When we analyze successful homework strategies that some Parents have in place, we see equal parts motivation, discipline and pacing. The bottom line is that children thrive on routine, so having established rituals when it comes to doing homework, is essential to keep performance high and emotions in check.
Start by understanding the scope
Begin by reviewing your child’s homework assignments with them. Understanding the scope and the deadlines with help you and your child develop a sound plan. If it is a multi-day assignment, map it out on a calendar, so you won’t accidentally forget anything. Your plan should take into consideration what materials and resources if any will be needed and how much time will be needed in order to complete the assignment. This approach applies to both long-term deadlines and projects as well as the daily homework assignments and tasks.
Help your child establish a rhythm
Once you decide how long the homework period should last and what should be accomplished in that amount of time, then divide it in half or quarters if longer than 2 hours. Work in 25 minute sprints – with a 5-minute break at each half hour. Use a kitchen timer or a smart phone to track the time and demand utter focus and concentration until the timer rings. You can’t believe the power of the simply timer in building focus and attention.
Additionally, if you believe the homework period will be 2 hours or more it is good to include a healthy snack and some exercise in the ritual. For example, if your homework period were to be 2 hours, have your child work for 25 minutes, break for 5 and have a snack, work for 25 minutes and break for 5 and do jumping jacks or walk the dog, work for 25 and take a break to drink something refreshing and work for 25 and spend the last 5 minutes reviewing your work.
If you are not home when your child does his homework, encourage them to adopt this same principle of making a plan and then working in sprints with a time. Make an agreement that you child will share their progress with you when you get home from work. Do this before you dive into meal preparation and your other evening rituals. If your child has more homework that can be accomplished in 2 hours, you may need to move a 25 minute sprint to the morning before school. However, since mornings can be a chaotic time, this should be avoided as a practice, if possible.
Break it down into smaller steps
No matter whether your child’s assignment is long or short term, break it down for them — into smaller, bite sized pieces, that seem more accomplishable and not so overwhelming. The brilliant writer Anne Lammott describes how her Father did this for her bother as he was attempting to complete a seemingly insurmountable report on birds: “surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead — my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Establish good homework hygiene
Successful homework sessions almost always take place in a designated space that is free from distractions like music, TV and bothersome siblings. The beginning of the session should start when all the materials and needed resources are gathered to the designated area and the child is ready to begin. We recommend that you do a three minute “Brain Break” before homework begins as a means of focusing your child and preparing him or her to work. A few, very slow and very deep breaths will let your child’s mind quiet down and focus. This deep breathing helps the psychological debris of the day disappear, and allows your child to concentrate on the task at hand. Some children find that wearing headphones with no music, can help — while others find this level of quiet, very distracting. We suggest that you experiment to find out what works best for your child.
Manage your child’s energy
There does reach a point in which a child it too exhausted to learn, or to even practice what he or she has already learned. Know your child’s limits and if your child has reached this point, you have reached the point of diminishing returns and it is time to call it a night. At this point, your job is to be an advocate of your child’s overall health and well-being, regardless of whether your child has completed the assignment or not.
Know your intellectual limits
With so many new subject areas these days, it is easy to feel overwhelmed or downright stupid, when faced with trying to help with your child’s homework. If your child is taking advanced Calculus and you struggled with algebra 20 years ago, then don’t try to help. Be supportive in establishing the plan, breaking it down and making sure that your child has had a healthy snack and gotten his circulation going. Beyond parental support if you find your child needs more instructive help, it may be time to hire a tutor.
Know when it’s too much
We’ve all heard the horror studies of children coming home from school with 4-6 hours of homework and the incredible stress that causes both the child and family in that situation. If you find that your child is routinely falling behind in nightly homework, it might be time to schedule a conference with his or her teacher to discuss it. Letting the teacher know that your child is struggling at home, can help the teacher spend more time with your child in class or look for alternatives to those emotional and marathon homework sessions at home.
Here’s to managing home stress, more happily and effectively.