By Alexis White
We’ve spent the summer enjoying long days and late bedtimes, but as we move into the school year, we have to face a dreaded routine change. Getting our kids down earlier and making sure they’re up and at ‘em, fed, dressed and ready to conquer the day is plenty. On top of that, we have to fit in afterschool activities and of course…ugh…homework. While there are myriad views on the effectiveness and necessity of homework (particularly for young students), a stress-free nightly routine can help our kids understand how they learn best, which is a tool that they will use for the rest of their lives.
In fifteen years of working privately with students, I’ve realized that every child (like every adult) works differently. Some kids come home, sit right down, and finish their work—before they’ve had a snack or even “vegged” out. Others have to eat dinner before they can even look at a worksheet. The best way to avoid the homework “fight” is to:
• KNOW YOUR STUDENT
I say “student” because it’s time to think like a tutor. In teaching one-on-one, a tutor’s objective is to support classroom learning and to help students develop good at-home study habits. Does your student need a snack immediately when she arrives home? Does she need to shoot some hoops or make some slime? Ask your student, “Would you like to start in thirty minutes or should we sit down after dinner?” Allowing your student to be the architect of his evening puts the onus on him. When my son gets home from school, he wants to jump on the trampoline, eat dinner and then do his homework. It’s not my preference, but when he approaches homework feeling as if he’s in control, he’s more interested in the task at hand and less caught up in a battle with my husband or with me. In addition, decide together where your student should do his homework. Find a quiet spot away from siblings. By the time your child is in first grade, it’s a good idea for her to have a workspace in her room.
Once I let go of forcing my son to adhere to my arbitrary homework rules (If he was getting his work done, did it matter if it was at 4pm or 7pm?), I automatically avoided the cajoling, the arguing and the nonsense that often goes along with the process. This didn’t mean that doing the actual homework would be any easier, but it certainly made life a tad better. By the end of my son’s first grade year, I realized that unless he asked for help, he was better off doing the work on his own–even if the results weren’t exactly what I wanted them to be.
• LET THE TEACHERS JUDGE
My son’s homework often looks like it was written by a person with worms for fingers. I can barely decipher it. Sometimes the answers are wrong. But if I criticize his work (even in the most constructive way), he’ll fight me. If his teacher provides constructive criticism, he’ll fix his mistake. I’m constantly reminding clients, parents, and friends that it is not their responsibility to do their kids’ homework with them. Teachers say this at every Back to School Night and rarely do parents listen. Our egos are so wrapped up in whether our children write their “fives” properly, that we’re willing to ruin every night over it.
• QUESTIONS CAN BE LEFT FOR TOMORROW
If your child doesn’t understand something, and has tried to work through the problem but keeps running into a wall, IT’S OKAY. If you feel like you can explain the homework to her without acting like a seven year old yourself, give it a shot, but it’s not your job. In fact, encouraging our kids to ask questions in class shows them that being perfect is not the point, and that understanding how to acquire information—through meeting with teachers and digging deeper—is at the core of becoming a strong student and a lifelong learner.
Alexis White is the Owner and Director of Educational and Admissions Consulting for The A-List Tutoring Services, Inc. in Los Angeles. The A-List provides academic tutoring, test prep and admissions consulting to families throughout Los Angeles. For more information, visit http://www.alisttutoring.com