As a former elementary principal for over 20 years, finding the best ways for parents to help with homework was a subject that was debated frequently as a staff and also with our parent community. Through a partnership with our local Parent Teacher Association, we first asked the question, “What REALLY does homework entail?” and secondly, “If it’s important, how can parents approach their kids as a resource from home?”
I think back to a book journey that we completed many, many years ago as a PTA to delve into the subject of how, and why, to help children outside the classroom. Life’s Little Instruction Book-Vol. 2, by Jackson Brown, 1993, was one resource we used time and time again. One particular quote stood out during our year-long study. “Do your homework and know your facts, but remember it’s passion that persuades.”
Passion. That really became our focus, and ultimately our drive, as we explored extending learning from school to home and back to school. Kids must sense a need to gather additional learning experiences outside of the classroom and parents are vital toward that extension of learning. It was a team approach to develop that passion.
Marion Diamond exclaimed, in the Magic Trees of the Mind, the brain, with its complex architecture and limitless potential, is a highly plastic, constantly changing entity that is powerfully shaped by our experiences in childhood and throughout life. We examined that knowledge and set the following parameters that are still in place long after I left my position.
-Establish a set time for homework each night. If possible, make the kitchen table the go to place each time. It sends the message that this is important.
-Teachers provide a consistent check list of the day’s learning, however, the students can provide the wording, dialogue or a performance of the day’s events. With this sequential checklist, it is a visual reminder so kids can actively share each night. They are processing prior knowledge and making connections to the classroom.
-Focus on the strengths your child processes. Have them examine why they excel in that area. Do this each day.
-Create an environment that promotes learning. A parent’s enthusiasm for learning (passion) will be a model for your child - even on the hardest of days.
-You don’t have to be an expert on any and all subjects. Be supportive of the classroom teacher. If questions arise over content, call the school to ask for additional information or clarifying points. It is okay to say, “I’m not familiar with a subject,” but follow through so your child knows it is a partnership.
-Finally, if schedules allow, come to school! Even for 15 minutes. The impact of a parent “just being at school” is a focus of pride for every child. The home-school connection in today’s integrated society is vital for on-going learning experiences.
Dr. J. Michael Pragman is a learning and education consultant specializing in brain compatible learning and teaching. He is the Director of Research, Evaluation and Accountability with the North Kansas City School District, Kansas City, MO. Pragman was an elementary principal with the Lee’s Summit, MO School District for 17 years. Pragman has also been a principal with the Kansas City, Missouri School District serving in an Investigative Science and Math magnet school program. He has presented seminars locally, nationally, and internationally on the latest brain research on teaching and learning and how to translate this research into practical and effective strategies for the elementary classroom.