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How Parents Can Help With Homework (Without Taking Over)
Sometimes taking the stress out of homework means taking a step back. learn how to curb your hands-on habits and help your kids do their best..
After a long day at school, the last thing my kids want to do is tackle their assignments. And after a long day at work, arguing with them about homework is the last thing my husband and I want to do. But we’ve always thought that the more involved we were, the better off they’d be.
It turns out that that isn’t necessarily true: After looking at 30 years’ worth of studies, researchers concluded that in most cases, such parental interest actually doesn’t help raise test scores or grades — and sometimes backfires. The reason: When parents are overly immersed in homework, they deny kids the chance to become more independent and confident. Worse, it can breed anxiety along the way.
Of course, backing off is easier said than done. So we asked education pros to share their secrets for helping kids study without hovering. Use these techniques to bring peace to your evenings — starting tonight!
Old way: Sit beside your child so you can answer questions and fix his mistakes. New way: Stay available by doing chores nearby.
When you hover, you essentially send the message to your kid that you don’t think he can do the work. To empower him instead, stay busy and wait until he asks for your help, says Miriam Liss, Ph.D., author of Balancing the Big Stuff: Finding Happiness in Work, Family, and Life.
For example, say your child is stumped by a math problem. You could ask questions (“So how many groups of two equal eight?”). If he says, “Got it,” leave him alone. If he continues to struggle, make suggestions (“Hey, do you want to use baby carrots as manipulatives?”). He’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment if he’s worked for the answer mostly on his own.
Also avoid stepping in to correct every mistake without your child’s input. “Homework is a chance for a child to practice what he’s learned in class,” explains Jacqueline Cross, a fourth-grade teacher in Hingham, MA. “If he’s really challenged by long division, I’d like to know that so I can help.”
If your child asks you to look over his worksheet, point out the errors in a subtle way. Say, “Can you go back and see where you went wrong here?” or even do a quick reminder of the point of the exercise (“Remember, you’re supposed to be finding coins that add up to four dollars. Want to count these numbers out loud and I’ll listen?”).
Old way: Nag until your child starts working. New way: Set up a no-nonsense routine.
“Make it clear that everyone has obligations — and your child’s include things like going to school, working with her teacher, and doing the best she can on her homework,” says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go.
Doing her best includes buckling down to finish her assignments without constant check-ins from you. Together, figure out a specific time and place for her to work. It’s okay if she needs a little while to recharge after school before starting, but be sure she knows that four o’clock (or whatever time is best for your fam) is non-negotiable.
Once you’ve established a firm homework routine, make it a habit that happens every day. “Kids can whine, but they just won’t get to watch their TV show or whatever else they’d like to do until the homework is done. Period,” says Dr. Liss. (There goes your need to nag!)
And if your kid doesn’t do an assignment because you failed to remind her? As tough as it is, let her deal with the consequences. You won’t always be around to stay on top of her, and learning responsibility is a cornerstone of education.
Old way: Lecture your kid for waiting until the night before to study for the spelling test. New way: Teach time-management skills.
Scolding just makes your child feel bad (and he’ll tune you out, anyway). But because kids appreciate structure, teach yours how to break tasks up into more manageable chunks.
A printed calendar is a great tool for learning how to map out deadlines and a better visual reminder for grade-schoolers than the digital kind. Hang it in a prominent place. Then help your kid set daily goals, like “study four words on Monday and five on Tuesday …,” or break that science project into weekly goals, like “gather resources by the 5th, plant the seeds on the 11th.”
By giving your child control over deadlines, you remove yourself from the battle: If it’s on the calendar, he’s responsible for it. Skip handing out negative consequences for not getting things done. Instead, says Dr. Liss, you can offer him rewards for hitting each of the milestones.
Old way: Get sucked into whine fests. New way: Walk away.
If your child gripes about the work itself (“It’s too hard!” or “I don’t get it!”), figure out what’s behind her frustration. If it’s a lack of motivation, let her know that the sooner she applies herself, the sooner it’ll get done and the faster she can move on to something more fun. Then leave the room. After all, without an audience, she can’t complain, and you avoid getting trapped in a negative cycle.
But if the material is too difficult, that’s another story. In that case, try your hand at doing some of the problems with her (as long as you can stay calm). You may be able to make that lightbulb turn on in her head.
If not, reach out to the teacher to ask for assistance (or, if your child is over 8, suggest she speak with the teacher herself). Educators don’t want their students struggling to the point of tears, so your child’s teacher will probably be happy to clue you in to extra resources that can help your kid understand the lesson.
Old way: Work on your kid’s project until the end product is perfect. New way: Let your child take the lead.
“We assign projects so kids get a chance to apply new skills they’ve learned,” Cross explains. So if you’re getting super hands-on to wow the teacher, do your best to resist the urge. “We see your child every day, so we’re pretty familiar with the kind of work she does!” Cross adds.
That doesn’t mean you can’t pitch in, but let your kid be the creative force. For example, if you notice that the assignment includes a timeline and your grade-schooler skipped that step, point it out, then let her figure out which dates to include and how best to showcase them. After all, brainstorming lets your child hone her problem-solving skills and increases her confidence; hand-feeding her a solution won’t teach her anything.
When your kiddo proudly shows you the finished product, tell her something specific, like “Your report really makes me want to read that book now!” or “Wow, look at all the details you included in that flower diagram!” By saying something descriptive instead of generic (“That poster you made looks really awesome!”), you’re acknowledging the content itself and the effort your child put into it rather than just how it looks, notes Dr. Kuczmarski.
Achieving balance is key — and that’s true for all homework conundrums. Says Dr. Liss: “Your goal is to find that sweet spot of being there if your kids need you, but not being totally on top of them all the time.”
Plus: 10 Homework Help Tips The Do's and Don'ts of Homework Help
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Khan Academy Blog
Making Homework Easier: Tips and Tools for Parents
posted on September 20, 2023
By Stephanie Yamkovenko , group manager of Khan Academy’s Digital Marketing Team.
