Parenting seminar offers strategies for avoiding homework battles

    Part one of two.

    This fall, WHYY is hosting a series of parenting seminars, moderated by behavioral health reporter Maiken Scott. Here are some highlights from the first discussion with experts and families on the subject of homework.

    Part one of a two-part series. (Read part two: Homework strategies: balancing work and fun, and good study habits are key)

    Homework—the word alone makes parents and kids sigh.

    It’s a hugely pesky topic for many families. Kids don’t want to do it, parents feel like they have to supervise their kids all the time, it creates friction and arguments.

    How much homework is enough? How much should parents be involved? How can teachers and families have a constructive discussion around this issue?

    This fall, WHYY is hosting a series of parenting seminars, moderated by behavioral health reporter Maiken Scott. Here are some highlights from the first discussion with experts and families on the subject of homework.

    Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

    The next parenting seminar, focusing on the topic of discipline, will take place on Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. here at WHYY.

    How much is enough?

    Maiken Scott: How much homework should children have?

    Power: A simple rule of thumb states that a child should spend about 15 minutes times the grade level the child is in. So, for a child in 4th grade, that would mean an hour of homework a day. Generally speaking, teachers are looking for children to practice the material that has been presented in class. Unfortunately, many children haven’t learned the skills in the class room, so they can’t do the work independently, that’s where it gets more time-consuming. 

    Bradley: I choose educational environments that are low on the homework spectrum. My older son is in 6th grade, and he is able to do it independently and quickly, so we have taken a hands-off approach. Now my 2nd child is entering into the homework years, so we will have to see what happens. It is very important for parents to communicate with teachers as to how much time it takes their children to do the homework, and where they had trouble.

    FitzGerald: I think it’s a good idea for children to time themselves when they are doing homework, and keep track of how long they need to do an assignment. We often think that something will be done quickly when it’s not, or, we think that something took forever, when really it only took 20 minutes. So it is very important to get a better sense of how much time is actually spent on homework, without interruptions.

    Fostering Independence

     Audience question: I have two very different children. My older child was always able to do her homework by herself. She would decide when and where to do it, and get it done. My younger child wants me to sit by her side, and be there the whole time. How important is independence, and does it come over time with some kids?

     Power: Children, generally speaking, naturally become more independent as they get older, but a lot depends on the child. Some children require more reassurance, are not so confident, are nervous, are not very attentive, are impulsive, may need some structuring, the parent has to be responsive to the individual child, reinforce practicing the skills needed to do homework independently.

    Bradley: To build on that idea, it’s not just about being able to do the homework.  The child can go in the next day and say “I didn’t understand the homework—I really had trouble.” That’s part of the learning experience, to be able to explain to your teacher what you had trouble with.  If I am doing math problems, and too many of them are wrong, my learning curve is not increasing, so my teacher needs to know that. This is a meaningful way to do homework. It’s very important for parents not to correct kids’ homework.

    Communicating with teachers

     Maiken Scott: How much time do teachers have to communicate with parents about homework? What are some strategies to do this well?

     Power: It’s key for the kid to be prepared to do the homework, so what we usually recommend is before a child starts working on one unit of homework, the teacher should review in class. Does the child understand the directions and can they do the exercise.

    If your child can’t do the homework, don’t correct it or do it for them. Have them go back in with mistakes, and a short note from you.  A good teacher is somebody who encourages parents to write those notes, good teachers should extend invitations for parents to communicate with them. 

    Bradley: Teacher needs homework to assess how the kid is doing, so if there is a lot of parent input, that piece goes out of the window. If we are not having conversations about how things are going, if it’s just a one-way street, we start to have all this stress and problems, we need a collaborative environment, how both sides are learning from it, then homework can be more effective for achievement.

    Audience member tip: Communicate via a sticky note!

    “I’m an elementary school principle, and my advice is to put a sticky note on the homework when you have had problems. Something simple like ‘We really struggled with problem #4,’ or ‘We worked on this for 30 minutes, and then decided to give up.’ Let them know how long it took your child to complete the assignment. Teachers need to hear from you, but the communication has to be simple. Keep it short!”

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