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How to Be a Homework Helper

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Updated on Jul 16, 2009

No matter how much homework frustrates your child or brings battles to your home, it's a fact of life. "Homework is used for four things," says Cathy Vatterott, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. "Practice, pre-learning –to prepare kids for something that's going to happen the next day, processing—to get them to reflect on something they learned in class, and checking for understanding.”

Kids often get frustrated and lose interest in their assignments. You can help. here’s an age-by-age guide to being your child's homework coach:

Homework Help in Elementary School

Help lay the groundwork for the rest of your child's school career by guiding him through the homework process in elementary school—but let him do assignments on his own. "Homework is supposed to be the child's job," notes Vatterott. "Parents have to unhook a bit and see how much independence they can give to the kids." Some tips:

Help establish a routine. Does he need a break after school? Should he dive right into assignments? Figure out together what works best for your child, and stick with it. Consistency will help prevent battles or trouble transitioning from one activity to the next.

Find the right environment. A well lit, quiet spot may be ideal for some kids, while others work better with a little noise. As long as the work gets done, be flexible with where and how your child does it.

Get her started, and then back off. Parents can help children interpret the directions of an assignment, but then they should let them complete it independently.

Review his work. Feel free to proofread and point out errors, but Vatterott warns that the kids should be the ones to fix them.

Don't be the teacher. Homework is never supposed to be new learning so parents shouldn't try to teach the concepts if the child doesn't understand them. Parents won't know how the concept was presented in class, and it also prevents the teacher from getting valuable feedback on the child's understanding.

Don't feel responsible. "Parents often think: 'It's my fault my child's not learning, and if he doesn't get the homework in, then I'm going to look like a bad parent,'" says Vatterott. "We need to get over that and realize it doesn't have anything to do with us-- it's really about whether the child understands the assignments."

Homework in Middle School

Build on your older child's homework etiquette with the following:

Be a source resource. When your child has a question about a topic, help him find the answer on his own using dictionaries, encyclopedias, library books, trusted online sources, etc.

Be her organization consultant. If your child switches classrooms throughout the day, help her create a binder system that will keep her assignments organized. Also help her organize time by suggesting she break down long term assignments into parts so she won't feel overwhelmed.

Step back, even if it means bad grades. Checking that they've completed their homework enables kids to be less responsible because they know you're looking out for them. Stop stepping in, even if it means your child gets a couple bad grades. At this age, getting a few bad grades doesn't do too much harm to a child's overall academic career, and it may even help him realize all he needs to do to prevent bad grades is complete his assignments. This puts the responsibility of school success in his hands.

Homework in High School

By the time your child reaches high school, she should be completely responsible for her work. Still, you can and should be there to encourage her efforts.

Show interest. Even though she will be primarily working alone, keep up to date on what your child is learning in school.  Discussing her homework assignments will show your interest in her work and send the message that what she is doing is valuable and important.

Help with test prep. The pressure is on for high schoolers to perform on exams and essays. Help your child study by offering to quiz her or be a second pair of eyes on her essay. Be sure to tread lightly and not fix anything—all errors are still her responsibility to correct.

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