Homework and fun in the same sentence? It IS possible. Homework is a necessity most kids loathe and parents come to dread. And yet, most families go through this ritual on a daily basis. Sometimes it can involve threats, bribery or cajoling, but keeping the peace relative to this daily activity requires nothing more than some creativity and consistency. With a little bit of thought and planning, parents can help make homework fun and help kids complete it more successfully and productively.
BENEFITS OF HOMEWORK
The educational community regularly questions the logistics of homework: how much is appropriate, how effective is it and how young is too young. Students and parents weigh in, teachers and policymakers give opinions and researchers study the data. Here is the consensus:
- Homework has a positive effect on student achievement. A meta-analysis of research studies on homework was conducted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. In it, they made several significant conclusions: 1) students who were assigned homework had higher achievement gains than those who were not, 2) this applied similarly to both reading and math, 3) the benefits were greater to students in grades 7-12 than in K-6, and 4) the achievement benefit did not favor course grades or standardized tests but influenced both. Though homework appears to be more beneficial to older kids, helping younger kids develop a positive attitude toward homework has significance for the future.
- Homework allows parents to see what kids are studying in school. Like many parents who have asked kids what they learned today know, it is often difficult to get much detailed information. But seeing what they bring home to work on gives a daily update of the content kids are studying and the skills they are developing. Though parents are not necessarily expected to help kids complete homework, it helps to take a peek at what they are working on.
- Homework provides independent practice with content learned in school. Teachers often follow the gradual release of responsibility model for presenting new learning. The teacher introduces a new problem-solving method, for example, while students watch. The teacher then solves some sample problems with students following along. Then they try a few with teacher support, either on their own or with a partner. And finally, kids try to solve problems independently. Alternately, teachers running a “flipped” classroom assign pre-learning material for homework, sometimes a reading assignment, podcast or video clip. Then they have kids do their independent practice in school, where the teacher can provide support. In either case, at-home practice is a significant part of the learning agenda.
- There is a lot of variability from teacher to teacher. One thing about homework is certain, which is that nothing is certain. The amount varies from teacher to teacher and grade level to grade level. Some schools have a schoolwide or district policy; others allow teachers to do their own thing. Some teachers give homework daily, while others assign a weekly packet on Monday; some give kids a break on weekends. The reality is that as the school year begins each fall, kids and their parents must work to understand the current expectations and adjust to them.
MAKING HOMEWORK MORE FUN
So, if we are convinced that homework plays an important role in the learning process, how do we convince kids of this fact? Helping kids to view being a student as their job may enable them to view homework as part of their job description. Here are a few suggestions to help make the daily grind more palatable:
- Keep in mind that kids have probably just spent 6+ hours learning at school, so give them a voice and a choice about when to complete homework. Some will prefer to tackle homework right away to get it over with, while others may wish to relax for a while. Respect their preference, as long as waiting a while does not turn into procrastination.
- Create a special work zone (designated or portable). Add a cool lamp or a comfy pillow with an inspiring slogan. Let kids personalize their homework zone, even if it all gets packaged in a plastic bin afterward to regain use of the kitchen table. Minimize distractions as much as possible when they are in the zone.
- Help kids divide their homework burden up into manageable bytes to avoid burnout; the younger the kid, the shorter the chunks. Use a timer to mark the time on task; buy a fun one or set an electronic timer online. Work with kids to establish the optimal increment for them and suggest study break activities, if needed. A bit of physical movement, like jumping rope, shooting hoops or riding their bike around the block, will prime them to return to work even as it hints at what they can look forward to when they complete the day’s tasks.
- Create a homework supply kit stocked with things that make the process seem more inviting. Maybe a set of special gel pens, colorful highlighters or fun-shaped sticky notes will make kids more anxious to dig into the day’s assignment. Keep these in an organizer so that when kids have completed their homework, they can pack up their tools until they are needed again tomorrow.
- Help them find a cooperative study buddy who has the same homework assignments so they can support and encourage each other. Use this option judiciously and keep an eye on things, as the study session could quickly go off the rails and become a playdate.
- Provide a healthy snack to keep them fueled until dinner time. You can serve it while they are working or make one of their study breaks a “create your own snack” break, saving your most creative snack options for homework breaks. To support this option, you can prep the ingredients ahead of time and have kids assemble and eat. Maybe they mix up the ingredients for roasted chickpeas on the first study break, then you pop them in the oven. By the time the next break rolls around, a delicious healthy treat is ready to eat.
ENCOURAGING LIFELONG LEARNERS
Since homework is a fact of life for kids and young adults, it is important to establish good habits and positive attitudes early on. Remember that kids take their cues from parents, so be positive and resourceful. Don’t let them wear you down with excuses or procrastinate too much, though—it may be the end of a long day for you, too. Above all, be empathetic and encouraging. If procrastination becomes a problem, schedule a sit-down, first with your child and then with the teacher, if it becomes a chronic problem. Help them to embrace learning at school, at home and through opportunities like afterschool programs and summer camps. Keep in mind that you are helping your kids to formulate attitudes toward learning, like perseverance and commitment, and establishing a work ethic that will carry them through their lifetime.
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