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Oregon Family Magazine

Homework Strategies for Every Age

11/01/2014 09:46 ● By Sandy Kauten
Kids are so busy these days - with after school sports, music lessons, doctor/dental appointments, or other extracurricular activities.  So much so, that sometimes homework falls through the cracks. Maybe it gets scribbled out in the car, or finished up before breakfast, maybe it’s tackled during that night’s American Idol. While extracurricular activities are vital to our kids, they should not cause homework routines to disappear. In fact, all this “busy-ness” actually makes the need for a strong homework routine even more critical.

As an educator, the primary difference I notice between students who succeed with homework and those who struggle, comes down to one thing:  Homework Routines (or lack thereof).  Students without set routines can manage the work, despite hectic schedules.  However, they struggle a lot more, and run the risk of just “getting it done” versus actually understanding the material. Students with routines generally absorb the material better, are less stressed, and wind up better off overall.

Figuring out a workable routine isn’t easy – and in fact may change as schedules change throughout the year.  Regardless, it’s important to involve your child when the time comes.  Don’t dictate a routine and expect them follow it - give them a voice and some ownership in the process.  Key things to consider during your discussion are, first – keep it simple.  Next, agree on 1) a good time to do homework 2) a comfortable and quiet location 3) organization and 4) accountability.

Schedules, Schedules, Everywhere…

Finding a consistent TIME for homework might actually be the most difficult step in this process. Students have so many extracurricular activities that a 3:30 homework time may work on Monday, but not on Tuesday because of piano lessons or sports.  If your child’s schedule is inconsistent from day to day, be creative, and flexible - maybe homework at 4:00pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday works, but not until 6:00pm on Tuesday / Thursdays.  Regardless of how it works out, sticking to the schedule is the key to success.

It’s also important to consider what system works best for your child’s personality.  Will he be more successful doing homework right after school? Or does he need a little time to unwind?  If there is more than one child in the household, this can be a challenge; but the same considerations must be taken.  Many household have a younger child where homework immediately after school and a snack is best, whereas older kids might prefer to allow some time for homework before bedtime. 

The second aspect to timing is establishing “completion time” goals.  Having a goal for when all work should be done helps the student stay motivated and on task.  Finally, consider scheduling breaks if needed.  Younger students (K-2) should take a ten minute break every 30-minutes.  Intermediate students (grades 3-5) should take a break every 45-50 minutes, and middle-schoolers should work for an hour before any break.  High-school student can comfortably stay focused and on task for 90 minutes with a break.  Make sure break times are set before homework begins so your child can plan accordingly.

Here, There… But not Everywhere…

After deciding on a schedule with your child, it’s time to come up with a good LOCATION.  One Disclaimer; there may be unique situations when homework gets done in the car, on the sidelines, or simply while out-and-about. This is fine, so long as it is the exception, not the rule. It’s important to avoid those scenarios whenever possible – by doing so, it gives the message that homework is a priority and deserves special time and attention.

To decide on a good location, walk around the house with your child and find a place that’s suitable, comfortable, and quiet. This place will look different in each home, and for each child, but there are a few basics to keep in mind.  First, workspace: desks, tables, or countertops are always better than couches or beds.  Locations will likely look different by age. K-5 students should work where a parent is nearby for help… a kitchen counter or living room table are good choices.  Middle-schoolers might be comfortable in those same places, but also might do better in their own space, like their bedroom or an office.  Most high-schoolers will opt for the privacy of their own room. Once deciding on location, talk to your child about what they need to complete their homework.  For younger students (K-2) this might be some sharpened pencils, markers, a ruler, and paper.  As the students get older they will likely need access to a computer/printer, and the location will need to allow for different types of assignments and projects. 

The location should also be considered a no phone/TV zone.  Some students (especially older ones) can study with music.  Save the phones, social media, texting, and TV for break times and/or after homework is completed.  Lastly, with larger families, it’s a good idea to set up a different homework corner for each child.  Siblings can be just as distracting as phones and TVs, so separation is usually a good idea.

This Goes Here, That Goes There…

With time and place figured out, now it’s time to get ORGANIZED!  Think of organization in two forms: day-to-day and long-term.  Some students really struggle with the details of day-to-day organization – particularly the younger ones; which is why it’s important to set up a routine.  It might be a forgotten worksheet, or a text book, or something else key to assignment that stops progress in its tracks.  To help out here, decide on a system they can manage for writing down their assignments.  For some a sticky note works well, others might prefer a planner.  Come up with a routine before and after school to ensure your child is prepared and thinking about homework time later that day.  To start, it may help to make a checklist that reminds him to write his assignments down, bring home materials or books, and to ask their teacher any questions about the homework before leaving school.

Long-term organization is equally important.  For younger students this is simply asking them to take stock of their homework area each week; Sunday is good.  Ask them see if any supplies need refilling, and have them clean out their binder and backpack so they are ready for the week ahead.  For older students (students with more tests and long-term projects), there’s an added element to long term organization.  These students need to keep track of long term projects and upcoming tests. Sunday is a great day for them to take fifteen minutes and make a plan to tackle the projects and tests throughout the week, rather than leaving them until the night before.

Good…Better… Best!

And finally, the component of ACCOUNTABLITY.  Your child will work harder if he knows you will hold them accountable for finishing and understanding their homework.  It’s vital that you (or a spouse, uncle, aunt, grandmother, older sibling) make yourself available for questions while your child is working on homework.  It’s just as important to also check their work when they are done.  Make sure they completed the work as assigned, and understand it.  If mistakes were made, do not simply give them the answer… help them understand where the problem occurred and why.  When students know their work will be checked, they will take their time and try their best to get it right the first time.

As you and your child sit down to make decisions about timing, location, organization, and accountability, be sure your child’s voice is heard.  She will not be as motivated to establish a routine if it’s handed down to her.  Consider his/her personality and factor in strengths and weaknesses to make it successful.   As you’re setting up routines and processes for you children, keep in mind that even a perfect routine will not help a child who simply does not understand the work.  If your child continues to struggle with homework after taking these measures, find the underlying problem.  Set up a meeting with their teacher to brainstorm idea that will help your child succeed.  Finally, it’s important to establish good study habits as early in their life as possible. This does not to suggest it’s too late for middle or high-schoolers; but doing the work during the primary grades will do wonders for their success in the later years. Finally, be a good role model they can learn from and look up to. Be consistent and hold them accountable for their work.  Show them how to be patient and persevere when faced with a difficult assignment.  They will learn as much from you through this process as anything else.

By Michael Floretta.  Michael is a certified teacher with a Masters degree in education and ten years experience teaching in the Eugene/Springfield area.  He is currently a co-owner of Academic Achievement Center located at 435 Lincoln St in Eugene.  AAC serves children ages K-12 in all subjects. They also do SAT/ACT test prep and academic themed camps year-round. They can be reached at 541-654-4999