Help your child make the most of homework

Bev Yaworski

BC Parent Magazine, October 2010

"Aliens from outer space borrowed my homework so they could study how the human brain worked."

"I left my homework in my shirt and my mother put the shirt in for washing."

"I didn't do my work because I didn't want to add to my teacher's already heavy workload."

These are just a few of the creatively funny excuses that students have given teachers for failing to produce their school homework. The online publication, Job Profiles/Information for Students, calls the list: The Dog Ate it Manifesto: 87 Excuses for Not Doing Your Homework.

"Many students try to avoid homework," according to the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association, "but teaching and learning research indicates that children who spend more time on regularly assigned, meaningful home-work, on average, do better in school. The academic benefits of homework increase as children move into the upper grades."

Homework is an important link between school and home that shows what children are studying. Parents can help their children to develop good study habits and help improve their school performance.

"In your family, make it clear that home- work will be done on a regular basis," says Terry Small, B. Ed., M.A., a BC teacher and learning skills specialist who has taught for 33 years at elementary school, high school and university levels. "Homework's purpose is to review, consolidate and extend work done in class, and to prepare students with a basis for the next day's class, so it's an invaluable tool," says Small. "Parents need to stay involved in their child's learning. Staying connected with your child and his or her schoolwork is crucial."

Here are some of Terry Small's practical homework survival tips:

  • Start a pattern of homework in your child's early school years: Some educators say homework is not necessary until Grade 3, but kids in first and second grade tend to enjoy doing homework, says Small. "This is a good way to establish some early, effective study habits"
  • Help your child create a study area. Make a physical space, if possible, with learning tools such as a computer, white board, pens, pencils, a glass of water, and some healthy snacks. Some kids can be in their own rooms, some need to be seen to be working, in a place like the dining room table.
  • Make a schedule. Make a homework ap- pointment, says Small. Put a time-chart of when homework is to be done on a visible location such as the fridge. "It's like an advertisement to your brain that home- work's important," says Small. "Let chil- dren be involved in deciding what time is a good time for homework. If they have chosen the time there will be less arguing about it."
  • Use school agendas or planners. Talk to your kids about what's in the agenda, and ask questions about the activities.

How much time should your children spend each night on homework? A basic guideline is: students in elementary school need a half hour of home study, in middle school about 60 minutes, and in high school up to two hours. (Older students will have projects, such as research papers that may have deadlines weeks away. They may need help organizing assignments and schedules to make sure homework is ready to turn in on time.)

  • Encourage your child to take "brain breaks" every 11 to 20 minutes by stand- ing up and moving around. Physical exer- cise is a good way to get the brain active.
  • Introduce brain food snacks into your young student's diet, foods such as wal- nuts, almonds, blueberries, celery, toma- toes, or grapes are good choices. Healthy nutrition can enhance brain activity.
  • Seek out extra, outside homework help immediately if you suspect your child is having difficulties, especially for subjects like math where learning is cumulative.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the teacher for advice. Your children's teachers can explain how much time they expect students to spend on homework. Ask if your school has a homework policy. If it does, be sure that you and your children understand it.

In BC, our provincial education system is guided by three important principles of learning:

  1. Learning requires the active participation of the student.
  2. People learn in a variety of ways and at different rates.
  3. Learning is both an individual and a group process.

These principles, along with a practical homework strategy, are important for par- ents to keep in mind in supporting their children's learning and in helping a student be successful in school. Together, families and teachers can help children develop good study habits and positive attitudes to become lifelong learners.