Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Whose Homework Is It? — Good Parenting
Dear Dr. Debbie,
My third-grader, “Martha,” has a miserable time with homework. She whines, tries to put off doing it as late as she can — until she’s too tired and or I don’t have time to help her. I’m a single mom with two younger children, so my time is limited to start with. I don’t know if this has something to do with it, but both she and I have attention deficit disorder and I barely got through school myself (without much help from my mom, as I recall.)
How much help should I be giving her at this age anyway?
Want it Finished
Don’t miss last week’s column on Filling a Bucket with Kindness
Dear Want it Finished,
Through elementary school, establishing routines for homework around playing with friends, weekly sports or other scheduled activities, and reasonable limits on screen time is more the parent’s responsibility than the child’s. About 45 minutes per day, Monday through Thursday, should be devoted to school work. If you break this up into two periods, with a larger one before dinner, homework completion should be manageable. The right bedtime is important for a good night’s sleep during which her brain will review and sort the lessons of the day.
Check what the assignments are as soon as she comes home. This is the time to call a classmate to see about borrowing a forgotten book, or to know that the evening will require a trip to the library. Right after school, her teacher may still be available by phone — or by email — to clear up any confusion. Once you and Martha have an idea of what’s in store, take some time for unwinding — a little exercise and a snack before getting down to business. You need to be available during homework time so have the younger two doing something that doesn’t require your close supervision. A pre-set timer is a good way to announce that the next 30 minutes are for homework. When the timer proclaims the end of homework time, Martha can decide if she wants to finish up what she is doing or take a break.
A second homework period each day of 15 minutes should be enough time to finish and pack everything up for the next day. If all the homework isn’t complete after 45 minutes, write a quick note to the teacher stating which assignment(s) gave her trouble. Follow up with the teacher to see if there may be something else that either the school or you could be doing to give your daughter more success with her schoolwork.
Martha may be sabotaging her own success because she finds the assignments — and maybe school, too — beyond her abilities to focus. She’s in a struggle with herself. You may need to change up the traditional expectation of completing one assignment at a time, and all at one sitting. Three spelling sentences can be followed by three math problems, then back to the sentences, and so on. Not all homework has to be done in a chair. Drills such as spelling words or math facts can be accomplished while taking a walk or shooting baskets together. Martha might find it more conducive to have the dictionary, pencil sharpener, and other homework supplies in far corners of the house so that her mind can get short breaks between sentences or problems. Or change chairs for each assignment.
A big project — science fair experiment, oral book report — requires long range planning and management which children are not experts at. Nor are persons with ADD Help her break the task into timely chunks across the calendar. The day the assignment is given is the best time to do this.
If Martha continues to balk at homework time, you need a closer connection with her teacher. Find out when and how the teacher prefers to be contacted — either a call at lunch time, written notes on the homework itself or by email. Children do best when school and home are partners with the same goal — success with school. A learning disability, impairment of vision or hearing, or emotional challenge (parents’ divorce, bully at the bus stop, etc.) can add difficulty to your child’s mastery of schoolwork. Open discussion with the teacher or guidance counselor can lead to a better understanding of Martha’s needs, and steer you to resources including continued counseling, homework tutors, websites related to the academic topics, or online postings of daily assignments by each teacher.
Homework has many benefits. It reinforces what is learned earlier in the day, allows for deeper understanding without the distractions of classmates and a hurried school-day schedule, and enables the parent to add her own life experience and other resources to the learning process. But ultimately, the child learns that you are there to support her growing independence.
Clear on your assignment now?
Click here for tips on ADHD and homework.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com