Your child‘s last report card says, "Mary rushes through her assignments. She needs to take pride in her work." What's going on?

In almost thirty years as an educator I’ve seen many students who have had little regard for the appearance of their work and plenty of parents who are unclear on how to help them.

Poor quality work is a problem at any age, but the primary grades are where habits (good or bad) are formed. Teach a third grader to look for spelling errors and scout for mistakes before handing in an assignment, and you'll be setting the stage for success later in life. Allow him to squeak by without urging him to do his best and you'll be setting the bar low from the beginning.

Sloppy work isn't always a sign of laziness. Sometimes a child just wants to "get through" an assignment to move on to another more engaging activity, like a bike ride with friends or a little street hockey. Kids are kids after all! But other times, sloppy work has more to do with unclear expectations of quality, or too many rounds of simple fill-in worksheets that don't require much effort.

Parents play an essential role in shaping a child's attitude about work. Here’s how you can help:

  • Discuss expectations. Let your child know it’s not okay to hand in rushed, sloppy assignments. If your child says the teacher accepts lazy work, let him know you’ll be working with the teacher to improve what he hands in. Ask the teacher for help on that goal.
  • Build editing and revising into homework sessions. There's a lot to be learned from a "re-do". Think your child is too young for revision? Think again. Even young children can learn to evaluate their work. Ask questions like, "How could you improve this assignment?" "Will you be proud to hand this in?"
  • Set a good example. Strive to improve the things you do, in front of your children. Perfect a recipe that didn't work out the first time. Talk about a work assignment that needed another go around. Show your kids that slow and steady wins the race.
  • Set the clock. Many teachers suggest required homework time so students are not rewarded for working quickly. In this kind of scenario, if your child finishes early, she would be expected to read, work on math facts, or write in a journal for the remaining time.

So, next time your son yells, "Done!" and heads for the door after working for ten minutes, reel him in. Your diligence now could set him up for success long into the future.