Homework – Originally Posted February 9, 2013

No one knows your child like you do.  You know his strengths and challenges, his joys and frustrations… everything!   You’ve watched your child grow from a baby into the amazingly competent child you send to our school each day.  He comes home with new knowledge and ideas, new problems and new achievements.  You share his joys and support him through his difficulties.  You talk to him about how to apply his family values while at school.  You give him hugs of understanding on the tough days, and hugs of joy on the wonderful ones.


As you know, each child is different.  Each child brings his own special spark to the classroom, and of course has his own learning needs.  In a classroom of so many, your child’s teacher wants to know your child too.  Your child’s teacher wants to see his creativity, his strengths, his abilities, his potential, and his needs.  She wants to help guide your child academically to bring out his best, and to give him the skills to work through the tough parts.  She can be amazing, but your child’s teacher needs your help.


From Kindergarten, your child probably started bringing home homework. It looks different for each grade level, classroom and teacher, and can vary by school as well. Homework is your opportunity to help your child one on one in a way no teacher can.


The most common homework assigned is nightly reading.  We’ve been told about the importance of reading with our children since infancy, and sometimes it’s easy to find the time, and sometimes it’s very difficult. As a teacher, if I could choose only one homework assignment, it would be nightly reading.  That being said, it’s the most commonly skipped element in my homework, every year.


Structuring for Successful Home Reading:

1)    Provide a reading-friendly environment.  Ideally, this means no TV or computers on, and nothing distracting going on, especially for reluctant readers.

2)    Model reading for your child.  Show your child that you read too.  This means reading anything, but reading where your child can see you read, and ideally talking about what you read, why you read it, and what it made you think about.

3)    Read with your child.  Even big kids who are great readers love to snuggle with an adult and share a book.  When you read aloud to your child, you are modeling expression and fluency, You can also enrich the experience, pausing to make your own predictions about what might happen, as well as your observations about character, setting, and plot.  Reading aloud also allows your child to access texts that are a little too difficult, but with content that interests your child.  If your child is a reluctant reader or is having trouble selecting appropriate literature, take a break from having him read to you, and read to him instead!

4)    Interact with your child about his reading.  Even with a child who is a competent reader who can read independently, ask him about the story!  Be excited about what he’s reading, even if you have to pretend a little.  Help him set reading goals and stick to them, especially if your child has a tendency of moving on to a different book without finishing the first.

5)    Remember that it’s OK for homework to be enjoyable.  Sometimes parents stop making time for home reading just because their child is loving reading and does it without prompting.  Homework doesn’t need to be torturous!  Help your child feel successful academically if he is enjoying the reading.  It’ll give him the strength and strong self image to work hard on the areas of schoolwork where he struggles.


Many teachers also assign other activities, such as math practice, cursive practice, MSP practice, writing assignments, or longer activities such as book reports, science projects, social studies projects etc.  Choosing homework assignments is difficult, since every child’s needs are different, and yet it’s not feasible to individualize homework assignments for so many children who are all at different points in their learning.


For most families, fitting in homework is a real challenge.  Sports practices, music lessons, dance classes, not to mention time for some creative play, often make for busy evenings.  Benefits of assigning homework include letting parents know what their child is learning and helping parents see their child progress first hand, as well as building good study habits.  Most of all, it provides the child with the opportunity for your child to work one on one with an adult, getting immediate feedback and coaching in a way that we just cannot provide during the school day.


You’ll notice in the bulk of homework assignments, they are practice activities, designed to strengthen skills introduced at school.  They seldom contain new content. Nor are they supposed to be assessment activities.   Teachers hope that you will be working with your child to prevent incorrect practice.  In most cases, practicing wrong is worse than not practicing at all!


Some Suggestions for Quality Homework Practice:


1)    Check for understanding before your child begins.  Just because the teacher taught the material before assigning it as homework doesn’t mean that your child has fully processed how to do it. Ask your child to explain to you what he needs to do before beginning the assignment.  Doing the first part of the assignment together is another great way to check for understanding.  Verbally explaining to you helps your child know you’re engaged in his learning, and also helps set him up for success on his work since the directions are now fresh in his mind.

2)    Monitor your child’s progress. As your child working on the assignment, check in to make sure he’s practicing correctly. Have him defend answers both correct and incorrect so that you asking isn’t a trigger for him to know it’s wrong.  When your child has a mistake, tell him it’s wrong but have him problem-solve where he went wrong himself with a little coaching.  Help him fix the problem before moving on to the next question.

3)    Choose homework time carefully. Some children are eager to finish their homework and start it on the bus on the way home.   Others are reluctant to get started and will argue, bargain, distract and find any way to get out of it.  Children who most need extra practice are also often the ones who are tired from a long day of hard work at school.  Generally, kids who are struggling with school work don’t need to be greeted at the door with more of the same.  They need that time to do some physical play, to be creative, loud, and do things they are really good at for a while.  You probably already know your child’s homework profile and which times work best for your family.

4)    Trust what you know about your child. If the homework your child’s teacher has assigned it not working for your child, open a conversation about it. As I mentioned previously, it’s difficult to assign homework that is open-ended enough to meet the needs of so many students.  Therefore, you may want to find additional work for your advanced child, or ask if you can modify the amount required for your struggling learner.  Talk to the teacher about prioritizing tasks so that if your child is unable to complete the list in a reasonable amount of quality work time, he is getting the most benefit out of the time spent. You can also ask about ways to modify assignments to make them more approachable for your child.

5)    <!– p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Times; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }ol { margin-bottom: 0in; }ul { margin-bottom: 0in; } –> Choose the order of activities.  A friend of mine was working with her daughter on the violin. The assigned practice started with the easy tasks and worked up to the more difficult ones.  Her daughter was at full melt down mode by the end of the practice sessions.  My friend switched the order, tackling the hardest pieces first and then ending with the ones her daughter felt were easy.  Having your child choose which activities to do first can also help him feel like he has some control over the situation.  Choice is a powerful tool!

6)    Suggestions for additional work. If you have a child who needs some extra challenge, you may wish to supplement the homework provided by your child’s classroom teacher.  There are many online practice activities such as Sumdog.com or Sheppardsoftware.com as well as Starfall.com where kids can get immediate feedback.  You can also find many wonderful learning games and printable worksheets for free online with a simple Google search.  If you’re looking for ‘kitchen table’ kind of work, you can take your child shopping for a workbook and choose one together.  Other children are more kinesthetic learners who blossom with stealthy learning activities, such as fractions practice by making cookies together, addition practice by spending a little money at the grocery store and doing the math.  Writing a book together based on vacation photos, finding a place to post a book review online, writing a blog about something that interests your child… the ideas for learning are endless when you realize that children are really wired to learn.


Making time for homework in our busy lives is tough.  Thank you for putting in the energy into your child’s learning.  Thank you for helping him find joy in learning, for helping him through the tough spots, guiding rather than rescuing, and making sure your child isn’t just doing any old thing to get the assignment done in record time to move on to the things he really wants to do.  Thank you for making learning fun for your child, giving him the chance to build with boxes, make ramps for toy cars, create a maze out of boxes, or a fort out of cushions, draw designs for a dream doll house and make plans how to build it, do kitchen science and math together… Just because your child will need to be able to do hours of structured homework a night in university doesn’t mean it’s appropriate or useful for a 6-year-old.  Remember that learning takes many forms, and just because it doesn’t involve paper and pencil doesn’t mean that your child isn’t learning!


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