Homework hell

Your children have joyfully escaped school for the afternoon, and are planning an evening of uninterrupted TV watching and play. But don’t
forget there’s the homework to take care of…

Homework, while being the bane of most children’s lives, is a necessary evil, says Geoff Turner, executive principal and CEO of Wellington International School, about the best ways to make the process as pain-free as possible. The first thing to do, he advises, is establish a routine: ‘Kids need to know that they always do their homework at a certain time, whether it’s before they eat or after they go swimming.’

But all the routines and beautiful desks in the world surely can’t change the fact that homework is often dull, dull, dull. ‘Homework has all sorts of functions,’ Geoff assures us. ‘It reinforces classroom learning, allows children to practice research, and it’s a mechanism for engaging children and parents. This is very important because parents are a key part of the educational process: they’re the prime educators.’

That’s all well and good, but how much can you really help when your kid’s facing the kind of science problem they hadn’t even invented 20 years ago? Geoff says, ‘There’s no point in bluffing if you don’t understand what they’re doing. It’s about saying, “Talk me through what you’re doing, and if we get it wrong, we get it wrong together.” Talking with children about what they’ve been asked to do is fundamental. Parents need to say, “What’s it for? Show me how it’s done’. Explaining things to parents is one of the best ways for kids to learn. It’s the process, rather than the outcome, that teachers see as the most important thing.”

Conversely, if you know the answer, telling them outright won’t be particularly helpful. And, if you’re really stuck with those decimals or quadratic equations, don’t be proud about it. Talk to your child’s teacher and, if necessary, get a mini lesson in the latest learning methods. The way we worked out sums years ago could very well differ to the methods that are being used in the classroom today. It’s no wonder we old codgers are struggling!

On the other hand, if you do know all the answers, don’t go giving them away too quickly. Teachers don’t give out answers willy-nilly, they encourage children to ask the right questions, so that kids eventually determine the answers themselves. It will also be far more of a positive learning experience for them.

Even if you were far from academically inclined as a child (and most of the time what they’re looking at is as clear as mud to you), Geoff still reckons you can play a vital role in your children’s homework time. ‘Parents have a huge expertise based on their experience of the world. A great contribution to their kids’ work would be supplementing what they’re doing with real-life examples.’ You never know, you might even learn something, too.

Helpful homework hints

• Have a study place. Possibilities include the child’s room or the kitchen or dining room table. Eliminate as much distraction as possible so that you and your child can work constructively. If your child is slightly older, consider getting them a special ‘study’ desk for their room. A table that allows for all necessary supplies such as pencils, pens, paper, books and other essentials works well.

• Put up a corkboard and pin important homework information on it. These are great for sticking up spellings of the week, times tables, French and Arabic vocab and the like.

• Stick to a regular ‘homework’ time. Try to organise the household so that supper is served at a standard time, and once it and family discussions are over, it’s time to crack open the books. If the student doesn’t have other commitments and gets home reasonably early from school, some homework can be done before supper.

• Don’t expect too much of little ones. While high school students can focus for over an hour, first-graders are unlikely to last more than 15 minutes on a single task. Allow your child to take breaks, perhaps as a reward for finishing a section of the work.

• There’s more to studying than ‘getting it done’. One of the most misunderstood aspects of schoolwork is the difference between studying and doing homework assignments. Encourage your child to do things such as: taking notes as he’s reading a chapter; learning to skim material; summarising what he has read in his own words. This is a great skill for general comprehension.

• Know when to step in and bow out. No learning can take place if the child is angry or upset over an assignment that is too long or too difficult. At such times the parent may have to step in and simply halt the homework for that night, offering to write a note to the teacher explaining the situation and perhaps requesting a conference to discuss the quality and length of homework assignments.

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