Homework help should, of course, be age-dependent, decreasing in intensity as your children get older. Your 1st grader may need you to sit down with her each day in order to make sure she understands her assignment and has the materials necessary to complete it, while your 5th grader should be able to work independently. But children of any age can feel overwhelmed or confused by homework from time to time. Assist by reviewing directions and helping to set priorities.
The 10-Minute Rule
Part of the issue, say many teachers and education experts, is that children are often being given too much homework too soon. The National Education Association (among other organizations) recommends no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. In other words, a 2nd grader should be spending about 20 minutes a day on homework, and a 5th grader no more than an hour. If you find that this 10-minute rule is greatly being exceeded, that assignments are going unfinished, or that exhaustion and frustration levels running high — it's time to talk to the teacher. She may need to modify the type or amount of work, or your child may need some extra help in certain areas.
Every Child Is Different
Another landmine in the field of homework involves parental expectations. Dealing with siblings with such vastly divergent styles can be challenging. "Know thy child" is the most important commandment for parents, according to clinical psychologist Ruth Peters, Ph.D. Pay attention to each child's personal study habits. For example, don't hover over a self-starter, but do let a wildly energetic kid ride her bike for 15 minutes after school before settling down to do homework.
Tips for Easing Angst
Whether the kitchen table is Homework Central or your child works better in the quiet of his own room, there are several things you can do to ensure that assignments are completed with maximum efficiency and minimum angst:
- Understand your child's physical needs, and make sure they are met before homework starts. Most kids will need a healthy snack, and many will need to blow off some steam with physical exercise. Let them run — but set a time limit.
- Set a regular homework schedule. With myriad extracurricular activities and sports schedules, it may not always be possible for your child to do homework at the same time every day. Still, a regular routine works best, whether it's right after school or immediately after dinner.
- Have your child track daily assignments in a notebook or planner. Stay organized! Many schools provide a homework "agenda book" or something similar. If not, buy your own.
- Designate a homework area, and make sure your child has all the supplies she needs. Small, clear, plastic stacking boxes are perfect for holding — and keeping visible — sharpened pencils, markers, staplers, paper clips, rulers, calculators, etc.
- Come up with a system to ensure that homework is not only completed, but turned in. Peters recommends using two clear pocket folders, one marked "homework to be done" and the other "completed homework." If the completed homework is visible in the same place every day, it's more likely to end up in the backpack the next morning.