Since homework starts as early as kindergarten these days, it’s a good idea to get kids into a rhythm of great homework habits as soon as possible. From ways to help your kids get more organized to giving them ways to minimize and eliminate homework stress, here are some great tips for good homework habits that work.
1. Divide and Conquer
Kids can often feel overwhelmed when they look over their list of assignments for the week. Help your child manage his assignments by planning out his work on a daily planner. (This can be particularly helpful if you are at work when your child gets home from school; having a list like this can help your child and your childcare provider manage his workload when you are not there.)
For example, if all the homework is due on Friday, you can try scheduling several minutes for different subject such as reading, math problems or spelling words. Or you may want to have him spend Monday doing reading and reserve Tuesday for math, and so on.
Writing down what needs to be done can be a great way to manage homework, and crossing off assignments when they are completed and tracking their own progress can be satisfying for kids and help give them motivation to continue their work.
2. Cut Down After-School Activities
The reality is that there are only a few precious hours after school to tackle homework assignments. If your child has an after-school activity every day and is unable to manage her workload, it may be time to take a look at which extracurricular activities can be cut out of her schedule. If she has ballet, soccer, piano lessons, and regularly-scheduled playdates, you may want to consider moving a couple of activities to the next semester and making more time for homework.
3. Get into a Regular Routine
Maybe your child is the kind of kid who works better on a full stomach or after fooling around with his toys for a few minutes after school. If so, start with snack time and unscheduled downtime, and set up homework time for about 20 to 30 minutes after he gets home.
If he tends to focus better if he goes right into his work after school, then let him get right to work as soon as he gets home. The important thing is to find what works for you and stick with it so that you have a regular routine. If your child knows what is expected and when, it’ll be easier for him to work more efficiently.
4. Set Up a Great Homework Area
Having a quiet and comfortable place to do homework is essential to building good study and homework habits. Whether you establish her work area at the kitchen table or in her room, make sure she is surrounded by peaceful quiet, free from TV or other distractions.
5. Make Homework Fun
Kids are more likely to view homework as less of a chore if you help them adopt a more playful attitude toward their work. For instance, if your first-grader is working on simple math problems, help him visualize addition and subtraction by using small toys such as marbles or even playing cards. If a third-grader is working on multiplication problems, challenge him to get as many correct answers as possible while racing you (to be fair, he should be allotted twice the time as you).
And if you’re lucky enough to get fun puzzles and brain-teasers such as Sudoku puzzles in the homework packet, then work with him on those and make it a fun way to connect with your child after a long day. One word of caution: Try not to take over and do the problems yourself. Your child needs guidance and help getting the right answers -- not the answers themselves.
Be sure to check his work everyday, and try to make that a fun routine as well. Challenge your child to find mistakes on your work, or have him check his own work to see if he can spot any errors. If you take a relaxed approach to the homework and adopt a fun attitude about it, your child will follow suit.
6. Tie-in Homework to Everyday Life
Learning can often be more fun for kids when they are able to relate the material to things in their own lives. For instance, if your child has to read about immigrants and answer questions about them, continue the discussion over dinner. Talk about your own family’s immigrant experience (“Great-Grandma came from Italy and had to work very hard” or some such) or talk about the ways our world has been shaped by immigrants (“What would life be like today without pizza?”).
By making homework something that is an extension of learning and life, you can help your child see that it is not some separate chore or extra work that they are forced to do.
7. Work Alongside Your Child
Younger children tend to work better when an adult is nearby, ready to answer questions or help work out a problem. You can sit down with your own work or a magazine article or bills -- whatever quiet activity you can do while your child does her homework.
8. Schedule Breaks
You know the importance of stretching your legs or taking a break here and there during your workday. Just walking away from your desk for a few minutes can often do wonders to help your concentration and improve mood. The importance of breaks applies to kids as well, and may be even more important because kids tend to be more active and full of energy than adults.
Whether it’s a five-minute break to have some fruit and cheese and crackers or other healthy snack or a few minutes to play with a pet or water the plants, schedule a few breaks into homework time. And consider taking a short walk or doing a few at-home yoga poses for kids with your child to rejuvenate his brain cells; studies have shown that physical activity can help stimulate concentration and cognitive function.
9. Help Kids Manage Stress
Some kids can experience more stress over homework and schoolwork than other children. If you see signs of stress in your child or your child is experiencing difficulty with the workload, check with other parents to see whether any other kids are having similar problems. For instance, kids in first grade are usually not expected to spend more than a half hour on homework each day; if your child is having difficulty with the workload, find out what the problem may be and schedule some time to meet with your child’s teacher.
Talk to your child’s teacher about any problems and get on the same page about the teacher’s expectations for the school year. Ask her what you can do to help your child with homework. By working together, you and your child’s teacher can find ways to identify and handle any homework problems that may be creating stress for your child.