homework guidelines

The air conditioning is off for the first time in months. Labor Day is here and gone. Immunization records have been updated. Back-to-school sales are in full swing. It’s that time of year again.

For parents, mixed feelings rule the day. I’ll miss them now that they’ll be in school much of the time. School can’t start fast enough! I’m excited for them to make new friends and learn new things. How will they fare in a new grade? A new school? A new teacher? Ack! With many of these uncertainties comes either a return to or an introduction to the overlap of school and home, aptly named: homework.

Depending on your child’s school, their attention span and their grade-level, homework can seem to be a patience-testing marathon. They don’t want to do it once they’re home & you don’t want to fight about it. It’d probably just be easier to ignore in these situations, wouldn’t it? It’s a bummer that it’s going to last for at least 12 years or so. Sigh. Kids grow out of most phases, but homework never seems to go away. So, are there any wheel-greasing techniques that we can use to get through the next 12 years? Gulp!

Don’t own your kids’ homework: It’s theirs, not yours
Most important rule! When you refer to your children’s homework as “ours,” you are taking on the responsibility of getting it done (and presumably, doing it right!). “We need to do our homework now!” Um… Hopefully, YOUR homework days are through. You have plenty of other types of homework; paying bills, making doctor’s’ appointments, doing housework, writing email. You don’t need to add “study for spelling test” to that list. Yes, you should encourage your kids to study for their spelling tests and you can certainly quiz them once they’ve done so, but doing homework collectively can show that you don’t trust your child to do it themselves.

Paul Tough has written a book called How Children Succeed that was recently written up in the NY Times Book Review. I haven’t read the book, but the review offered a couple of salient points about success and kids. He posits that overcoming adversity is more indicative of achieving success than having a high IQ. With some failure sprinkled in, children can learn how to be resilient and learn from their mistakes. I see this as a roundabout endorsement of letting your kids do or not do their homework on their own. Children will learn from the mistakes that they make on assignments. They will also learn something if they fail to hand an assignment in or if they are unprepared for class. Allowing them these opportunities to overcome obstacles on their own may even prepare them better for future problem solving.

Have a routine!
One thing that you can control (or work to set up a framework for) is when homework gets done. If getting homework out of the way makes life easier for both you and your child, then set up the expectation that homework should be done immediately when kids get home. If you know that your child functions better after letting their mind relax a little bit, then work that into your routine, allowing them to unwind before asking for more concentration and focus. Try to stick with whatever works best for your family. You can certainly incorporate your child’s preferences into this routine. Speak with them about how and when they’d like to do their work. Their participation might help cooperation later down the line. If you have a lot of afternoon and evening activities and are finding it hard to make time for homework, you might want to think about eliminating certain commitments, to give your child the time and space that they need to be successful at doing homework.

If necessary, implement your own home tracking & “reward” system for getting homework done.
Sometimes tracking and charting can be useful for families to keep their responsibilities straight. If you like this an option for you, you can set up a chart (or add a column for homework to an existing chart) that rewards independent doing of homework. If you find yourself nagging, take a step back and remind your child of their job and the incentive that they will receive at its completion. The idea behind this kind of chart upholds your child’s ownership of their homework. It’s their choice if they get a sticker or not. This way you can encourage the doing of homework and even check to see that it’s done (if you’re uncomfortable with allowing them to go to school with an incomplete assignment). The thing that you are rewarding is the way that it’s being done.

Remember, you’re not putting your name on that essay or those math problems. Homework is ultimately your child’s responsibility and will continue to be as they get older. Don’t take this job away from them unless you’re planning on sending them to your job in return.