helps with consistency. Ann also notes that as children age, they have later starting times because of longer school days and a different internal clock. While she thinks its a good idea to let older children do their homework in the evening, she suggests that time right before dinner should be dedicated to opening books and calendars to start thinking about what needs to be accomplished that evening.

Electronic or Not - Use a Calendar

Everyone has heard a joke or a horror story about an all-night effort to help (or simply take on) a major assignment completed in time for the deadline. Children need to learn time management, and they do not always have the cognitive ability to translate simple lists into phased completion of work. Instead, using a calendar to map out homework, test preparation, or class projects can break the work down into achievable goals that get completed on a reasonable timeline. This practice will help kids who go to college and receive a syllabus for each class avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the information.

What Is Really Going On

Different children struggle with different aspects of school. Some have subject matter challenges with cumulative subjects like math where it is important to keep up with the gradual increase in complexity. Others have challenges with executive function, which means their comprehension is adequate, but they find it hard to be organized or diligent in completing their work. It is important to observe and talk to your child about what might be hardest for them. Ann suggests more open questions can help the conversation be productive. Instead of asking about specific homework assignments, ask a child what they need or want to accomplish, which can help them organize their study priorities.

How to Deal With the Distraction of Social Media

When a child is trying to concentrate, the pings and flashes of notices from a smartphone do not help get the work done. Ann had two excellent suggestions. First, have the student put their phone in another room and silence notifications for 20-minute periods. This way they can focus on their homework for an increment of time that matches their developmental abilities. Second, she recommends the app Forest, which encourages children to ignore their social media for extended periods of time. 

Ann and Kate had a fascinating exchange. They both agreed that meeting children where they are is more productive than trying to force them to behave in certain ways that do not fit their challenges. You can learn more about Ann on her website. If you and the other parent of your child are not in agreement about homework, you may want to consider mediation or another intervention for the benefit of your child. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

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