How to do homework with your child (without doing it yourself!)
If you are (almost) 40, chances are that your kids are going through primary school at this stage. It is the time in their lifes when homework and studying time increase. Some kids naturally develop a habit of getting their homework done independently pretty soon after they start school. Mine did not. They would struggle to remain seated, to focus, to be interested in the subject (unless it had anything to do with an ipad). Maybe it is because they are boys and boys seem to mature later than girls and are generally more active. Maybe it was because in the pre-school days I did not make enough time to sit down with them and do activities like drawing or puzzles (which they hated, by the way).
In any case, when they both started school and especially when homework started to become more serious in years 3 and 4, I soon realised that we had a problem. Homework time was difficult. They hated it. On most days there were tears. The work was being done sloppily, every chance of distraction used to do divert and do something else.
I knew I would have to start from scratch and develop some new and healthy homework habits. I feared it could be too late and I was furious because I knew it would also mean that I would have to spend a significant amount of time sitting down and actually doing the homework with them. I thought to myself: “Why is this necessary? Nobody sat down with me when I was a child…” Yet every other parent I asked reconfirmed to me that in deed, they were doing this, too. Or hiring somebody to do it.
So I set out on a mission to get my kids to independently do homework, without actually having to do it for them. The aim was to get to a point where I would only have to correct the work once finished. I have to admit, we are not quite there yet, but depending on the subject, they now manage to do most homework on their own and with far less drama than before.
So, if you are in a similar position, I hope the below approach may help you. It is not a quick fix and it will require your time and patience. But it definitely is an investment that will pay off in the mid-term.
- Set up a daily after school routine that leads seamlessly into homework time: Kids thrive on routine. So the best and easiest way to get started is to create a daily routine that allows them to ease into it almost without noticing. We try to do homework first thing after we get back from school and after we have had a bite to eat. Once they are done they are allowed “free time” during which they can choose to do whatever they want. They cherish this so much, that they are very eager to start and finish homework asap every day.
- Provide the right environment: they should have their own desk and always do their homework at the same place. Try to get away from doing homework in the kitchen and certainly ensure there are no distractions like TV, music, etc in the background. On the desk they should only have their set of tools (pens, pads, sharpeners, rubbers), nothing else.
- Assist them with understanding what is being asked: A lot of times kids will rush into answering before understanding the questions. Slow them down in the beginning and ensure they read the assignment carefully (ideally out loud) and understand what is required of them.
- If necessary talk the answer through with them first, but then back off and let them put it on paper on their own. Don´t hover over their shoulder, back off until they are done. Literally. Leave the room if necessary.
- Before correcting ask them to review their answers. Provide hints as to where there may be mistakes, so they can auto-correct them. This is an incredibly powerful way to raise their self-esteem and confidence.
- Do short sprints: Young children get tired quickly. Try to arrange homework in sections of 20 minutes each and provide some breaks in-between. Otherwise you risk concentration going downhill quickly.
- Reward and praise: as much as you can for the good work and especially for the effort. There is no bigger boost for them than your approval. And be patient! Not every day will be great, but if you keep consistently repeating these methods you should very soon see your kids more comfortable and happier when doing their homework.