It is the rare child (or adult!) who enjoys doing homework. Most kids see it as an unwelcome chore after a tiring day at school, and many will do whatever possible to avoid facing the inevitable task. Many experts now debate the effectiveness of homework, arguing that it's not the most appropriate way for children to practice their skills or deepen their understanding. In his book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids are Getting Too Much of a Bad Thing, Alfie Kohn argues that not only is there no evidence that homework improves a child’s performance in school, but it can actually have negative effects. When homework cuts into a child’s personal time, it can erode her relationship with school, and some parents find that homework becomes an aggravating point of conflict in the family.

However, many educators contend that homework can be an important time for students to develop their intellectual independence and establish a personal work ethic. It's also an excellent opportunity for parents to monitor their child’s progress in school. Regardless of its effectiveness, for most students as young as first grade, homework is a reality. A few key ingredients can make homework time tolerable, successful and even enjoyable for your child.

The Right Place

Just like adults, children need a quiet, organized place to work if they are to be effective and efficient. Help your child prepare a special place in your home that will be used exclusively for homework at homework time. Preferably it is away from common distractions like the TV, computer and telephone. Ideally it is quiet and calm. It could be the kitchen counter, the dining room, or a desk in the living room. Bedrooms are dangerous because they tend to have all the usual distractions (as well as the bed, which may be very tempting after a long day!). A table space for alert writing is essential. Organize the space with useful homework resources (a calculator, a dictionary, a timer, pencils and pens, etc.). Put up a sign to mark the space (“My Office” or “Quiet – Big Mind at Work”). Make it inviting, comfortable, and most of all organized.

The Right Routine

Just like adults, children work better at different times of day. Some are early birds and some are night owls. Some think best right after school, some need to run around in fresh air in order to recharge their batteries. Watch your child’s rhythms carefully and help her find the right time to do homework. Many children find success with a snack and half-hour play break before hitting the books. Treats like television and computer time should be reserved for after homework completion. Set a timer to keep track of how long your child is working. Most school districts and classrooms have time limits for homework (approximately 10 minutes for each year your child has completed in school), and teachers do not want their students to slave away for hours on end. Let your child know that homework time is finite, with a reasonable expectation of effort and output. Finally, break up the work. Encourage your child to get up and stretch/ get a drink/ chat with you every 15 or 20 minutes, or after each completed assignment.

The Right State of Mind

Just like adults, children are what they eat. What goes into their bodies greatly influences how their brains function. Limit afternoon snacks to healthy choices with high protein and low sugar content. Allow your child to burn off excess energy by running and playing before homework time. Help her calm down for work by playing soft music, turning up the lights (she will tire less easily if she can see well), and taking a few deep breaths. To prepare her emotionally for work, talk with your child and process her day before diving in to the assignments. Finally, help her to see that there is a manageable amount of homework. Make a list of the assignments for her to check off as she completes them. A prepared, alert, relaxed mind will do the best work.

One of the greatest benefits of homework is that it teaches a child to work independently. Let her do so. However, another powerful benefit is that homework can link families and school. Be aware of your child’s work. Talk with her about the assignments and express an interest. Your involvement will not only hold her accountable, it will validate her belief that homework is valuable. The more effort she puts into the work, the more benefit she is likely to get out of it!