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Homework Battles

Posted on 07 June 2015

Parental involvement in their children’s education is a hugely important, but what is required is a balance between providing support and making your child an independent learner.  Parents who do everything for their children are putting them at a disadvantage.  Help your child develop skills that will make them feel capable and ready to face up to new challenges.  Encourage them to do things themselves from pre-school onwards, in an age appropriate way.  Help with homework and projects but do not do the work for them.  Make certain your child can amuse themselves independently without electronic diversions.

Children need to develop good study habits which will avoid homework becoming a battleground. Develop a sensible weekly timetable which establishes a routine, taking into account the activities of everyone in the family.  Set reasonable arrangements for homework, music practice, extra-curricular activities and relaxation time and stick to the plan.  Even if your plan only works 75% of the time, there will still be a tremendous benefit.  Most importantly, do not negotiate with younger children; they don’t have the skills and subsequent battles provide them with much attention.  Older children respond to discussion and consultation, but parents must still be there to encourage and not just to enforce.  The biggest mistake parents make is giving their children too many choices and involving them in discussions.  Keep choices simple: homework before tea or after.  Make sure they have a quiet place to do their work and do not have a television close at hand.  Help them become organised with the use of charts and diaries to keep track of their work.  Remember: pupils who are well organised and can get on with a task inevitably do as well as, if not better than, classmates who find academic work easier but are disorganised.

Parents need to “top and tail” their child’s homework: check what needs to be done at the beginning and make certain your child understands the task.  Answer any questions and then let your child get on with the work. If a child is young they should be doing their homework nearby, within easy reach of an adult, but away from the disturbance of younger siblings.  Older children should be able to work at a desk in their room, or perhaps the dining room.  At the end of the homework time check their work, but never make a child do the work over again.  If you note, for example, that their handwriting is not tidy, you may want to say something such as, “Perhaps tomorrow when you do your homework, think a bit more about your handwriting and try to make it neater”.   Do not allow homework to become an area where children constantly think they are being criticized.  If your child works conscientiously and is frequently unable to finish the homework, then school needs to know so support can be given.  Homework provides a useful opportunity for parents to check their child’s progress, by taking note of the teacher’s comments and the amount of work your child finishes as well as the improvements they make as the year goes on.

Children should never be bribed for doing their homework, but the praise agenda must be used heavily.   Parents must set a reasonable agenda for children who have trouble concentrating.  So, if a child cannot manage to get on with a task for more than 5 or 10 minutes, increase the time you expect them to work by 5 minute intervals, not 15 minute intervals.  Success should be rewarded via a star chart or by placing large marbles in a jar.  When the chart/jar is filled then the child can get a special treat, though the treat should not be a very expensive item.  Children who also just get on with their work without difficulty should also be rewarded in a similar way.  

The truth is, most children do not “love” doing homework: they would really rather be doing something else.  If, however, you can establish good routines when they are younger, there should be less resistance when they are older.  Too often parents succumb to the prevailing culture which says that at all times children must be amused, entertained and happy.  The best approach when a child moans that they do not want to do their history homework since they do not like history, is to be totally matter of fact: no cajoling, no offering rewards (but do praise them at the end when the work is completed), no lengthy discussions and no helping them to make excuses for not doing the work.  Showing some interest in the work does help, as does making some positive suggestions, but after that, the child must realise that they just have to get on with it. 

Children do best when parents work with the school.  This does not mean however, that you have to be at the school gate.  If parents have a concern then contact the teacher by email or phone, and if necessary, set up an arrangement for a weekly chat or email to keep on top of the issue.  The most successful strategies require brief but regular input.  Schools usually want parents to support the work they are doing by reading with their child, even when their child can read by themselves, revising tables and number bonds, and perhaps having some input into work on the internet.  If in doubt about anything, just ask.

Do not go into denial if the school raises areas of concern; remember that few of us got to adult life without glitches along the way.  If you are dissatisfied with the level of your child’s education or pastoral care, or your child comes home with a story that is worrying, you must broach the school with your concern, not with an accusation: there is a difference.  The first port of call is the class teacher, but if the query is not being handled in a reasonable amount of time, then a meeting with the Headteacher is required.  Parents’ evenings can be daunting experiences.  You may want to know where your child is in the class pecking order; what you need to know is how well your child is placed to achieve the expected attainment level at the various key stages.  The pecking order is irrelevant.

Finally, children do best if their parents take an active interest in their school life and are supportive whilst encouraging independence and self-reliance.  Parents need to listen to their children’s ideas, help in decision making and trust them as they gain greater independence.  Children need praise as well as clear boundaries and should not be compared to siblings or other children.  Most of all, children need to know that it is alright to make mistakes; that is how we learn.

 

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