Homework can present challenges for parents and children alike. You naturally want to provide support for your child’s learning journey and ensure they are reaching their full potential. In this blog post, we will delve into practical strategies to assist your child with their homework. From fostering understanding and offering encouragement to breaking down tasks and implementing rewards, we will explore a variety of effective approaches to help your child achieve academic success.
Step 1: Set Up Your Child for Success
Your child’s study environment can have a significant impact on their homework performance. Create a space that is free from distractions like the television, smartphones, or noisy siblings. The study space should be comfortable, well lit, and have all the necessary materials your child might need, such as pens, papers, and textbooks. If your child’s workspace is noisy or uncomfortable, they may have difficulty focusing on their homework, resulting in lower productivity.
For example, if you live in a small apartment, consider setting up a designated corner with a small desk or table where your child can focus on their work. You can use dividers or screens to create a sense of privacy and minimize distractions.
If the only place to do homework is in the dining room or kitchen, try to establish a routine where the area is cleared and organized before study time. This can help signal to your child that it’s time to concentrate and be productive.
Remember, it’s important to adapt to your specific circumstances and make the best of the available space. The key is to create a dedicated study area that promotes focus and minimizes interruptions regardless of the size or location of your home.
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Step 2: make it fun.
It’s important to make homework fun and engaging for your child. Here are some examples of how you can do it:
- Use games : Incorporate educational games like card games, board games, or puzzles that align with the subject your child is learning. For instance, use Scrabble to practice spelling or Sudoku to enhance problem-solving skills.
- Turn it into a challenge : Create a friendly competition between siblings or friends by setting goals or time limits for completing assignments. Offer small rewards or incentives for accomplishing tasks.
- Make it interactive : Use hands-on activities or experiments to reinforce concepts learned in class. For science or math, conduct simple experiments at home or use manipulatives like blocks or counters to visualize abstract concepts.
- Use technology : Explore online educational platforms or apps that offer interactive learning experiences. There are various educational games, virtual simulations, and videos available that can make homework more enjoyable.
- Incorporate creativity : Encourage your child to express their understanding through art, storytelling, or multimedia presentations. For example, they can create a comic strip to summarize a story or make a short video to explain a concept.
Remember, by making homework enjoyable, you can help your child develop a positive attitude towards learning.
Step 3: Use Rewards
Rewards can be a powerful motivational tool for children. Offering positive reinforcement can encourage them to complete their homework on time and to the best of their ability.
Here are some examples of rewards our team has used with their children:
- Extra screen time: “I use Apple parental controls to add screen time on their iPad.”
- Access to a favorite toy: “My eight year old has a drum kit, which drives us all up the wall. (Thanks, Grandma!) But when they’ve been doing a lot of school work, we put on headphones and let him go nuts.”
- Praise for a job well done: “Specific, measurable praise is what works best.”
- Trip to the park: “A trip to the park is good for everyone, especially for the kids to run around with the doggos.”
- Movie night: “I know every word and song lyric in Moana ; we now reserve showings for good behavior.”
- Stickers or stamps: “Gold stars were such a thing growing up in the 80s; turns out they still work.”
- Stay up a little later: “An extra 30 minutes feels like a whole day for my young ones; use this reward with caution as it can become the expectation!”
So, celebrate your child’s efforts and encourage them to continue doing their best.
Step 4: Break Down Difficult Tasks
When facing daunting homework assignments, follow these step-by-step instructions to break down the tasks into smaller, manageable chunks:
- Understand the requirements and scope of the task.
- Break down the assignment into individual tasks or sub-tasks.
- Splitting the middle term
- Using formula
- Using Quadratic formula
- Using algebraic identities
- Determine the order in which tasks should be completed based on importance or difficulty.
- Start with the easiest task. Begin with the task that seems the least challenging or time-consuming.
- Progress to more challenging tasks: Once the easier tasks are completed, move on to more difficult ones.
- Take breaks: Schedule short breaks between tasks to avoid burnout and maintain focus.
- Check completed tasks for accuracy and make any necessary revisions.
- Finish the remaining task(s) with the same approach.
- Celebrate small achievements to boost confidence and keep motivation high.
By following these steps, you can make daunting homework assignments more manageable and less overwhelming for your child.
Step 5: Get Targeted Help
If your child is struggling with homework, it might be worth considering seeking personalized assistance. You have the option to search for professional tutors or explore online tutoring platforms, such as Khan Academy’s AI tutor, Khanmigo .
This AI tutor can offer personalized guidance and support tailored to your child’s specific needs, helping them grasp complex concepts and practice essential skills. Incorporating this approach can effectively complement your child’s learning and enhance their homework performance.
Enhance your child’s learning and boost homework performance!
Homework can be a challenge for both parents and children. But with the right approach, you can help your child overcome difficulties and support their learning. Encourage and understand your child, create a comfortable environment, break down difficult tasks, use rewards, get professional help when needed, and make it fun. With these tips and techniques, you can help your child achieve success, develop a love for learning, and achieve academic excellence. Remember that each child learns differently, so it’s essential to adjust your approach to meet their unique needs.
The best way to learn and teach with AI is here. Ace the school year with our AI-powered guide, Khanmigo.
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Top 10 Homework Tips
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Kids are more successful in school when parents take an active interest in their homework — it shows kids that what they do is important.
Of course, helping with homework shouldn't mean spending hours hunched over a desk. Parents can be supportive by demonstrating study and organization skills, explaining a tricky problem, or just encouraging kids to take a break. And who knows? Parents might even learn a thing or two!
Here are some tips to guide the way:
- Know the teachers — and what they're looking for. Attend school events, such as parent-teacher conferences, to meet your child's teachers. Ask about their homework policies and how you should be involved.
- Set up a homework-friendly area. Make sure kids have a well-lit place to complete homework. Keep supplies — paper, pencils, glue, scissors — within reach.
- Schedule a regular study time. Some kids work best in the afternoon, following a snack and play period; others may prefer to wait until after dinner.
- Help them make a plan. On heavy homework nights or when there's an especially hefty assignment to tackle, encourage your child break up the work into manageable chunks. Create a work schedule for the night if necessary — and take time for a 15-minute break every hour, if possible.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. This means no TV, loud music, or phone calls. (Occasionally, though, a phone call to a classmate about an assignment can be helpful.)
