- It improves your child's thinking and memory.
- It helps your child develop positive study skills and habits that will serve him or her well throughout life.
- Homework teaches time management skills.
- It teaches your child to work independently.
- Homework teaches children to take responsibility for their work.
- It allows your child to review and practice what has been covered in class.
- It helps your child to get ready for the next day's class.
- Homework helps your child learn to use resources, such as libraries, reference materials, and computer websites to find information.
- It encourages your child to explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits.
- It allows your child to extend learning by applying skills to new situations.
- It helps your child integrate learning by applying many different skills to a single task, such as book reports or science projects.
- Homework helps parents learn more about what their child is learning in school.
- It allows parents to communicate about what their child is learning.
- It encourages parents to spark a child's enthusiasm.
Your interest in your children's education can ignite their enthusiasm and lead them to understand that learning can be rewarding and is well worth the effort.
- How can I get my child to do his homework? Every night it's a fight to get him to turn off the TV and do his homework.
- Why isn't my child getting more homework?
- Why is my child getting so much homework?
- My daughter doesn't have time for all of her homework! She takes piano lessons, swimming lessons, plays basketball, and helps with family chores. There's hardly any time left to study.
- How can I help my son with his math homework when I don't understand it?
- Do homework assignments really help my child learn?
The Preiss Murphy Parent's Resource Center helps answer these and other questions that parents and family members often ask about homework. You can also find practical ideas for helping your child complete homework assignments successfully.
- review and practice what they've covered in class;
- get ready for the next day's class;
- learn to use resources, such as libraries, reference materials and computer Websites to find information about a subject;
- explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits;
- extend learning by applying skills they already have to new situations; and
- integrate their learning by applying many different skills to a single task, such as book reports or science projects.
Does Homework Help Children Learn?
Homework can help students develop good study habits and positive attitudes. It can:
- teach them to work independently; and
- encourage self-discipline and responsibility (assignments provide some children with their first chance to manage time and to meet deadlines).
In addition, homework can help create greater understanding between families and teachers and provide opportunities for increased communication. Monitoring homework keeps families informed about what their children are learning and about the policies and programs of the teacher and the school. Homework helps your child do better in school when the assignments are meaningful, are completed successfully and are returned with constructive comments from the teacher. What should a homework assignment include?
A homework assignment should:
- have a specific purpose,
- come with clear instructions,
- be fairly well-matched to a child's abilities, and
- help to develop a child's knowledge and skills.
In the early grades, homework can help children to develop good study habits and the positive attitudes described earlier. From third through sixth grades, small amounts of homework, gradually increased each year, may support improved school achievement. In seventh grade and beyond, students who complete more homework score better on standardized tests and earn better grades, on the average, than students who do less homework. The difference in test scores and grades between students who do more homework and those who do less increases as students move up through the grades. However, research shows that homework involving applying learned skills, critical thinking and cognitive skills, along with constructive (i.e. problem solving) skills will result in an approximately 40% greater retention than repetitive assignments (drill and kill).
Set a Regular Time for Homework
Having a regular time to do homework helps children to finish assignments. The best schedule is one that works for your child and your family. What works well in one household may not work in another. Of course, a good schedule depends in part on your child's age and specific needs. For instance, one child may do homework best in the afternoon, completing homework first or after an hour of play. Another may do it best after dinner. However, don't let your child leave homework to do just before bedtime. Your child's outside activities, such as sports or music lessons, may mean that you need a flexible homework schedule.
Your child may study after school on some days and after dinner on others. If there isn't enough time to finish homework, your child may need to drop some outside activities. Let them know that homework is a high priority.
You'll need to work with your elementary school child to develop a schedule. An older student can probably make up a schedule independently, although you'll want to make sure that it's a workable one. You may find it helpful to write out their schedule and put it in a place where you'll see it often, such as on the refrigerator door.
Some families have a required amount of time that their children must devote to homework or some other learning activities each school night (the length of time can vary depending upon the child's age). For instance, if your fourth grader knows they are expected to spend an hour doing homework, reading or writing in a journal, they may be less likely to rush through assignments so that they can watch TV. A required amount of time may also discourage them from "forgetting" to bring home assignments and help them adjust to a routine.
Pick a Place
Your child's homework area doesn't have to be fancy. But wherever you and your child decide, it must have good lighting and without too many distractions. Many children do their homework at a kitchen table. If not, your child may enjoy decorating a special area for homework. A plant, a brightly colored container to hold pencils and some favorite artwork taped to the walls can make homework time more pleasant.
