Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Taming the Homework Giant: Tips for Helping Your Children Do Their Best!

If your house is anything like mine, homework time can be very stressful and overwhelming.  The kids and I have to proceed with caution so we don't lose our minds! 

One thing is very clear in our house.  The work that the children bring home is theirs, not mine.  I am here to support them and give them the tools they need to be successful, but I WILL NOT do their homework!  

Let's be honest, this is not an easy job!  I have to work very hard at keeping my cool when we sit down at the table to go over what needs to be done each evening.  The kids are tired and really just want to play and relax after a long day at school.  So homework can be a challenge for everyone!

I have figured out a few tips that help all of us get through the homework AND keep our sanity!  That's what I want to share with you today.  For heaven's sake...if we just keep focusing on the fact that we hate homework...it won't get us ANYWHERE will it!!!

So, here it goes...

1.  Put some routines in place that work for your family.  Make the after school routine as predictable as possible.  The brain is pattern seeking!  In our family it helps when the kids come home and have a little time for a break before beginning their homework. So we are sure to work that into our routine.  Although they are tired and ready to relax, if we don't tackle the homework right away then the evening gets away from us and before we know it, it's bedtime and the homework still isn't done.  . 

2.  Give them a break.  My children prefer to come home kick off their shoes, have a little snack, and play around for about 30 minutes before we get to work.  This helps because it gives me time to look through their folders and assignment notebooks and see what needs to be done.  It also gives us time to connect and chat about the day and what's going on that evening.  Once they begin working, I allow for little breaks about every 30 minutes so they can move around and then get back to work.

3.  Get them moving!  I try to encourage my kids to take a short bike ride, jump on the trampoline, or kick a ball around before they start their work.  Movement activates the frontal lobes and that is where we access our executive skills.  Homework requires children to use many of these essential skills such as prioritization, organization, attention, impulse control, and time management just to mention a few!

4.  Provide a checklist. For younger children it helps if these include pictures.  We have one hanging near our table that reminds the kids to have all of their materials including their folder, notebook, pencil, and books with them at the table before they begin working so we can avoid too many interruptions.  Checklists also help them remember to check their work and make sure they have done their best, have all the signatures and materials they need, and everything is packed up and ready for the next day before they go to bed at night!  It sure makes the morning much less stressful!

5.  Remember, it's not about you.  I think this is one really tough for most parents.  As a "recovering perfectionist" my natural tendency is to expect perfection out of my children.  I have to work really hard at keeping realistic expectations that are age-appropriate AND child specific.  My two children have very different temperaments and what is "good enough" for one is not "good enough" for the other.  It also took me a really long time to realize that their work is not a reflection of my parenting skills.  I used to imagine that if my children's work was subpar that their teachers would think I was a bad parent.  I would rush in to the rescue and save them from making mistakes and experiencing the consequences of some of the choices they were making.  That belief put a lot of undue pressure on me and my children.

6. Make it fun!  Sometimes we add a little twist to the normal homework routine to help make it a little more fun.  We love to take the homework outside and sit on a blanket in the shade.  We also practice spelling words while jumping on the trampoline.  The kids love singing their response when I ask them to define a vocabulary word.  You could even use shaving cream to practice math facts or spelling words.  Come up with fun cheers or acronyms to help them remember important information.  Get creative and get the kids involved in coming up with ideas to keep them interested!

7. Break it down!  Help teach your child the same skills you use to plan ahead.  If you know they have a big project coming up or a lot of after school activities in the week ahead, plan to adjust the homework load each night so that it doesn't pile up and become so overwhelming.  These skills of prioritizing and planning ahead will really help your child become more independent and successful in the long run.

8. Look at the big picture.  I believe that the real purpose of homework is to practice skills that have been taught at school and occasionally complete a special project.  It is also an opportunity for children to practice responsibility and time management.  Try to focus on the big picture and keep these goals in mind so you are less likely to get hung up on the tiny details.  If you child has trouble completing homework or you are spending hours every night on assignments, you need to meet with the teacher and discuss these issues.  Work with the teacher to come up with a plan that works better for your child so they still have an opportunity to play and relax in the evening.  Without down time, your child may become over stressed and you may begin to see an increase in negative behavior as a result.

9. Create an atmosphere of calm.  In our house it helps my children relax and get their homework done if they do it in separate spaces.  My son works at the kitchen table while my daughter works at her desk in the other room.  Humming and movement helps my son focus and get his work done, so he wiggles around quite a bit in his chair while he works.  Having everything in order and quiet helps my daughter focus and get her work done.  That's why she does most of her work at her desk.  When the two of them sit together at the kitchen table it's like oil and water!  It just doesn't mix!

10.  Give them the opportunity to be helpful!  Sometimes siblings can help one another with homework.  When we have an opportunity to be helpful our brains release a hormone called Serotonin.  This  feel good hormone gives us that feeling of "I did it"!  Cha-ching!!!  We want to give our children as many opportunities as possible to get to experience this kind of success.  You could encourage older children to read to a younger child, practice spelling words with them, or help them research a project on the computer.    

We all want our children to do their best.  It is our responsibility as parents to give them the tools they need to help them be successful.  If homework time erupts into chaos or screaming matches, we are defeating the intended purpose and no learning can occur.  With a little planning ahead and using some of the specific tips listed above, you will make great strides in taming homework giant!