How to Help With Homework

Knowing the role homework plays in your child's education is a good place to begin.




For a growing number of parents, pulling their weight at home is an important part of their child’s education. Experts agree, although they say parents should learn how to help by opening a line of communication with teachers and then by following through intelligently at home.

First, parents should take advantage of things most schools do, such as open-house nights at the beginning of the school year. These nights help explain the role homework plays in a school’s education strategy “long before anybody’s in trouble,” says Joyce Epstein, director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at John Hopkins University (

Back home, one of the easiest things parents can do is “to change the way they ask about homework, so instead of  ‘How was school?’ you change the question so it’s more conversational and interactive: ‘What was something you learned today in math? Can you explain it to me?’ she says. “It changes the interaction from a vacant question to putting the youngster in charge of the conversation and encouraging him or her to tutor the parent.”

Most math homework is really just practicing what the child learned at that day’s lesson, so she can move on and learn a new skill tomorrow. But Epstein says the information sticks better if teacher throws in a discussion about a real-world application of the math lesson and parents later pick that up at homework time as a discussion point.

Knowing how much homework your child is assigned is important, adds Nancy Paulu, the U.S. Department of Education’s homework expert and author of its Helping Your Child With Homework booklet. Standards are all over the place — some schools set too much; some set none at all — but generally, “it doesn’t benefit a first- or second-grader so have more than 10 or 20 minutes of homework per night, she says. (“Homework” for young kids usually means a parent reading them a story; the idea is more to get them familiar with the concept of homework). Third- to 5th- graders tend to be set anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour of homework, older children might get double that amount. “Parents who know how long homework is supposed to take can provide better guidance,” Paulu says.

Be involved, but not too involved. “Monitor your child’s homework, but don’t do it for them,” Paulu says. “Be available to your child can ask you questions.”

Most kids have no idea how to get organized, so get them an assignment book to record what they have to do and when they have to do it by, Paulu suggests. Regimenting the process helps — a set area, even the corner of the living room, standardizes the routine, and don’t let kids persuade you having the TV on is okay.

If there’s a serious problem, such as your child flatly refusing to do homework, contact the school as soon as you can. “Teachers respond to parents who show interest or concern,” Paulu says. “That parent-teacher partnership is important.”

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