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Taking the Work Out of Homework

homeworkAs a triplet mama and former middle school teacher, I have a complicated relationship with homework. When I was teaching, I felt pressure when parents asked, “Why doesn’t Junior have homework?” Was I depriving their child of the full school experience by not giving homework?

So I assigned some here and there. Never much. And I didn’t think much about it.

Then I had kids of my own.

I never expected homework in kindergarten. All I remember from my own kindergarten experience is eating graham crackers every day for a snack.

Oh, how times have changed.

With the advent of the Common Core, kindergarten teachers have ramped up the curriculum; thus, we see the trend toward all-day kindergarten, such as the one my kids attended last year.

And they came home with Algebra. No joke.

Now, I’m not against raising the bar. Just the opposite. We need high standards for children, schools, and our society as a whole. Learning is good. But does homework really contribute to learning?

I could go on about that question for awhile, but the truth is, for many families, homework is a fact. Here’s my advice for making it a happier time in your home:

Get Your Child’s Input: Ask questions like, “What helps you do your homework?” Your child may give answers like being allowed to listen to music or be alone in their room while working. Honor their input and give it a try! We all work differently.

Set Reasonable Time Limits: Our school principal recommended that kids spend no more than 10 minutes per grade level on homework each night. That means my first graders should stop doing homework after 10 minutes, second graders after 20 minutes, etc. Check with your child’s teacher if you feel your child is spending an inordinate amount of time on homework.

Offer Choices Within Limits: This is a stellar parenting skill I learned when my kids were toddlers. Basically, you offer two choices with outcomes that are both equally okay to you. This skill dissolves power struggles and it even works on husbands (shh… don’t tell…). Here are choices I regularly offer my kids:

Do you want to do your homework before or after your snack?

Do you want to start with math or reading?

Do you want to work at the table or in your room?

Do you want to do it all tonight or split up between tonight and tomorrow?

Give Children The Gift of Responsibility for their own Homework. This is the Big Daddy of them all. School is your kid’s job. And when you try to take control of that job, by say, nagging them to do their homework and threatening punishments if they don’t, well, you’ve set up a nice little power struggle that you are going to lose. Just like trying to get kids to eat veggies or go poop on the potty, you cannot make a child do homework. Trust me, I used to teach 125 teenagers every day. If you think you’re going to make them do anything, you’ve already lost. The trick is to provide an environment that entices them to try. So how do you do that?

Change Your Language: It’s all in the language, yo. (Note: I don’t recommend saying “yo” to your kids… I don’t think that’s cool anymore… and it will definitely backfire in getting them to do anything besides roll their eyes at how hopelessly out-of-touch you are.) Here are my suggestions for what to say instead of: “Do your homework!”

  • Do you  need my help with homework tonight or do you have it under control?
  • How would you feel if you got your homework done and turned in on time? Followed by: So what do you think you should do? Followed by: Do you need any help from me to do that? 
  • What do you think might happen if you don’t do your homework? Followed by: How would you feel if that happened? Followed by: So what do you think you should do? 
  • I’ve noticed you aren’t doing your homework. What’s keeping you from doing that? (Teacher secret: never ask a kid why they aren’t doing something. Truly, they often don’t know. Asking “What’s keeping you from…” gets better results.)

Let Them Face the Natural Consequences: There is a natural consequence for not doing homework: bad grades. With bad grades come bad feelings. And for kids in sports, bad grades often mean ineligibility. Call me crazy, but I don’t think you need to offer more consequences than that. You can empathize with them: “Oh wow… you got a D on that test. That must feel pretty bad. I’m so sorry for you.” And help them examine possible solutions: “What do you think you could do next time to get a better grade? Do you need any help from me to do that?” But it’s not your job to punish them for not doing homework. Remember: school is their job. 

I hope these tips help some of you avoid homework battles! I’d love to hear comments on how you manage homework with your kids!

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