For Parents

Handling Homework Demands

Should kids be doing homework?

Conversations about the value of homework are beginning to permeate our thinking as teachers. Questions abound. Does homework really have value? How much is enough? What kind makes sense? And everyone seems to have a different opinion about it. Some teachers and schools are getting away from the idea of homework as something necessary, while others are still going strong. Most teachers and schools are somewhere in between. 

In our grade level, for instance, students have daily independent reading and several math problems. Other than that, any other homework tends to be work that needs more time to get finished. Until we figure out a way to remove homework demands, most students will have to work at home. Even students who dislike homework want to feel a sense of accomplishment when they come in the next day with work done. But how to navigate the demands depends on a number of things. 

Almost all students benefit from a routine scheduled time to work, work routines within the schedule that are consistent and proximity for questions and motivation. So setting up a homework routine is part of the solution. In addition, you need to consider the type of learner you have. Your student may race through work, not bring things home, be easily distracted, an avoider, a procrastinator, or someone who frustrates easily with work demands. 

Let’s start by talking about the setting routines.

Create a scheduled time for work:

As much as possible choose the same time frame each day to help make it predictable. If you can’t do exactly the same time due to after school activities, at least have a  consistent schedule over the course of a week. It is better for kids to work earlier in the evening when they are not as tired. Stick to the schedule. 

While I think students need to be engaged in interests outside of school, it needs to be done with consideration to how school work and downtime will fit into the schedule. Choose outside interests that aren’t every day or rework your schedule to include weekend work time if the sport practices every day. Especially for students who are not efficient workers. 

Work routines that are consistent: 

Pick an optimal workspace and make supplies available. Some students work better on the floor in a bean bag chair with soft music, while others do better with a more structured table time that’s quiet. Help your child select a place that works best for them. If neither of you is sure about the best space, experiment with different places and talk about how productive each space was. 

It’s also important to consider what the work time actually looks like. My go-to is to work in chunks. It’s a way to minimize how long the work time feels and it’s also a way to teach kids how to break up a bigger project like a report into more manageable parts. If you have mostly the same work each day it’s a little easier. ( Ex: First we do reading, then math, then we do any other work or Read for 20 min, math for 20 min, any other work for 20 min). But it can still be done if you have different work each day. In this scenario start your routine with a couple of questions: 

  • We have an hour to work today what work do you have? When is it due? 
  • Break up the work into chunks from there
  • Do the chunks whatever they are

Proximity:

Just like in school, teachers aren’t doing the work for kids, but they are available to do things like help kids get started, answer questions or to help kids keep going on tasks that are hard. This is the toughest part I think because it’s where most battles begin. Here are some tips for what to do/avoid while you are being available: 

  • Don’t hover or micromanage-Give them the task, make sure they know what to do, set a time when you will check in again, and follow through with check-in. Don’t engage while they are working unless they ask a specific question
  • Focus on what you notice versus what’s not going well-when you check-in, saying things like “you’ve only done 1 problem? What the heck have you been doing?” makes a child defensive. If they haven’t accomplished much tell them you noticed they didn’t get as far as they expected and talk about what’s going on. “I noticed that you’ve only done 1 problem, do you need a quick break, or a fidget so you get back to work?”
  • Give frequent feedback on progress-i see you got 3 problems done, only 2 more left, I noticed you read longer before needing a break today, that’s great! 
  • Use rewards if you need to-things like extra tech time or a favorite snack are great for getting challenging tasks out of the way
  • Keep at it! Setting up a routine takes time and patience. Don’t quit when one thing doesn’t work. Try something new. Ask for ideas from your child’s teacher or case manager. 

Types of Learners/Workers

After you’ve got your work system outlined, really think about the type of learner/worker your child is. Check out the list of behaviors to see if your child fits one of these types:

Avoiding work-Kids fall into this category when they wait until the last minute, or simply don’t get started. Students can seem very busy, but they are often engaged in “getting ready to work” and not actually working. 

