Friday, August 30, 2013

Homework Readiness

Back to school = back to homework! Are you ready? Here are a few tips to consider.

Location, Location, Location
Each child needs a place that is comfortable for them and well-lit. Not every learner likes the same kind of location. Some children prefer spreading out at a table, others like to work at a desk and still others may like to sprawl on the floor. Often adults have a concept of the best environment to do homework but that might not match with what works best for every child. In our household we had one of each - the oldest preferred to work at her desk which was away from the general chaos of the household, the middle child liked to take over the kitchen table which was right in the center of everything, and the youngest preferred to use family room floor space stretching out on her tummy. A little trial and error for finding what works best for each child was needed. It became clear pretty quickly that insisting that each of them do their homework in a specific location didn't work for them as individuals or for their learning style. No matter where they work make sure they have appropriate lighting available.

Avoid Distractions

Each child may have their own issue with distractions. Be aware of how sensitive they are and how you can help them. So, for example the oldest couldn't handle many distractions so she went to her desk away from everyone. As she got older she was able to handle more noises around her. The middle child loved to be in the center of things and distractions (phone ringing, dog barking, meal preparations, etc.) not only didn't it bother him but somehow was comfortable. He did better when in the center of the action - and believe me we tried other options - but we quickly learned this was his way. The youngest, the floor sprawler, used a headset to shut out noises while still being able to be in her favorite homework spot. I tried to maintain a quieter mellower atmosphere in general - no TV on, no radio - we sometimes put on a classical CD with the volume down.

Tools at the Ready
Have all the materials they'll need available. Paper, pencils, dictionary, computer for research or any special items for projects should be stored in a location that the child can get to easily. Some children will excitedly tell you if they need something special for school, but I would suggest that you check with your child daily to find out if there is anything they need. There's nothing more stressful for everyone than those last minute "I need this tomorrow morning!" situations. We got into the habit of having poster-boards, specialty papers, a variety of art supplies, etc. on hand just in case. As technology becomes part of the learning experience be sure that items are charged, batteries are on hand and everything is in working order.

Establish a Routine
Setting up a routine for homework will help everyone. Consistency is the key to many child
related issues and homework is no different. This routine may shift as children get older and have more homework demands or larger projects that might include working with their classmates. Be prepared to work with the children to determine what is best for them - again keeping in mind their learning needs. Our routine consisted of coming home, having a healthy snack and discussing the day, give them a few minutes to relax or play with their pets, and then onto homework before dinner. While they were having snack I would go through their backpack for any notes or information to set aside for their parents, get out their homework assignments and ask a few questions. It was also a great time to touch base on how things were going at school.

Your Attitude Matters
Children look to us as models, so the attitude you have about homework will translate to them. Be positive and excited about their learning experiences. Give them heartfelt positive feedback. Notice if they are getting down to work without your prompts and let them know how much you appreciate them taking initiative.

Guiding vs. Answering

I know this goes without saying but providing answers is not helpful to children developing homework habits. To really learn the material they need to explore and sometimes wrestle to find answers. It's a balancing act to provide support while allowing them to confront challenges. Asking open ended questions and giving clues can be helpful. I noticed that all three children would get frustrated if they were asked to complete answers on a worksheet from an assigned reading. They were sure the answer wasn't there. I would scan the reading, find the answer and give them a clue - "Check out page __, halfway down the page. Does that fit?" I didn't tell them the answer they still needed to find it, but it eased the pressure they were feeling.
Homework is often used by educators to measure how well the children are grasping concepts and understanding ideas which means that unanswered questions or wrong answers tell their teacher something important. As adults we want to send the children off with completed homework and all the correct answers but that may not mesh with their teacher's goals in assigning homework. Check with your child's teacher about their homework expectations and goals.
Teachers appreciate the role you play in the child's homework. If you are struggling in working with a child, talking to the teacher can be a great first step. The teacher can provide additional tips that will help homework time go more smoothly. Good communication with the child's teacher and school is essential. You may find that some projects or homework are meant to be done by the child alone - no adult help. Honor those requests. After all homework and special projects are developing independent lifelong skills for the child.

Be Observant
Keep an eye out for signs of frustration or fatigue. Often a short break can help. The youngest usually needed more breaks as she was doing homework - even when she as she got into high school. She worked hard concentrating at school all day, got home and started working again - it was exhausting for her. Having snack when she got home and something to drink while she was working helped, but the best plan for her was getting up to move every 15 minutes or so. Physical activity for 10 minutes allowed for better concentration.

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