Well, it’s the middle of October. Have the homework battles started yet?
We have all heard it before. The moans and groans that emanate from our children at the very mention of it. Not only can homework time be something that kids dread, it can become an incredibly stressful time for everyone! No one wants to have to battle with their children just to get some school work done.
As a former teacher, I know very well the struggles of getting kids to complete their work. Thankfully, I also learned a few tricks along the way. There are ways to make homework more fun – or at least, more tolerable- for both the kids and you!
How to Make Homework Time Less Stressful
Build in transition rituals.
It can be tough for kids to come home from school and immediately dive right back into more schoolwork. I get it. After a hard day of work, I don’t want to come right home and start doing more work right away. I like time to change into more comfortable clothing. I usually freshen up a bit, taking off my makeup and washing my face. Depending on how soon dinner is going to be served, I might even want a snack.
Kids are often much the same way. My daughter couldn’t possibly get into her homework without an after school snack! We usually served it at the table where she was going to be working on her homework and made a bit of a treat out of it. It was usually done “teatime” style to add a little fun to it. This worked for her because she still got a brain break (and the nutritious snack was great energy for doing more work!) but was right there in her homework space.
Letting her go watch TV or playing with her toys or something was too much of a break for her and it became a struggle to drag her back to the work space. You might find that your kids need to burn off some energy before tackling homework. They might need to get outside and play with friends or head to a sports practice first.
Think about your child’s energy cycles, motivations, and personality. Talk with them and negotiate a routine that satisfies both of you. Give it a try and then revise if needed. This routine might need to change seasonally. Your child might have after dinner hockey practice in the winter, necessitating an earlier homework time. In the spring, the call of the beautiful weather outside might be a big distraction and homework would be better done after dinner.
Have a Fun Space
Working in a boring space full of distractions can make progress of any kind rather difficult. Start off on the right foot and set up a creative, cozy and distraction free space for your little ones to focus on school work.
Make sure to keep TV and technology in another location and choose a location in your home that experiences less traffic and let your little ones to help to design the area, filling it with their favourite school supplies. That being said, music playing in the background has been shown to help kids with learning and concentration. Experiment to see if it helps yours.
For some kids, having a space designated solely for homework will help them associate it with schoolwork and learning, rather than playtime allowing them to focus. That being said, for my daughter, it was always better to create a “portable” homework station. We would fill a basket or cart with needed supplies and bring it to the dining room table.
She worked much better when right there with me. Being isolated in her room was actually a distraction in itself. And by sitting at the dining room table with me (while I also worked on paperwork), I was not only able to role model for her, but could be right on hand if she needed help.
Wherever your homework station is, make sure it is well-stocked with all materials your kids might need. A kid can use the need for a pencil sharpener as a way to procrastinate for 45 minutes!
How to Help Them
Whatever you do, don’t just jump in and rescue your kids the moment they begin to struggle. Leaving them to struggle on their own can cause them to shut down, but “saving” them immediately can actually make things worse. They need to learn the skills to complete the work on their own or with limited help. The last thing you want is for them to rely on whining about their homework, knowing that you will rush in to fix it.
Begin by asking them questions about their work. Sometimes, getting them talking about what they’re trying to do and why they’re stuck can help them to actually reason out their own solution out loud. A few guiding questions may be all it takes.
If they’re struggling with reading, trying taking turns reading aloud. You can help them progress faster (and minimize some of the frustration) and model reading behaviour for them at the same time. You could even stop once in a while and show them what you do if you’re having difficulty with a word – sounding it out, looking for the context, looking it up, and so on.
If they’re struggling with other subjects, math for example, you can use the same sort of technique. Take turns solving problems, modelling how you do it, thinking out loud so they can follow along. Be aware that when it comes to math, there are often new methods being taught and you may not be familiar with the ones your child is using. Ask the teacher to run you through it or provide some resources so you can keep up!
Offer incentives for when homework is completed promptly and properly without a fuss. Giving your children something to look forward to will make homework less of a struggle and more of a reward, in turn, making it more fun. One of the things we did was have “tea-time” along with our shared homework time. An after school snack and beverage all served up on fancy little plates and teacups made a huge difference!
Do you find that your child drags their feet during homework time? Break it up into smaller sections. “I’m setting a timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, I’ll come and check on how you’re doing.” Checking in with them periodically can keep them motivated to follow through.
You could also consider offering privileges like a half hour of video games, first choice of a TV show that evening, or even let them collect points towards bigger treats (picking a weekend outing). Your children might just tackle their homework without a fuss.
Make it a Game
Let’s face it homework can be rather mundane. Consider turning it into a game, especially if the homework revolves around studying. Educational games are a great way for your children to learn and they help to teach children to think on their feet.
If it’s possible to make your little one’s homework into a game of charades or something along those lines, they will enjoy doing it that much more! I used to play games in my classroom with my students every Friday. We’d get out a Snakes and Ladders game and before they could move their token, they had to correctly answer a question.
Or draw a baseball diamond or football field on a piece of paper (cardboard if you want to reuse it). Again, to advance through it, your kids need to answer questions correctly.
Flashcards are another great option. Some kids really take to seeing how quickly they can zip through a deck of cards, practicing their skills.
Maybe your child loves the arts? Have them draw a picture, create a diorama or sculpture, or even put on a little play to reinforce the key points of what they’ve learned.
Try to Find Fun Ways to Reinforce What They’re Learning in School
If your child is learning about fractions, get them into the kitchen and let them help you make dinner or do some baking. Studying pioneer times? Take them to a museum or local pioneer village. Are they learning about primary and secondary colors? Give them some play dough in primary colors and let them mix it to see what happens. You could even try to find a movie they can watch that supports their school subject.
There are lots of hands-on ways to reinforce the topics they’re learning about in school. It can be so valuable to get the kids away from the books and into an actual experience they can participate in sometimes. As a teacher, I always tried to engage as many of their senses and learning styles as possible. Reading, listening, watching, touching, drawing, making, writing, and talking are all important parts of learning.
Movies, books, cooking, crafts – there are so many ways to reinforce learning and have fun at the same time. Ask your kids. You might be surprised by what they want to do!
PRO TIP: Let your child teach you! Having to explain what they’re learning not only reinforces the ideas for them but most kids also really get a kick out of being the teacher for a change!
Remember to stay positive. If you look at homework as a negative experience, you can’t expect your children to see it differently. Give encouragement, talk about achievements and show them how homework can turn into something positive. Your child’s attitude to homework is more likely to change when it’s a more positive experience.
Of course, you want to be firm about the need for your child to complete their homework but it’s important to keep it positive. Cheer them on for their efforts and praise them for their accomplishments. A positive word can go a long way.
When to Talk to the Teacher
Sometimes it’s not the homework itself that is the problem. It’s the sheer volume of it that is making your child feel overwhelmed. As a teacher, I used to tell the parents of my students that their child’s homework would mainly consist of any assignments they hadn’t completed in class (and I always provided lots of time for them). If they had no homework at all, they should at least be encouraged to read each evening (or to have someone read to them – valuable at any age!).
If they were coming home day after day with a lot of homework, they needed to talk to me. It was very important to me that my students had some down time and had some family time every day.
Too much homework could mean they were wasting a lot of time in class when they should have been working. Or it might mean that I was underestimating how much time they should be given in class for their work.
Homework may never become your child’s favorite thing to do but most of the time, it is possible to make it less stressful. If you can take the battle out of homework time, everyone’s evening will be much more pleasant!