These days, homework is routinely given out in grades as young as kindergarten, so setting up a quiet and comfortable area for your young child where he can do his work is something parents can begin to think about as early as the preschool years. In fact, preschoolers can use this area to sit and draw or look at a picture book by themselves.
Where you set up the homework area in your home isn’t as important as the fact that you have some kind of designated place where your grade-schooler has the comfort and quiet to relax and concentrate once the homework assignments start rolling in. Younger children generally need more supervision and help with homework than children in older grades. You may want to consider setting up an area for him at the dining room table or kitchen counter, even if he has a desk and chair in his room. That way, you can tackle another task, like cooking dinner, while you help him with his homework.
Some other ideas to keep in mind as you plan your child’s homework space:
Ask him to help you set up the work area. Letting him have a say in how his workspace is arranged will make it more likely that he’ll want to do work there. It will also help make homework time seem more fun and less like a chore that he has to do. Which chair will he want to sit in? Will he want an extra cushion? How about a footstool so that his legs don’t dangle and he can sit comfortably? Giving him the power to make these small decisions will have a big impact on how much he’ll be motivated to do his homework.
Have supplies on hand. Put crayons, markers, pencils and other art and school supplies your child will need to do his homework in a portable bin so that he’ll have everything within easy reach. Hunting around for supplies will not only be time-consuming, it’ll take his attention away from the task at hand.
Turn off the TV. Keep noise and distractions to a minimum so that your child can focus on his work. Ask family members to respect homework time by not having phone conversations nearby or by doing quiet activities themselves, such as reading.
Let there be light. Make sure his workspace is well-lit so that he can see comfortably.
Cut out the clutter. You know how tough it can be to concentrate when you’re surrounded by piles of paper or other clutter on your desk. Make sure your child’s work area is neat, organized and mess-free.
Give him time. Between playdates and other after-school activities, weeknights can get hectic. Make sure you set up enough time each night so that he doesn’t feel rushed and can take the time he needs to settle comfortably at his homework station and thoroughly finish his work.
Give him a work buddy. If your lower-grade-schooler has an older sibling, they can sit and do homework together. If not, set up his favorite stuffed animal in a nearby chair with his own paper and pencil so that your child feels like he has a homework buddy working alongside him.
Sit down with your child. While dinner is cooking, try to spend part of homework time sitting next to your child doing your “work”—catching up on mail or reading a magazine.
Be flexible. Some days, your child may decide that he wants to fling himself down on the floor and do his homework on his tummy instead of at his homework area. Younger grade-schoolers generally don’t get homework that takes hours to do, so as long as he’s comfortable and gets his work done, let him choose how he wants to work. As your child gets older and is increasingly given more difficult assignments that take longer to finish, he’ll naturally prefer a desk and chair. He may even decide to work in his room, at his own desk. Take his cues and support his work style, and don’t push him to do things one way or another.
By creating a welcoming space that’s comfortable and distraction-free, you can help your child establish good homework habits that will last a lifetime. It’s unlikely that a young child will jump at the idea of doing homework, no matter how much he likes his work area. But establishing a spot he can call his own and enjoy being in can play a big role in minimizing homework battles before they start. Like most kids, my 7-year-old occasionally still grumbles about having to do homework, but when he sits at the kitchen counter and beams with pride after figuring out a math problem or acing the spelling words on his weekly list, I know that part of his sense of accomplishment is rooted in the homework routines we’ve established since he was in kindergarten.
As with any good habit, starting early and staying consistent are key. By working with your child to create a homework space he likes, you’ll set up great work routines he’ll use for the rest of his life.