- Make sure kids do their own work. They won't learn if they don't think for themselves and make their own mistakes. Parents can make suggestions and help with directions. But it's a kid's job to do the learning.
- Be a motivator and monitor. Ask about assignments, quizzes, and tests. Give encouragement, check completed homework, and make yourself available for questions and concerns.
- Set a good example. Do your kids ever see you diligently balancing your budget or reading a book? Kids are more likely to follow their parents' examples than their advice.
- Praise their work and efforts. Post an aced test or art project on the refrigerator. Mention academic achievements to relatives.
- If there are continuing problems with homework, get help. Talk about it with your child's teacher. Some kids have trouble seeing the board and may need glasses; others might need an evaluation for a learning problem or attention disorder.
How Parents Can Offer Homework Help
Homework can be daunting in any household, but there are many places to turn for help.
Parents should create a routine in which they ask their children daily about the homework assignments they have, when they plan to do their homework, and what help they might need. (Getty Images)
Getting kids to do their homework can be a battle of wills, and many parents can attest to the frustrations that come with helping children complete assignments. But education experts say there is plenty of homework help available for both parents and students.
While some educators and researchers have questioned the value of homework and its ability to improve academic outcomes, it is still a part of life in most schools, and experts say it helps teach children executive function skills, such as planning and completing assigned tasks.
“Homework should be about practicing content,” says Audrey Dolginoff, a special education teacher based in Washington, D.C., who has taught middle school students at both public and private schools.
“But it’s also about structuring your time to plan for the next day, making sure you have all your materials and ensuring you are looking ahead in the calendar as you get older in school,” she says. “All of these skills tie into being a functioning member of society later on.”
Whatever the subject, education experts say there is much parents can do to help their children with homework, whether it’s directly or by providing resources.
The Right Environment for Homework
Making homework a smoother experience starts by providing a dedicated space for children to focus on their studies. Create a clean space that is relatively free of distractions – including TVs, phones and other devices – and provides ready access to the materials and technology needed to complete homework.
That might include a computer, a comfortable chair, a calculator, a stapler, paper, pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, markers and anything else that facilitates schoolwork.
“Giving them a special, well-equipped study space is a good foundation for quality accomplishments,” says Cindy McKinley Alder, a veteran elementary school teacher in Michigan and co-author of the book “10 Quick Homework Tips.”
Education experts recommend that children with homework in multiple subjects use a calendar or planner. This tool can be a physical book or binder or a digital app such as MyHomework , My Study Life or Trello .
Parents can help children plan their homework assignments, Dolginoff says, which is a great way of “showing interest before there’s a problem.” She says parents should create a routine in which they ask their children daily about the homework assignments they have, when they plan to do their homework, and what help they might need.
Getting Homework Help at School
Educators say teachers are the first people struggling students and their parents should go to for help. Teachers often have office hours or dedicated time during the school day for students to drop by to ask questions.
“Sometimes just asking a teacher how they can improve can be so helpful because the instructor can point out weaknesses they’ve noticed,” says Laurie Kopp Weingarten, a certified educational planner and independent educational consultant in New Jersey. Teachers may be able to point students to study materials they should be using, such as class notes or other resources, Weingarten says.
Some schools may also have homework clubs or students who provide free tutoring in certain subjects.
How to Hire a Tutor
When parents feel they are out of their depth on a subject or just realize their child may need some more specialized instruction, outside tutoring services may be the answer.
Before hiring a tutor, a parent should check in with teachers to find out “how the parent can best support the child at school or what interventions can be put in place in the classroom to help the child access the content,” Dolginoff says.
Brian Galvin, chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors , says parents should hire a tutor if their child has “hit a roadblock or slowed their advancement.”
“Learning can look a lot like a Jenga tower, where a student can feel completely overwhelmed and unmoored in a higher-grade topic like algebra, and the entire cause is a missing building block or two a few levels down in something like understanding factors and divisibility,” he says.
Galvin says a tutor can help a student relearn those missing blocks, in addition to working on the current curriculum.
There are several national tutoring chains that offer in-person and virtual tutoring, including Sylvan , Mathnasium and Kumon . But parents may also benefit from exploring locally based tutoring services or finding local teachers who work as tutors.
Online Resources for Homework Help
There are a plethora of online resources purporting to help kids with their homework and practice skills they are learning in school, and many are free or offer low subscription rates. But determining which apps will be most helpful can be daunting.
Common Sense , a nonprofit that independently reviews online media and content for children, has information on educational apps that can help parents determine what kinds of online homework might be the most beneficial. Teachers are often a good source to ask about what online sites or apps might be most helpful for the curriculum they are teaching.
For parents who want to do some research, here are several sites and apps recommended by educators:
- Math is Fun has tutorials and practice questions for math, including basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry and even physics.
- Summerbell helps children with reading difficulties access books and reading in new ways.
- Khan Academy is a nonprofit site that offers practice exercises, instructional videos and a dashboard for students studying multiple subjects.
- Learning Ally provides audiobooks for students who have learning differences or difficulty reading.
- IXL is a personalized learning site used by both parents and schools, with a K-12 curriculum and real-time analytics.
Parents should be careful that online services they hire are not offering to write student papers or provide answers to the questions in textbooks.
“Unfortunately, many of those who claim to provide tutoring services actually sell cheating,” says Derek Newton, author of a newsletter on academic integrity and cheating called The Cheat Sheet. “To avoid cheating traps and get actual tutoring help, start by asking the school or teachers for a recommendation.”
Searching for a school? Explore our K-12 directory .
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- The Journal
- Vol. 19, No. 1
The Case for (Quality) Homework
Any parent who has battled with a child over homework night after night has to wonder: Do those math worksheets and book reports really make a difference to a student’s long-term success? Or is homework just a headache—another distraction from family time and downtime, already diminished by the likes of music and dance lessons, sports practices, and part-time jobs?
