As school settles in for the fall season, many kindergarteners and elementary school children are heading home with homework packets in their backpacks. For some parents (and students), this is their first go-around with homework. For some children, it is an exciting chance to show their parents what they are working on at school. For others, it signals the start of endless protests from reluctant children who would rather do anything but finish their homework.
The amount of homework, as well as type of work they do, and even the day it gets sent home is going to vary from school to school. But developing good study habits and a reliable homework routine for your child to follow are important steps in setting them up for academic success.
Success Starts at Home
It’s true that some children race through their homework packet, eager to get it done so they can play and relax after school. Others, depending on their after-school activities, may have to squeeze in homework after a long day of school, dance lessons, dinner. . . Before you know it, it’s bedtime!
If possible, consider what you want your homework routine to look like before that first homework packet comes home:
- Relax first: Kids work hard for 6 hours during the school day—they may need a mental break when they get home. When your child gets home from school, offer a snack, or, if they are not hungry, read a couple books together. Many children have been sitting all day, and need to move their body to relax. Going for a walk, riding bikes, or tossing a ball around the yard for awhile after school can make a big difference in getting them to focus on homework later.
- Create a workspace: Does your child have a dedicated workspace where they can comfortably sit and work? Is it free from distractions? Consider having a table or area that your child can reliably use to do their homework with easy access to their pencils, markers, and scissors. Your child can help decorate the space to make it their own. A special pencil cup, ruler, stapler, or picture of a special pet or grandparent can help them feel like sitting down to do homework is more fun.
- Decide on a time to do homework: Between school and bedtime, there are not a lot of hours in the day to work with. Young children enjoy routine and do well when they can anticipate what’s coming next. Choosing a time that you can dedicate to helping your child work on their homework can contribute to creating good study habits. A good rule of thumb is to start on homework after your child has had time to relax, but before they can use any electronics (computer, TV, video games, etc.). Try giving it a name, such as the “homework hour,” or “homework club.”
Your Role as a Homework Helper
Kindergarteners and younger elementary students can benefit from your encouragement and guiding hand when it comes to working through their homework.
- Get started: Prompt your child to get their homework out. If you have a certain time set aside after relaxing, they can eventually follow the routine independently and start their homework without prompting. Help them select what they are going to work on for the evening. Stay close by to assist when asked and notice aloud when they make improvements.
- Offer praise: To keep them motivated, offer your child praise as they work through their assignments. Be specific, “I could tell you were really concentrating on math today; it really shows because I see you have done everything correctly!”
- Wait in the wings: Wait until your child asks for help to step in. When they do, give them the chance to problem solve first. If your child asks how to spell “flower,” follow up with a question such as, “How do you think you spell it? Try to spell it on this piece of paper first and then I’ll check your work.”
- If they answer incorrectly, keep your response positive by pointing out what they did correctly: “Kendra, that was a very good guess! You got many of the letters right. Together, let’s take a look at how to correctly spell ‘flower.’”
When Problems Occur
Not every homework assignment is going to excite and inspire young minds. Much of it can be repetitive letter tracing or math problems. That aside, there are other reasons a child might struggle through their homework:
- Feeling overwhelmed from leaving a big project until the last minute.
- Not understanding the homework.
- The homework is challenging.
- There is an underlying learning disability.
Remember that it’s rather common for young children to get discouraged or frustrated while working on homework for the reasons stated above. It’s rarely because your child is being “lazy.” All behavior is communication, and there is likely a reason your child is not enjoying his homework.
If your child needs more encouragement, consider using a reward system to help them stay motivated.
- Decide on tasks they can do to earn points and how many points the tasks are worth: Bringing home their homework packet (1 point); starting their work by your decided time (2 points); working on their homework without interruption for at least 15 minutes (5 points).
- Points can be exchanged at the end of the week for a reward. Consider using special time with you as the reward. Decide how many points your child must earn to get the reward and what the reward will be.
- If they still do not want to do their homework, consequences will be reflected at school through grades and teacher feedback. Work with the teacher to find other strategies to get your child motivated to do homework.
- Use a chart to track daily points. Place it where your child can see it.
As your child begins to meet their goals on a regular basis, begin to phase out the reward system.Talk with your child about how doing their homework has helped them in school. The goal is to move from the external motivation (reward system) to internal motivation (doing homework because it makes school easier).
Homework needn’t be a time of stress or pressure. Enjoy this opportunity to spend time together and learn about the world again through your child’s eyes.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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