By: Grecia Romero
DORAL, FL – As the new school year starts, families are getting ready to resume or create new routines. One of the most important duties on this list is homework. Teaching your child to work independently– while in a timely matter– is crucial for success and low stress for everyone at home.
Having children in preschool, high school, and college, I would like to answer one of the most popular questions in parents’ minds: How should I help my child work independently?
The Basics for Parents
Helping our children be successful in school is a long process, but everything starts by having responsibilities in the right context. Here are some points to review:
The homework is not ours: The truth of the matter is that we parents love to be very involved with our children. Though being involved is important, our job lies in guiding our children– not working for them. Sometimes parents forget this principle and end up doing their child’s job. Letting them do their homework, despite how well the final product turns out, teaches them responsibility and accountability.
Homework is not a punishment. If we are positive about homework’s benefits, our kids will be too. The sooner they realize that homework is an opportunity to grow, the better we set the basis for a responsible adult.
Homework is not a competition: Many parents fall in the trap of doing homework, projects, and boards just to “brag” about how good their kids are in school. Since the quality of work will always be grow throughout time, focusing on our child’s self-esteem early is the key for independence.
We are role models: We need to control our emotions and expectations so we can guide our children to manage theirs. Despite of our own experiences, we shouldn’t transfer our fears to certain subjects (e.g. math is hard, or reading is boring). Our children are clear canvases; they will draw their own pictures, but they look up to us to do it best. We need to be their best role model.
Every child is different: It is necessary to be conscious about accepting our children as they are. Comparing them to other kids, even to other siblings or family members, makes it difficult for them to accept themselves. Sometimes we compare our children to others, and put a burden over them to accelerate their growth without being ready because of their maturity level.
Every person learns differently: We all learn to use our senses in a different way. Some children are more visual, some use repetition, others use their hearing, etc. My oldest child learned best by listening. She learned her times tables by listening to a CD on our way to school. My second child, however, learned by seeing and repeating flashcards as a game. Observing our child’s best learning method is necessary– even if it is a combination of different methods.
Motivation, Motivation, Motivation: Why do we do things with love and passion? Because WE want to do them. There is something that drives us inside hard enough to want us to do the things we do. We need to find that in our kids. Keep them motivated to do their job. If we can do that by avoiding material things, that’s even better.
Communication with the teacher and school: Knowing exactly what to expect is crucial. During the first two weeks of kindergarten, my oldest child got a note home from school for not completing the homework correctly. My daughter started in the middle of the school year and I hadn’t asked the teacher how the homework should be completed. Knowing the class rules and homework guidelines is a responsibility that parents must adhere.
Ideas for Younger Kids
Little children are a joy to teach but certainly they also need the basics:
Schedule: The majority of smaller kids need to follow a schedule to know what to expect and feel secure. Many traditional schools have a daily routine for them to learn, play, and eat. Each family has their own schedule, but it is beneficial to have a time and place set for homework each day which teaches organization and responsibility.
Short periods of time: It is no secret that little kids have a short attention span. It is not reasonable to expect a kindergartner or first grader to be doing homework for two hours straight. Small breaks are important with the workload.
Organization: Even small kids can enjoy the benefits of organization. Having a neat place to work helps minimize distractions. Having the necessary utensils at hand–like paper of pencils–help to do just that. Although this is a good tip, be wary of overcrowding the homework area. Make sure the area is well-lit and comfortable for their age. Having a unique work area for each child is imperative to grow their personality as well. My daughters chose their furniture and decorations for their desks with their special touch. Motivation and creativity walk hand-in-hand.
Let them do the work: I ALWAYS accompanied my first child throughout the entire homework time from kindergarten to third grade. I wanted to make sure her homework was “perfect.” That didn’t help her to be completely confident or independent. It took us a great deal of effort to make her feel confident enough to try to finish her homework without constantly asking for help. With our second child, we changed to a more effective approach: “try it, and if you need help call me”. She called us when she didn’t understand something, or show us her progress. We were always around for her to show us and still feel she was not alone. We learned that it didn’t matter if the math sheet was totally perfect, or if the handwriting was neat enough. At that stage of their life, it is more about confidence and setting the basics.
As our kids moved through elementary school, we adjusted our schedules as more challenging homework emerged with extracurricular activities. At that age we encouraged organization, time management, and motivation with the tips below.
Organization: Since our kids mastered organization, we focused on how to accomplish tasks and prioritization. While some teachers assigned homework starting the week and expected the work at the end of it, other teachers assigned homework daily. We spent a lot of time trying different methods because each one of them learned differently.
- We kept agendas: Everything they needed to do was written on an agenda and they checked each task completed.
- One year we tried a “wall agenda”. Using post-its, my daughter wrote down her tasks and put away each post it until the “week” – wall was empty. That meant all homework was completed.
- We also tried using two shelves on her desk for “incoming” and “outgoing” worksheets since she had a lot of homework to complete daily.
- We added a white-board in each space for them to write their homework for the day. Then, they would check off completed tasks. They could illustrate their To-Do’s, or write them down. The key part of this is fostering creative opportunities. We didn’t have electronics at that time, but now some of these ideas could be transformed using smart devices.
- At first, we decided which assignment to start their homework session off. When they were ready, they chose for themselves. This option may vary with each child, though this was our formula as learning parents. Giving your child control of their homework allows them to formulate decisions from the start which expands independence further.
Time Management: Our focus after first grade was to teach them independence while being wise with their time. Although we struggled at first in this aspect, we finally got some right ideas on expanding time management.
- We learned that starting with the hardest homework was the best for our daughters. Since they were less tired, and they completed them faster.
- Completing homework became fun with the use of animal timers to time each task. It was always fun to see them rushing to “beat” the clock at the last minute. That was an effective time management technique so they could have time for activities.
- We always wanted them to have time to play and have family time. There were several years where we couldn’t do much because they were attending very academically challenging schools, and the amount of homework was enormous, but we tried to make it fun. We learned that some schools just assign more homework than needed, and that can be stressful for some kids. Choosing the right school is important for the wellbeing of our kids.
Motivation: Quality time with parents was always a good motivation for our daughters. When they finished their homework, we tried to do something nice together: riding our bikes, playing dolls, walking the dog together, eating ice-cream, or going to the park for a little bit. It was always a good thing to expect to have some fun after finishing homework each day.
Teaching our kids to work independently might be a stressful process but it will pay back in the long run. It is a time investment that will be beneficial for our children in their future. Every family is different and should explore what is best for them, but being willing to make adjustments when needed is key.