Allison, a mother of two middle-school girls from an affluent Boston suburb, describes a frenetic afterschool scenario: “My girls do gymnastics a few days a week, so homework happens for my 6th grader after gymnastics, at 6:30 p.m. She doesn’t get to bed until 9. My 8th grader does her homework immediately after school, up until gymnastics. She eats dinner at 9:15 and then goes to bed, unless there is more homework to do, in which case she’ll get to bed around 10.” The girls miss out on sleep, and weeknight family dinners are tough to swing.
Parental concerns about their children’s homework loads are nothing new. Debates over the merits of homework—tasks that teachers ask students to complete during non-instructional time—have ebbed and flowed since the late 19th century, and today its value is again being scrutinized and weighed against possible negative impacts on family life and children’s well-being.
Are American students overburdened with homework? In some middle-class and affluent communities, where pressure on students to achieve can be fierce, yes. But in families of limited means, it’s often another story. Many low-income parents value homework as an important connection to the school and the curriculum—even as their children report receiving little homework. Overall, high-school students relate that they spend less than one hour per day on homework, on average, and only 42 percent say they do it five days per week. In one recent survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a minimal 13 percent of 17-year-olds said they had devoted more than two hours to homework the previous evening (see Figure 1).
Recent years have seen an increase in the amount of homework assigned to students in grades K–2, and critics point to research findings that, at the elementary-school level, homework does not appear to enhance children’s learning. Why, then, should we burden young children and their families with homework if there is no academic benefit to doing it? Indeed, perhaps it would be best, as some propose, to eliminate homework altogether, particularly in these early grades.
On the contrary, developmentally appropriate homework plays a critical role in the formation of positive learning beliefs and behaviors, including a belief in one’s academic ability, a deliberative and effortful approach to mastery, and higher expectations and aspirations for one’s future. It can prepare children to confront ever-more-complex tasks, develop resilience in the face of difficulty, and learn to embrace rather than shy away from challenge. In short, homework is a key vehicle through which we can help shape children into mature learners.
The Homework-Achievement Connection
A narrow focus on whether or not homework boosts grades and test scores in the short run thus ignores a broader purpose in education, the development of lifelong, confident learners. Still, the question looms: does homework enhance academic success? As the educational psychologist Lyn Corno wrote more than two decades ago, “homework is a complicated thing.” Most research on the homework-achievement connection is correlational, which precludes a definitive judgment on its academic benefits. Researchers rely on correlational research in this area of study given the difficulties of randomly assigning students to homework/no-homework conditions. While correlation does not imply causality, extensive research has established that at the middle- and high-school levels, homework completion is strongly and positively associated with high achievement. Very few studies have reported a negative correlation.
As noted above, findings on the homework-achievement connection at the elementary level are mixed. A small number of experimental studies have demonstrated that elementary-school students who receive homework achieve at higher levels than those who do not. These findings suggest a causal relationship, but they are limited in scope. Within the body of correlational research, some studies report a positive homework-achievement connection, some a negative relationship, and yet others show no relationship at all. Why the mixed findings? Researchers point to a number of possible factors, such as developmental issues related to how young children learn, different goals that teachers have for younger as compared to older students, and how researchers define homework.
Certainly, young children are still developing skills that enable them to focus on the material at hand and study efficiently. Teachers’ goals for their students are also quite different in elementary school as compared to secondary school. While teachers at both levels note the value of homework for reinforcing classroom content, those in the earlier grades are more likely to assign homework mainly to foster skills such as responsibility, perseverance, and the ability to manage distractions.
Most research examines homework generally. Might a focus on homework in a specific subject shed more light on the homework-achievement connection? A recent meta-analysis did just this by examining the relationship between math/science homework and achievement. Contrary to previous findings, researchers reported a stronger relationship between homework and achievement in the elementary grades than in middle school. As the study authors note, one explanation for this finding could be that in elementary school, teachers tend to assign more homework in math than in other subjects, while at the same time assigning shorter math tasks more frequently. In addition, the authors point out that parents tend to be more involved in younger children’s math homework and more skilled in elementary-level than middle-school math.
In sum, the relationship between homework and academic achievement in the elementary-school years is not yet established, but eliminating homework at this level would do children and their families a huge disservice: we know that children’s learning beliefs have a powerful impact on their academic outcomes, and that through homework, parents and teachers can have a profound influence on the development of positive beliefs.
How Much Is Appropriate?
Harris M. Cooper of Duke University, the leading researcher on homework, has examined decades of study on what we know about the relationship between homework and scholastic achievement. He has proposed the “10-minute rule,” suggesting that daily homework be limited to 10 minutes per grade level. Thus, a 1st grader would do 10 minutes each day and a 4th grader, 40 minutes. The National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association both endorse this guideline, but it is not clear whether the recommended allotments include time for reading, which most teachers want children to do daily.
For middle-school students, Cooper and colleagues report that 90 minutes per day of homework is optimal for enhancing academic achievement, and for high schoolers, the ideal range is 90 minutes to two and a half hours per day. Beyond this threshold, more homework does not contribute to learning. For students enrolled in demanding Advanced Placement or honors courses, however, homework is likely to require significantly more time, leading to concerns over students’ health and well-being.
Notwithstanding media reports of parents revolting against the practice of homework, the vast majority of parents say they are highly satisfied with their children’s homework loads. The National Household Education Surveys Program recently found that between 70 and 83 percent of parents believed that the amount of homework their children had was “about right,” a result that held true regardless of social class, race/ethnicity, community size, level of education, and whether English was spoken at home.
Learning Beliefs Are Consequential
As noted above, developmentally appropriate homework can help children cultivate positive beliefs about learning. Decades of research have established that these beliefs predict the types of tasks students choose to pursue, their persistence in the face of challenge, and their academic achievement. Broadly, learning beliefs fall under the banner of achievement motivation, which is a constellation of cognitive, behavioral, and affective factors, including: the way a person perceives his or her abilities, goal-setting skills, expectation of success, the value the individual places on learning, and self-regulating behavior such as time-management skills. Positive or adaptive beliefs about learning serve as emotional and psychological protective factors for children, especially when they encounter difficulties or failure.