When choosing a homework spot, remember that the child should be attempting to complete their homework assignments independently, so the supporting family member should always be available in case the child needs help. Having to get up and go ask for help can cause delays and distractions.
Turn off the TV and discourage your child from making and receiving social telephone calls during homework time. (A call to a classmate about an assignment, however, may be helpful.) Some children work well with quiet background music, but loud noise from the CD player, radio or TV is not OK. One history teacher laments, "I've actually had a student turn in an assignment that had written in the middle, 'And George Washington said, "Ohhhhh, I love you."' He was so plugged into some music that he wasn't concentrating."
If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can't be avoided, you can help your child learn skills to cope with distractions.
Provide Supplies and Identify Resources
Have available pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper and a dictionary. Other supplies that might be helpful include a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, glue, scissors, a ruler, index cards, and a thesaurus. If possible, keep these items together in one place.
For books and other information resources, such as suitable computer websites, check with the school library or your local public library. Some libraries have homework centers designed especially to assist children with school assignments (they may even have tutors and other kinds of individual assistance).
Websites and Homework...Check With the Teacher
You may want to ask your child's teacher to explain school policy about the use of computers for homework. Certainly, computers are great learning and homework tools. Your child can use their computer not only for writing reports and for getting information through Internet resource sites but for "talking" with teachers and classmates about assignments. In many schools, teachers post information about homework assignments and classwork on their own websites, which also may have an electronic bulletin board on which students can post questions for the teacher and others to answer.
However, you don't have to have a computer in your home for your child to complete homework assignments successfully. Some schools may offer after-school programs that allow your child to use the school computers.
Set a Good Example
Show your child that the skills they are learning are an important part of the things they will do as adults. Let them see you reading books, newspapers and computer screens; writing reports, letters, e-mails and lists; using math to balance your bank account or to measure for new carpeting; doing other things that require thought and effort. Tell your child about what you do at work. Help your child to use everyday routines to support the skills they are learning. For example, teach them to play word and math games; help them to look up information about things in which they are interestedــsingers, athletes, art, fashion, space travel and so forth. Talk with them about what they see and hear as the two of you walk through the neighborhood. Take your child along when grocery shopping and include them in your budgeting and bargain shopping.
Be Interested and Interesting
Make time to read with your child as often as you can. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your child what was discussed in class that day. If they don't have much to say, try another approach. For example, ask them to read aloud a story they wrote or to talk about what they found out from a science experiment. Many schools have a notebook that they send home everyday with the child. It includes notes and comments. Read it! Talk with your child about it and make sure that you write back to the teacher when appropriate.
Attend school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences, plays, concerts, open houses and sports events. If you can, volunteer to help in your child's classroom or at special events. Getting to know some of your child's classmates and their parents builds a support network for you and your child. It also shows your child that their home and school are a team.
Children are more likely to complete homework successfully when parents monitor their assignments. How closely you need to monitor your child depends upon their age, how independent they are, and how well they do in school. Whatever the age of your child, if they aren't getting assignments done satisfactorily, they may require more supervision.
Here are some ways to monitor your child's assignments.
Ask about the School's Homework Policy
At the start of the school year, ask your child's teacher about any rules or guidelines that children are expected to follow as they complete homework. Ask about the kinds of assignments that will be given and the purposes for the assignments.
Talk with the teacher about your role in helping with homework. Expectations for parent involvement vary from teacher to teacher. Some teachers want parents to monitor homework closely, whereas others want them simply to check to make sure the assignment is completed on time.
Ask the teacher to call if any problems with homework come up.Let them know that you will do the same.
Many elementary school students often like to have someone with them to answer questions as they work on assignments. If your child is cared for by someone else, talk to that caregiver about how to deal with homework. For an older child, if no one will be around, let them know when you want them to begin home work and call to remind them if necessary.
However, if the teacher has made it known that students are to do homework on their own, limit your assistance to your child ensuring that assignments are clear and that necessary supplies are provided. Too much parent involvement can make children dependent and takes away from the value of homework as a way for children to become independent and responsible.
Look over Completed Assignments
It's usually a good idea to check to see that your elementary school child has finished their assignments. If your middle-school student is having trouble finishing assignments, check their work, too. After the teacher returns completed homework, read the comments to see if your child has done the assignment satisfactorily.
Monitor Time Spent Viewing TV and Playing Video Games
Many children on average spend far more time watching TV or playing video games than they do completing homework. In many homes, more homework gets done when TV viewing and "game" time is limited.
