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Battling — and winning — the homework wars

homeworkThe new school year marks many new beginnings for families with school-age children. It means returning to a more structured routine, setting an alarm clock each morning, getting to know a new teacher, and for many parents, it also means another round of battling the homework wars.

Homework is an essential part of learning

While few kids really enjoy homework, it’s an essential part of learning. Homework provides an opportunity for children to practice what they learn in school, thereby helping them master important concepts taught in the classroom.

Additionally, homework provides an opportunity to build important life skills. Homework teaches children about initiative, discipline and responsibility. It can also teach them time management skills for both short- and long-term projects.

Should parents help children with homework?

Many parents are uncertain of their role in assuring homework is completed. Some micro-manage or take over their children’s projects. Others criticize, making homework an unnecessarily negative experience. The key to maximizing your child’s success — and winning the homework wars — is to encourage completion of homework.

Six ways to help your help children with their homework?

The first step is understanding expectations regarding homework. It’s helpful at the beginning of the year to find out how much homework your child will have in an average week. If your child can’t tell you the homework system, ask the teacher directly. Once you know the teacher’s expectations, you’re better equipped to recognize and address your child’s delay tactics.

Second, help your child establish healthy study habits. Finding the right time and the right place are essential. Experiment with different environments and timing to see what works best for your child. One child may be completely distracted by music blaring through her stereo speakers while another will thrive.

For timing, some kids may feel overwhelmed when they look at all they need to accomplish in a given evening. You can encourage your child by folding his paper, so he only sees five, instead of 25, math problems at a time. Or you can schedule five-minute breaks every 20 minutes.

Third, keep the responsibility on the child. If your child forgets her homework, help her identify a backup plan, whether it’s calling a friend or sending a notebook back and forth to school.

Fourth, don’t correct your child’s homework. While it’s fine to help him remember how to calculate fractions, it’s another to correct his answers. Homework helps teachers see how much children are learning in class and determine whether they need extra help in certain areas.

Fifth, use rewards systems carefully. It’s important for children to appreciate the intrinsic rewards of their efforts; they should take time to revel in improving grades or straight As. If you do feel the need to offer additional rewards, let your child choose the meal for the night or spend an extra 15 minutes with you. In any case, let the reward system eventually fade. For many, the best reward is a pleasurable activity immediately following homework.

Sixth, work or read alongside your child. She’ll feel less isolated, and you’ll be modeling the discipline and focus needed to be successful in school.

Teaching children for success in school and in life

Much of a child’s success in school will depend on homework. By showing your children how to manage their time in a way that allows for both recreation and homework completion before bedtime, you’ll be teaching them skills for success not only in school but also in life.