Motivation researcher Carol Dweck of Stanford University posits that children with a “growth mindset”—those who believe that ability is malleable—approach learning very differently than those with a “fixed mindset”—kids who believe ability cannot change. Those with a growth mindset view effort as the key to mastery. They see mistakes as helpful, persist even in the face of failure, prefer challenging over easy tasks, and do better in school than their peers who have a fixed mindset. In contrast, children with a fixed mindset view effort and mistakes as implicit condemnations of their abilities. Such children succumb easily to learned helplessness in the face of difficulty, and they gravitate toward tasks they know they can handle rather than more challenging ones.
Of course, learning beliefs do not develop in a vacuum. Studies have demonstrated that parents and teachers play a significant role in the development of positive beliefs and behaviors, and that homework is a key tool they can use to foster motivation and academic achievement.
Parents’ Beliefs and Actions Matter
It is well established that parental involvement in their children’s education promotes achievement motivation and success in school. Parents are their children’s first teachers, and their achievement-related beliefs have a profound influence on children’s developing perceptions of their own abilities, as well as their views on the value of learning and education.
Parents affect their children’s learning through the messages they send about education, whether by expressing interest in school activities and experiences, attending school events, helping with homework when they can, or exposing children to intellectually enriching experiences. Most parents view such engagement as part and parcel of their role. They also believe that doing homework fosters responsibility and organizational skills, and that doing well on homework tasks contributes to learning, even if children experience frustration from time to time.
Many parents provide support by establishing homework routines, eliminating distractions, communicating expectations, helping children manage their time, providing reassuring messages, and encouraging kids to be aware of the conditions under which they do their best work. These supports help foster the development of self-regulation, which is critical to school success.
Self-regulation involves a number of skills, such as the ability to monitor one’s performance and adjust strategies as a result of feedback; to evaluate one’s interests and realistically perceive one’s aptitude; and to work on a task autonomously. It also means learning how to structure one’s environment so that it’s conducive to learning, by, for example, minimizing distractions. As children move into higher grades, these skills and strategies help them organize, plan, and learn independently. This is precisely where parents make a demonstrable difference in students’ attitudes and approaches to homework.
Especially in the early grades, homework gives parents the opportunity to cultivate beliefs and behaviors that foster efficient study skills and academic resilience. Indeed, across age groups, there is a strong and positive relationship between homework completion and a variety of self-regulatory processes. However, the quality of parental help matters. Sometimes, well-intentioned parents can unwittingly undermine the development of children’s positive learning beliefs and their achievement. Parents who maintain a positive outlook on homework and allow their children room to learn and struggle on their own, stepping in judiciously with informational feedback and hints, do their children a much better service than those who seek to control the learning process.
A recent study of 5th and 6th graders’ perceptions of their parents’ involvement with homework distinguished between supportive and intrusive help. The former included the belief that parents encouraged the children to try to find the right answer on their own before providing them with assistance, and when the child struggled, attempted to understand the source of the confusion. In contrast, the latter included the perception that parents provided unsolicited help, interfered when the children did their homework, and told them how to complete their assignments. Supportive help predicted higher achievement, while intrusive help was associated with lower achievement.
Parents’ attitudes and emotions during homework time can support the development of positive attitudes and approaches in their children, which in turn are predictive of higher achievement. Children are more likely to focus on self-improvement during homework time and do better in school when their parents are oriented toward mastery. In contrast, if parents focus on how well children are doing relative to peers, kids tend to adopt learning goals that allow them to avoid challenge.
Homework and Social Class
Social class is another important element in the homework dynamic. What is the homework experience like for families with limited time and resources? And what of affluent families, where resources are plenty but the pressures to succeed are great?
Etta Kralovec and John Buell, authors of The End of Homework, maintain that homework “punishes the poor,” because lower-income parents may not be as well educated as their affluent counterparts and thus not as well equipped to help with homework. Poorer families also have fewer financial resources to devote to home computers, tutoring, and academic enrichment. The stresses of poverty—and work schedules—may impinge, and immigrant parents may face language barriers and an unfamiliarity with the school system and teachers’ expectations.
Yet research shows that low-income parents who are unable to assist with homework are far from passive in their children’s learning, and they do help foster scholastic performance. In fact, parental help with homework is not a necessary component for school success.
Brown University’s Jin Li queried low-income Chinese American 9th graders’ perceptions of their parents’ engagement with their education. Students said their immigrant parents rarely engaged in activities that are known to foster academic achievement, such as monitoring homework, checking it for accuracy, or attending school meetings or events. Instead, parents of higher achievers built three social networks to support their children’s learning. They designated “anchor” helpers both inside and outside the family who provided assistance; identified peer models for their children to emulate; and enlisted the assistance of extended kin to guide their children’s educational socialization. In a related vein, a recent analysis of survey data showed that Asian and Latino 5th graders, relative to native-born peers, were more likely to turn to siblings than parents for homework help.
Further, research demonstrates that low-income parents, recognizing that they lack the time to be in the classroom or participate in school governance, view homework as a critical connection to their children’s experiences in school. One study found that mothers enjoyed the routine and predictability of homework and used it as a way to demonstrate to children how to plan their time. Mothers organized homework as a family activity, with siblings doing homework together and older children reading to younger ones. In this way, homework was perceived as a collective practice wherein siblings could model effective habits and learn from one another.
In another recent study, researchers examined mathematics achievement in low-income 8th-grade Asian and Latino students. Help with homework was an advantage their mothers could not provide. They could, however, furnish structure (for example, by setting aside quiet time for homework completion), and it was this structure that most predicted high achievement. As the authors note, “It is . . . important to help [low-income] parents realize that they can still help their children get good grades in mathematics and succeed in school even if they do not know how to provide direct assistance with their child’s mathematics homework.”