Once you and your child have worked out a homework schedule, take time to discuss how much TV and what programs they can watch. It's worth noting that television can be a learning tool. Look for programs that relate to what your child is studying in school, such as programs on history or science or dramatizations of children's literature. When you can, watch shows with your child, discuss them and encourage follow-up activities such as reading or a trip to the museum.
Likewise, limit the amount of time your child spends playing video games. As with TV programs, be aware of the games they like to play and discuss their choices with them.
The basic rule is, "Don't do the assignments for them." It's not YOUR homework—it's your child's.
"I've had students hand in homework that's in their parents' handwriting," one eighth-grade teacher complains. Doing assignments for your child won't help them understand and use information. It won't help them become confident in their own abilities.
Here are some ways that you can provide guidance without taking over your child's homework.
Help your child to make a schedule and put it in a place where you'll see it often. Writing out assignments will get them used to the idea of keeping track of what's due and when. If your child is not yet able to write, write it for them until they can do it themselves.
A book bag or backpack will make it easier for your child to carry homework to and from school. Providing homework folders in which your child can tuck assignments for safekeeping can also help them to stay organized.
Teachers generally give students tips on how to study. But it takes time and practice to develop good study habits. To reinforce good habits at home, you can:
Help your child manage time to complete assignments.
For example, if your eighth grader has a biology report due in three weeks, discuss all the steps they need to take to complete it on time, including:
- selecting a topic;
- doing the research by looking up books and other materials on the topic and taking notes;
- figuring out what questions to discuss;
- drafting an outline;
- writing a rough draft; and
- revising and completing the final draft.
Encourage your child to make a chart that shows how much time they expect to spend on each step.
Encourage them to use the library. If they aren't sure where to begin, tell them to ask the librarian for suggestions. If they're using a computer for online reference resources—whether the computer is at home, school, or the library—make sure they're getting whatever help they need to use it properly and to find age-appropriate websites. Many public libraries have homework centers with tutors or other kinds of one-on-one assistance. After your child has completed the research, listen as they tell you the points they want to make in the report.
Help your third grader prepare for a spelling test by saying the words as they write them. Have them correct their own test as you spell each word.
Review with your fifth grader how and what to study for a social studies test long before it's to be given. You can have them work out a schedule of what they need to do to make up a practice test and write down answers to the questions they've made up.
Be sure they understand how important it is to read the instructions carefully, to keep track of the time and to avoid spending too much time on any one question.
Talking and asking questions can help your child to think through an assignment and break it down into small, manageable parts. Here are some questions to ask:
After your child has read the instructions, ask them to tell you in their own words what the assignment is about. (If they can't read yet, the teacher may have sent home instructions that you can read to them.) Some schools have homework hotlines that you can call or websites that you can access for assignments in case your child misplaced a paper or was absent on the day it was given. If your child doesn't understand the instructions, read them and talk about the assignment. Does it have words that they don't know? How can they find out what the words mean? If neither you nor your child understands an assignment, call one of their classmates or get in touch with the teacher.
See if your child needs to learn more, for example, about subtracting fractions before they can do their assignment, or find out if the teacher needs to explain to them again when to use different kinds of punctuation marks. If you understand the subject yourself, you may want to work through some examples with your child. However, always let them do the assignment themselves.
Sometimes your child needs special supplies, such as colored pencils, rulers, calculators, maps, or reference books. Check with the teacher, school guidance counselor, or principal for possible sources of assistance if you can't provide the needed supplies. Check with your local library or school library for books and other information resources.
Does your answer make sense to you?
To check that your child understands what they are doing, ask them to explain how they solved a math problem or have them summarize what they have written in a report.
If your child shows signs of frustration, let them take a break. Encourage them and let them see that you know they can do the work.
People of all ages respond to praise.Children need encouragement from the people whose opinions they value most—their families. "Good first draft of your book report!" or "You've done a great job" can go a long way toward motivating your child to complete assignments.
Children also need to know when they haven't done their best work. Make criticism constructive, however, instead of telling a sixth grader, "You aren't going to hand in that mess, are you?" say, "The teacher will understand your ideas better if you use your best handwriting." Then give praise when the child finishes a neat version.
Homework problems often can be avoided when families and caregivers value, monitor, and guide their children's work on assignments. Sometimes, however, helping in these ways is not enough. If you have problems, here are some suggestions for how to deal with them.