Distracted work-frequent stoppages while they work. Kids in this category are distracted by technology, conversations, topics inside their own heads, or preferred topics. Many need to move around or fidget.

Disorganized with work-these kiddos often don’t have the materials they need to do work, can’t find work they’ve started or struggled with getting things turned in 

Rushing through work-work that should take 15 minutes or more, takes 3. They are generally working to get things done, not to do things right. 

Easily Frustrated about work-When a task is presented, kids shut down or act out. Then they need time to calm down before they are able to focus enough to work again. 

Some students fit into more than one category or could be one type of learner for a certain subject and fit into a different category for another subject, especially if one subject is harder than others. Use the tips across that makes sense for what you are seeing in terms of behaviors:

Tips for Work Avoidance and Procrastinating

Avoiders/Procrastinators generally feel overwhelmed with the tasks at hand, so they have a hard time getting started. To support avoiders I:

  • Create a soft start:
    • work for a set period of time that’s doable OR
    • Set a limit of how many items to do before stopping-something doable
  • Show them how to break down big projects into manageable pieces- write the steps down so they can check them off as they go.
  • Reward the starting and sticking with things

Tips for Handling Distractibility

Kids who get distracted have numerous reasons for the distraction. Either way: 

  • Do more frequent check-ins so they can’t get too far off track
  • Provide gum, sensory items or fidgets to use while they work
  • When kids get off track, don’t get mad. It’s part of the issue. Gently re-engage and redirect them back to the task
  • Novelty can also help sustain focus-different color pens to work with, a new silly piece of information shared, sit in a different space
  • Reward staying focused on tasks

Tips for Handling Disorganization

For a student who has trouble keeping track of materials, a structure for work time is great, but first, they need the right stuff. Some options for keeping stuff organized include: 

  • A regular spot where the backpack and materials go each day
  • Multiple sets of supplies-one for school, one for home-this includes textbooks
  • Creating a binder or work system with your child that they can maintain during the day with only a little bit of help from staff- most gurus recommend color-coding by subject and having a take-home folder for things that need to get handled TODAY
  • Take a few minutes each day to put papers in the correct place, take home or subject-based
  • Do a weekly cleanout of backpacks, lockers and work system to keep them all tidy

It’s best to create a system of organization with your child’s teachers so that they can reinforce or support the plan to ensure that work comes home, gets done and comes back to school.

Tips to Reduce Rushing Through Work

Occasionally I have students who rush through work and tests. I tend to focus on two main ideas when they rush:

First. I ensure the work time is the same, no matter what. If homework time is 30 minutes and your child finishes in 3 minutes, they still have 27 minutes left to work. They can use the time to read, check grades, organize their work time for tomorrow, etc. 

I review the work for accuracy and have them fix anything that isn’t at the level they can do.

Tips to Support Easily Frustrated Students

Kids who are easily frustrated need parents and teachers who are in communication so that there are assurances that the work being done is necessary and important.  Here is my go-to list of things I do with kids who get frustrated quickly: get started with something easier-choose tasks that you are sure they can do and watch them be successful

  • Set the situation up for success-know where your child is at before even beginning-if they are in a rough space, give them some time and space to calm down
  • Set the bar so that they can succeed with the first couple tasks. Kids can continue, once they get started.
  • Meltdowns happen. If they storm off or quit working, give space, and then start again
  • Let teachers know if work time wasn’t productive
  • Start fresh again tomorrow. Every day is a new day!

Where to turn if things aren’t working

If things aren’t working out or kids are working way too long on assignments, talk to your child’s teachers or case manager. Together as a team, you can come up with a plan for work that works for your child.

As I was putting this post together I came across a very interesting tutor/coach that I am going to spend some time reading more about. You may want to do the same by checking out his video mini-course that outlines 4 things he things help students with studying. His website looks really interesting, so check him out!

What are the biggest concerns with homework at your house? Share it to the comments below.

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