The homework narrative at the other end of the socioeconomic continuum is altogether different. Media reports abound with examples of students, mostly in high school, carrying three or more hours of homework per night, a burden that can impair learning, motivation, and well-being. In affluent communities, students often experience intense pressure to cultivate a high-achieving profile that will be attractive to elite colleges. Heavy homework loads have been linked to unhealthy symptoms such as heightened stress, anxiety, physical complaints, and sleep disturbances. Like Allison’s 6th grader mentioned earlier, many students can only tackle their homework after they do extracurricular activities, which are also seen as essential for the college résumé. Not surprisingly, many students in these communities are not deeply engaged in learning; rather, they speak of “doing school,” as Stanford researcher Denise Pope has described, going through the motions necessary to excel, and undermining their physical and mental health in the process.
Fortunately, some national intervention initiatives, such as Challenge Success (co-founded by Pope), are heightening awareness of these problems. Interventions aimed at restoring balance in students’ lives (in part, by reducing homework demands) have resulted in students reporting an increased sense of well-being, decreased stress and anxiety, and perceptions of greater support from teachers, with no decrease in achievement outcomes.
What is good for this small segment of students, however, is not necessarily good for the majority. As Jessica Lahey wrote in Motherlode, a New York Times parenting blog, “homework is a red herring” in the national conversation on education. “Some otherwise privileged children may have too much, but the real issue lies in places where there is too little. . . . We shouldn’t forget that.”
My colleagues and I analyzed interviews conducted with lower-income 9th graders (African American, Mexican American, and European American) from two Northern California high schools that at the time were among the lowest-achieving schools in the state. We found that these students consistently described receiving minimal homework—perhaps one or two worksheets or textbook pages, the occasional project, and 30 minutes of reading per night. Math was the only class in which they reported having homework each night. These students noted few consequences for not completing their homework.
Indeed, greatly reducing or eliminating homework would likely increase, not diminish, the achievement gap. As Harris M. Cooper has commented, those choosing to opt their children out of homework are operating from a place of advantage. Children in higher-income families benefit from many privileges, including exposure to a larger range of language at home that may align with the language of school, access to learning and cultural experiences, and many other forms of enrichment, such as tutoring and academic summer camps, all of which may be cost-prohibitive for lower-income families. But for the 21 percent of the school-age population who live in poverty—nearly 11 million students ages 5–17—homework is one tool that can help narrow the achievement gap.
Community and School Support
Often, community organizations and afterschool programs can step up to provide structure and services that students’ need to succeed at homework. For example, Boys and Girls and 4-H clubs offer volunteer tutors as well as access to computer technology that students may not have at home. Many schools provide homework clubs or integrate homework into the afterschool program.
Home-school partnerships have succeeded in engaging parents with homework and significantly improving their children’s academic achievement. For example, Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University has developed the TIPS model (Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork), which embraces homework as an integral part of family time. TIPS is a teacher-designed interactive program in which children and a parent or family member each have a specific role in the homework scenario. For example, children might show the parent how to do a mathematics task on fractions, explaining their reasoning along the way and reviewing their thinking aloud if they are unsure.
Evaluations show that elementary and middle-school students in classrooms that have adopted TIPS complete more of their homework than do students in other classrooms. Both students and parent participants show more positive beliefs about learning mathematics, and TIPS students show significant gains in writing skills and report-card science grades, as well as higher mathematics scores on standardized tests.
Another study found that asking teachers to send text messages to parents about their children’s missing homework resulted in increased parental monitoring of homework, consequences for missed assignments, and greater participation in parent-child conferences. Teachers reported fewer missed assignments and greater student effort in coursework, and math grades and GPA significantly improved.
Homework Quality Matters
Teachers favor homework for a number of reasons. They believe it fosters a sense of responsibility and promotes academic achievement. They note that homework provides valuable review and practice for students while giving teachers feedback on areas where students may need more support. Finally, teachers value homework as a way to keep parents connected to the school and their children’s educational experiences.
While students, to say the least, may not always relish the idea of doing homework, by high school most come to believe there is a positive relationship between doing homework and doing well in school. Both higher and lower achievers lament “busywork” that doesn’t promote learning. They crave high-quality, challenging assignments—and it is this kind of homework that has been associated with higher achievement.
What constitutes high-quality homework? Assignments that are developmentally appropriate and meaningful and that promote self-efficacy and self-regulation. Meaningful homework is authentic, allowing students to engage in solving problems with real-world relevance. More specifically, homework tasks should make efficient use of student time and have a clear purpose connected to what they are learning. An artistic rendition of a period in history that would take hours to complete can become instead a diary entry in the voice of an individual from that era. By allowing a measure of choice and autonomy in homework, teachers foster in their students a sense of ownership, which bolsters their investment in the work.
High-quality homework also fosters students’ perceptions of their own competence by 1) focusing them on tasks they can accomplish without help; 2) differentiating tasks so as to allow struggling students to experience success; 3) providing suggested time frames rather than a fixed period of time in which a task should be completed; 4) delivering clearly and carefully explained directions; and 5) carefully modeling methods for attacking lengthy or complex tasks. Students whose teachers have trained them to adopt strategies such as goal setting, self-monitoring, and planning develop a number of personal assets—improved time management, increased self-efficacy, greater effort and interest, a desire for mastery, and a decrease in helplessness.
Excellence with Equity
Currently, the United States has the second-highest disparity between time spent on homework by students of low socioeconomic status and time spent by their more-affluent peers out of the 34 OECD-member nations participating in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (see Figure 2). Noting that PISA studies have consistently found that spending more time on math homework strongly correlates with higher academic achievement, the report’s authors suggest that the homework disparity may reflect lower teacher expectations for low-income students. If so, this is truly unfortunate. In and of itself, low socioeconomic status is not an impediment to academic achievement when appropriate parental, school, and community supports are deployed. As research makes clear, low-income parents support their children’s learning in varied ways, not all of which involve direct assistance with schoolwork. Teachers can orient students and parents toward beliefs that foster positive attitudes toward learning. Indeed, where homework is concerned, a commitment to excellence with equity is both worthwhile and attainable.
In affluent communities, parents, teachers, and school districts might consider reexamining the meaning of academic excellence and placing more emphasis on leading a balanced and well-rounded life. The homework debate in the United States has been dominated by concerns over the health and well-being of such advantaged students. As legitimate as these worries are, it’s important to avoid generalizing these children’s experiences to those with fewer family resources. Reducing or eliminating homework, though it may be desirable in some advantaged communities, would deprive poorer children of a crucial and empowering learning experience. It would also eradicate a fertile opportunity to help close the achievement gap.
