Child Caring

Getting homework off to a good start

Hello Barbara,
My son is in 3d grade. My husband and I were not good students -- neither of us came from homes that valued homework or school, for that matter, and we both grew up thinking that homework was something to just get over with so so you could get to what really mattered. We both know this isn't the way to go with our son but, not having had good role models, we aren't sure where to begin. A mom of older kids told me you were a good resource ( I'm a first-time visitor to your blog). I appreciate any suggestions!

From: Never liked school, Dorchester, MA

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Dear Never Liked School,

Good for you for recognizing the role parents play. You're absolutely right: (a) 3d grade is not too soon to be paying attention to the attitude you and your husband bring to homework; (b) kids' homework habits -- good and bad alike -- start young; and (c) what you do now can affect the kind of student your son will be in years to come. (More on this later.) The other good news in your email is that your son doesn't seem to be complaining about doing homework. That's a big deal!

Here are some suggestions:

1. Homework is the child's job. It's not appropriate for parents to do the work. Instead, it's your job to be supportive. For some kids (and especially at this age) that simply means being present, either at the table doing some work of your own, or in the room; showing an interest in his assignments; and being respectful of his need for quiet: don't have the tv blaring. Tell younger sibs this is family quiet time.

2. All kids need a homework routine. Discuss with him what options he has: when he arrives home; after a (timed) break; before dinner; after dinner. (There are pros and cons to each.) There may not be one schedule that works for every day, but try to have consistency for each day, for instance, on Tuesday and Thurs, the schedule is X, every other day it's Y. Post the schedule. Refer to it. It's OK to have exceptions, but be clear that that's what they are.

3. All kids need a consistent, well-lit place to do their homework. Pop quiz: why do so many kids choose the kitchen table? Because they want to be where you are. Consider it a compliment! When it's time to set the table for dinner, well, they have to move everything. At some age (for my son it wasn't until 6th grade), the process of moving the work will get to be annoying enough that they'll relocate.

4. All kids need appropriate tools. Many teachers will tell you what they need (It's ok to ask!) but at the very least: drawing & writing paper, pencils, a set of markers. The tools are his: Not to be shared with sibs. Clear out a drawer where he can store his tools and know they are safe. No drawer space to spare? Get him a box.

5. Make homework The priority. Yes, I believe in extra curricular activities. But if your child has no time to squeeze in his homework in between activities, the problem isn't the homework, it's that he's over-scheduled.

6. If the computer is part of the assignment, that's fine. Otherwise, keep it out of the equation. At this age, though, that shouldn't be an issue.

7. Give him credit for sticking with his schedule and getting his work done. It's not easy! If he struggles with sitting still, suggest "activity" breaks: Do 15 jumping jack! Run around the outside of the house three times! Not only does is that fun, it also shows you are empathetic and research suggests that sporadic physical breaks may increase brain function.

8. Get him his own homework assignment book. Some of you will jump on my for this suggestion, that it's too much for a 3d grader. I thought so too when my son's second grade teacher required every student to have an assignment pad and gave them time each day to write down their assignments. Turns out the teacher was right. It made the kids feel grown up and it got my son into the habit of writing down when he needed to do each night. It was a habit that has served him well all through his education.