Despite the controversies surrounding homework, a variety of research studies show that most parents, including parents of young children, are quite keen to help with homework and view doing so as an important aspect of their roles as parents. They see homework as an essential ingredient of schooling that helps children learn, even if their children struggle at times. Admittedly, many parents are familiar with the stress and family conflict that sometimes arise from helping children to get their homework done. The good news for parents is that recent research studies have revealed that parents can indeed enhance the homework experience for themselves and by extension, for their children.
Most importantly, we have learned that parents’ attitudes about homework have a profound impact on children’s own attitudes and performance in school. When mothers express positive emotions while helping with homework (such as interest and humor), children tend to do better in school. In contrast, mothers’ negative emotions predict conflict and poorer achievement. While many children tend to experience homework negatively (not a surprise), they enjoy their homework more, feel better about their abilities, and do better in school when their parents remain positive and offer advice, but do not control the ways their children choose to complete their work.
With the above research findings in mind, here are some quick tips for keeping the homework mood light, the focus strong, and the experience positive. These tips will help children learn to monitor their homework and regulate their work habits and attitudes:
Create a nurturing environment
It’s helpful for children to have a consistent homework setting, a spot where they can work comfortably with access to the supplies they may need, such as a cup containing writing tools. Personalizing the experience by providing a favorite snack or creating a ritual can help to make homework time feel inviting.
Become a community of ‘homeworkers’
As often as possible, sit near your child and work on something alongside her, whether you’re finishing a crossword puzzle or doing work you brought home from work. Your proximity is comforting, and your presence offers a model of engagement and focus. Also, you’re nearby to offer support yet occupied yourself so you’re not as likely to hover over her homework.
Let children lead
If homework, itself, isn’t a choice, find ways to let your child make choices about it. Let your child experiment with different approaches (doing it right after school, working on it before bed, etc.) to figure out what works best. Let your child do the homework herself, giving support and offering help when asked. Refrain from telling your child how to do his work, instead setting up the expectation that he will do his best.
Communicate with teachers
At its best, homework reveals what your child is learning in school, but you can also use it to communicate to the teacher what your child experiences at home around school work. Let your teacher know if the homework is a struggle or if there are extenuating circumstances (i.e. a special event, a late night) affecting your child. When you share your child’s perceptions and experiences with her homework, teachers are usually willing to accommodate temporarily or differentiate altogether in order to increase or insure the benefits to your child.
As these tips suggest, parents can help with homework in a great many ways, even if they are not able to provide direct help with the content. By helping children establish homework routines, modeling engagement, allowing autonomy, and connecting with teachers, parents can help children adopt important self-regulation strategies that foster school achievement.
Kathy Collins presents at conferences and works in schools all over the world to support teachers in developing high-quality, effective literacy instruction in the elementary school grades. Ms Collins has worked closely with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University.
Janine Bempechat, Ed.D, is Professor of Human Development and Psychology, and Director of the Center for Scholarship and Research at Wheelock College. She studies how culture and ethnicity influence parents’ educational socialization strategies.
Ms. Collins and Dr. Bempechat are the authors of Not This But That: No More Mindless Homework (Portsmouth: Heinemann), which will be published in Spring, 2016.