Janine Bempechat is clinical professor of human development at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development.
An unabridged version of this article is available here .
For more, please see “ The Top 20 Education Next Articles of 2023 .”
This article appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Education Next . Suggested citation format:
Bempechat, J. (2019). The Case for (Quality) Homework: Why it improves learning, and how parents can help . Education Next, 19 (1), 36-43.
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Vol. 23, No. 4
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In the News: What’s the Right Amount of Homework? Many Students Get Too Little, Brief Argues
by Education Next
In the News: Down With Homework, Say U.S. School Districts
In the News: Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?
Homework Help for Reluctant Children
- Posted October 15, 2018
- By Heather Miller
It’s hard to fault the child who resists doing homework. After all, she has already put in a long day at school, probably been involved in afterschool activities, and, as the late afternoon spills into evening, now faces a pile of assignments. Parents feel it, too — it’s no one’s favorite time of day.
But despite its bad rap, homework plays an important role in ensuring that students can execute tasks independently. When it’s thoughtfully assigned, homework provides deeper engagement with material introduced in class. And even when it’s “just” worksheets, homework can build the automatic habits and the basic skills required to tackle more interesting endeavors. Finally, homework is a nightly test of grit. Adult life brings its share of tasks that are both compulsory and unenjoyable. Developing the discipline to fulfill our responsibilities, regardless of whether they thrill us, begins in middle childhood.
So how to help the avoidant child embrace the challenge, rather than resist it?
The first step, especially with kids 13 and under, is to have them do their homework at a communal space, like a dining room or kitchen table. If other children are in the home, they can all do their homework at the same table, and the parent can sit nearby to support the work effort. This alleviates some of the loneliness a reluctant child might associate with assignments. The alternative — doing homework at a bedroom desk — can result in the child guiltily avoiding the work for as long as possible. Like all forms of procrastination, this has the effect of making the entire process take much longer than it needs to.
When parents turn the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they work better and more efficiently.
Many parents are under the impression that they shouldn’t have anything to do with their children's homework. This comes from schools emphasizing that homework is a child's responsibility, not the parents'. While it is absolutely true that parents should not do their children's homework, there is a role for parents — one that's perhaps best described as “homework project manager.” Parents can be monitoring, organizing, motivating, and praising the homework effort as it gets done. And yes, that means sitting with your child to help them stay focused and on task. Your presence sends the message that homework is important business, not to be taken lightly.
Once you’re sitting down with your child, ask him to unload his school bag and talk you through his various assignments. Maybe he has a school planner with all his homework listed, or a printout from school, or perhaps his work is listed on the classroom website. Many children attend an afterschool program where, in theory, they are doing homework. They’ll often claim that they’ve done all their homework, even though they’ve only done some. Together, make a quick and easy “Done/To Do” list. Writing down what she has finished will give her a sense of satisfaction. Identifying what she still needs to do will help her to focus on the remaining assignments. Over time, this practice will help your child build an understanding that large tasks are completed incrementally.
Next, ask your child to put the assignments in the order he’d like to do them. Encourage him to explain his thinking. Doing this helps a child feel in control of the evening’s tasks and prompts him to reflect on his work style. Discuss the first task of the night together. Ask your child to think about the supplies he is likely to need, and ensure they’re at the ready. This “pre-work” work helps a child think through a task, understand it, and prepare to execute it with gusto.
Last but not least, introduce a timer to the evening’s proceedings. Challenge your child to estimate how long the first assignment will take. Then ask, “Do you want me to set the timer for the full amount of time you think you’ll need, or a smaller amount?” Then, set the timer with the understanding that the child must work without interruption until the timer goes off. Even questions are verboten while the timer runs. The goal here is to enable the child to solve problems independently, through concentration. This not only builds concentration powers, it builds creativity, critical thinking, resilience, and resourcefulness. In my experience, the theatricality of being timed helps relax children who would otherwise feel daunted by a mountain of homework.
As each piece of work gets done, parents can add meaningful positive reinforcement. Exclaiming, “Another assignment done! And done well!” helps your child feel like what they are doing matters.
By turning the homework ritual into a series of conversations about what needs to be done, how, and for how long, children feel less “alone” with their nightly work, they relish the company and support of their parent, and they complete the work much more efficiently and at a higher standard than they might otherwise.
Helping the Homework Resisters
- Have children do their work at a communal table. Stay nearby, to alleviate the loneliness that some kids feel — and to prevent procrastination.
- Ask your child to unload her backpack and talk through assignments.
- Help your child make a "Done/To Do" list.
- Ask your child to put the assignments in the order he’d like to do them. Encourage him to explain his thinking — fostering a sense of control.
- Use a timer. Challenge your child to estimate how long an assignment will take, and ask if she wants to set the timer for that full amount of time, or less.
- Your role: To monitor, organize, motivate, and praise the homework effort as each piece is done.
- More about Heather Miller's work to help parents create healthy routines on weeknights
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10 Top Homework Tips for Parents
In this empowering article, we present a comprehensive guide to help parents become active partners in their child's academic journey. Homework plays a vital role in reinforcing learning, promoting responsibility, and building valuable study habits. However, it can also be a source of stress and frustration for both children and parents.
Discover a wealth of practical homework tips, strategies, and best practices that will transform homework time into a positive and productive experience. From fostering a conducive study environment to establishing a consistent routine, we explore how parents can create a supportive atmosphere that encourages their child's academic growth.
Explore effective communication techniques that bridge the gap between parents and teachers, ensuring that parents are well-informed about assignments and can offer timely assistance when needed. Uncover the importance of setting realistic expectations, acknowledging the uniqueness of each child's learning style, and avoiding undue pressure.
We'll also delve into the art of motivation and encouragement, understanding the delicate balance between supporting independence and providing guidance. Learn how to turn homework into a collaborative effort, where parents act as mentors, helping their children navigate challenges and celebrate achievements.