Tell the Teacher about Your Concerns
You may want to contact the teacher if:
- your child refuses to do their assignments, even though you've tried hard to get them to do them;
- the instructions are unclear;
- you can't seem to help your child get organized to finish the assignments;
- you can't provide needed supplies or materials;
- neither you nor your child can understand the purpose of the assignments;
- the assignments are too hard or too easy;
- the homework is assigned in uneven amounts—for instance, no homework is given on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but on Thursday four assignments are made that are due the next day; or
- your child has missed school and needs to make up assignments.
In some cases, the school guidance counselor or principal also may be helpful in resolving problems.
Work with the Teacher
Continuing communication with teachers is very important in solving homework problems. As you work with your child's teacher, here are some important things to remember:
- Talk with each of your child's teachers early in the school year. Get acquainted before problems arise and let each teacher know that you want to be kept informed. Most elementary and middle schools hold regular parent-teacher conferences or open houses. If your child's school doesn't provide such opportunities, call the teacher to set up a meeting.
- Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a homework problem. Schools have a responsibility to keep you informed about your child's performance and behavior and you have a right to be upset if you don't find out until report-card time that your child is having difficulties. On the other hand, you may figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does. By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages.
- Request a meeting with the teacher to discuss homework problems.Tell the teacher briefly why you want to meet. You might say, "Rachel is having trouble with her math homework. I'm worried about why she can't finish the problems and what we might do to help her." If English is your second language, you may need to make special arrangements, such as including in the meeting someone who is bilingual.
- Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit. Believe that the teacher wants to help you and your child, even if you disagree about something. Don't go to the principal without giving the teacher a chance to work out the problem with you and your child.
- Let the teacher know whether your child finds the assignments too hard or too easy. (Teachers also like to know when their students are particularly excited about an assignment.) Of course, not all homework assignments can be expected to interest your child and be perfectly suited. Teachers just don't have time to tailor homework to the individual needs of each student. However, most teachers want to assign homework that their students can complete successfully and they welcome feedback.
Many teachers structure homework so that a wide range of students will find assignments interesting. For example:
- They offer students options for different approaches to the same topic or lesson;
- They give extra assignments to students who want more challenge; and
- They give specialized assignments to students who are having trouble in a particular area.
Homework can bring together children, families and teachers in a common effort to improve children's learning.
Helping your child with homework is an opportunity to improve your child's chances of doing well in school and life. By helping your child with homework, you can help them learn important lessons about discipline and responsibility. You can open up lines of communication—between you and your child and you and the school. You are in a unique position to help your child make connections between school work and the "real world," and thereby bring meaning (and some enjoyment) to your child's homework experience.
- During your meeting with the teacher, explain what you think is going on. In addition, tell the teacher if you don't know what the problem is. Sometimes a student's version of what's going on isn't the same as the teacher's version. For example, your child may tell you that the teacher never explains assignments so that they can understand them. But the teacher may tell you that your child isn't paying attention when assignments are given.
- Work out a way to solve or lessen the problem. The strategy will depend on what the problem is, how severe it is, and what the needs of your child are. For instance:
*Is the homework often too hard? Maybe your child has fallen behind and will need extra help from the teacher or a tutor to catch up.
*Does your child need to make up a lot of work because of absences? The first step might be working out a schedule with the teacher.
*Does your child need extra support beyond what home and school can give her? Ask the teacher, school guidance counselor or principal if there are mentor programs in your community. Mentor programs pair a child with an adult volunteer who assists with the child's special needs. Many schools, universities, community organizations, and businesses offer excellent mentoring programs.
Make sure that communication is clear. Listen to the teacher and don't leave until you're sure that you understand what's being said. Make sure, too, that the teacher understands what you have to say. If, after the meeting, you realize you don't understand something, call the teacher to clarify.
At the end of the meeting, it may help to summarize what you've agreed to do: "OK, so to keep track of Kim's assignments, I'll check her assignment book each night and write my initials beside new assignments. Each day you'll check to make sure she's written down all new assignments in her book. That way we'll be certain that I know what her assignments are."
- Follow up to make sure that the approach you agreed to is working. If the teacher told you, for example, that your child needs to spend more time practicing long division, check back in a month to talk about your child's progress.
Homework can bring together children, families, and teachers in a common effort to improve children's learning.
Helping your child with homework is an opportunity to improve your child's chances of doing well in school and life. By helping your child with homework, you can help him learn important lessons about discipline and responsibility. You can open up lines of communication—between you and your child and you and the school. You are in a unique position to help your child make connections between school work and the "real world," and thereby bring meaning (and some enjoyment) to your child's homework experience.