Incorporating insights from education experts and experienced parents, this article serves as a valuable resource for parents seeking to be proactive advocates for their child's academic success. Whether you have a kindergartener or a high schooler, these homework tips will empower you to create a positive learning environment at home and foster a lifelong love for learning in your child. Embrace this opportunity to strengthen the parent-child bond through shared educational experiences, paving the way for a brighter and more rewarding academic future.
Whether your child is in elementary, middle, or high school, every child will eventually need clear and consistent help with their homework. As homework can directly impact a child’s success in the classroom and his or her overall educational development, a parent’s involvement provides a child with encouragement, support, and direction. By using positive steps proven to boost student performance, parents can intervene before a child’s struggles with homework begin to surface.
The Importance of Homework in Cognitive Development
While children often perceive homework as a form of punishment from their teacher, practicing classroom skills at home is an integral part of the developmental process. As Nucleus Learning explains, homework serves a myriad of essential purposes for both instruction and reinforcement. Most fundamentally, homework allows students to practice skills learned in school with autonomous engagement outside the classroom. As there is a limited amount of time in each school day, children are forced to accept the educational contract that they must put in the effort both in and outside of school to master all of the required material.
Adding to this, homework allows students to “Investigate on their own, learn how to find answers to questions, show that the teacher does not have an answer to everything.” Homework allows a student to more thoroughly learn and understand the material instructed; furthermore, actively engaging in homework teaches students how to become advocates for their own learning, as they can engage in an inquiry-based process of asking questions and seeking out more answers and discoveries.
Further expounding on the importance of homework, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, the educational author of Kids, Parents and Power Struggles , asserts that parents play an immense role in a child’s successful engagement and completion of homework assignments. As she explains, “What most people don't realize is how much support their kids need with homework… It isn't something where you can just say, 'He's 10 or 12 or 15, he should just do it.’’”
Instead, a parent’s foundational support in helping their children understand and practice homework sets the child up for the scaffold of evolving responsibilities. If a child fails to acknowledge his or her responsibilities with completing mandated assignments from their teacher, the child may be heading down a dangerous path of irresponsibility, which can later impact a child’s ability to thrive in their first job or professional realms of life.
The Top Ten Homework Tips for Parents
1. Establish a Routine
The first step in creating a positive homework pathway for your child is primarily creating a routine. This may mean that parents may have to compromise with their children on the working conditions for homework time. As The Seattle Times further explicates, “That means helping students designate a set time and place where they can comfortably — and routinely — hit the books without being disturbed. Some families keep the TV off on weeknights and tape favorite shows for weekend watching. Following such a rule consistently, Kurcinka says, may avoid parent-child power struggles.” Adding to this, if a child is comfortable independently working in his or her bedroom, then parents may need to allow this freedom and choice of the child; however, if a child’s homework is incomplete or if their grades drop, then parents should immediately step in and enforce a different homework strategy and routine.
2. Create Boundaries
As the homework routine is clearly outlined and consistently enforced, parents should simultaneously create clear boundaries for their children as well. This may entail that a teenager’s cell phone must be turned off during homework time or a child’s television or radio must be off until assignments are complete.
3. Get Organized
For younger children, a parent may need to create a homework calendar that both the parent and the child can clearly access and see. This may help a child learn how to plan ahead and create a schedule for long-term elementary and middle school projects. For high school kids, this may mean a parent talks with their teen about setting progress goals for assignments daily.
4. Accountability and Responsibility
Regardless of a child’s age or school grade, a parent must immediately require their child’s personal accountability for homework and assignments. Parents should have clear rules about writing down assignments in a notebook or remembering to bring all necessary homework materials, such as books or calculators, home each night. If a child fails to hold up their end of the bargain, then the established consequences should be enforced.
5. Create a “Learning Space”
For many children, a “learning space” specifically set aside for homework can allow them to mentally enter into a “school mode” at home. This may mean that a small office is stocked with pens, paper, and necessary tools for assignments; however, on the other hand, this also may mean that a child may need to access the library each day for homework (if they are too distracted at home). Regardless of a child’s needs, a parent must create a free space for a child to complete assignments without disruptions or distractions.
6. Teach Prioritization
Children are gradually assigned more homework tasks as they progress through the school grades, and parents can intervene and teach children how to prioritize their homework assignments. If a project is due in a week, a parent can help their child set up a timeline for small daily tasks. Or, if a child is feeling overwhelmed, a parent can help them make a list of everything that must be done and then number each task to prioritize the academic responsibilities.
7. Check Your Child’s Progress
While public schools send report cards and progress reports, many schools post grades and homework assignments online. Parents can speak with their child’s teacher(s) about the best ways to check in on the student’s progress throughout the semester and school year so that students are able to consistently perform to their potential without falling behind or struggling.
8. Allow Freedoms When Earned
If a child successfully meets all of the outlined homework rules and expectations, parents can allow certain appropriate freedoms if their child seems to be excelling in their tasks and schoolwork. For example, if a child asks to change their homework time or “learning space,” parents should experiment with new freedoms as the child gradually excels with their academic responsibility. Parents can consider new privileges and rewards for their child's achievements as long as the child seems to be successfully comprehending and excelling in academic pursuits and assignments.
9. Be a Study Buddy
Many times, especially when a child feels overwhelmed with a task or assignment, parents can offer support by simply helping their child study. This involves quizzing a child, teaching a child study strategies, or also just helping a child get organized. Sometimes, giving a child attention during difficult tasks can boost a child’s morale and effort.
10. Encourage and Support
Most importantly, a parent should serve as a motivational academic cheerleader. Homework should not be a punishment or a time that’s dreaded. Approach homework with a positive attitude and consistently reward the child with positive verbal feedback. Children do not require material treats or presents for success; moreover, they thrive on verbal support and encouragement. For example, if a child consistently does their homework without complaining, remind them each day, “I love how you always do your assignments with such a great attitude. I admire your ability to do what’s assigned with such an adult work ethic!” When compliments are specific and meaningful, a child will feel more confident and motivated to continually follow through with his or her responsibilities and performance.
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