Homework: the basics
Homework can take many forms. For example, your child might be asked to do a worksheet or project, to do some reading or writing, or to collect interesting objects to share with the class.
Homework can help your child:
- practise the skills learned in class
- get ready for the next day’s work
- work on an ongoing project that needs extra resources (such as the library, the internet, or a parent’s help)
- learn time management and organisational skills, such as working to a deadline and finding a balance between work and play.
Homework has benefits for parents, too – it gives you the chance to see what your child is learning about at school.
In the early school years, the main goals of homework might be to help children learn time management and organisational skills, and to involve parents in their child’s education. Later, homework has clear academic benefits – research has shown a clear link between homework and achievement, particularly in secondary school.
Making homework work
Find the right time
For some children, the best time to get homework done will be straight after school. Others might need a break to play and unwind first. No matter what, the optimal time is when you can be around to supervise and give your child a helping hand if needed.
Most children can only concentrate for about 15 minutes at a time before they might need a brief break. Get your child to do some neck stretches, arm shakes and finger wriggles. A favourite activity, like watching TV or playing outside, might be a reward for when the homework has been finished.
Create the right environment
It’s a good idea to set up your child somewhere that has good light, air and enough space for her to spread out with her books, pens and other resources.
Try to minimise distractions by turning off the TV and asking siblings to stay away. You might also like to ask your child to leave his mobile phone with you. If he’s using a computer that’s connected to the internet, you might want to keep it in a shared family area so you can keep an eye on the sites he’s visiting.
Help your child get organised
You can show your child how to break down big assignments or projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. She might then plan to do one each night. If she has several different assignments in one week, help her plan what to do each night.
Older children might benefit from a homework planner so they can see when assignments are due and plan accordingly.
Help your child develop a positive approach
Schoolwork isn’t always easy. Your job is to help your child develop a positive approach to academic and organisational challenges.
If your child avoids challenges, encourage him to sort the tasks into those he finds easy and those he finds difficult. Get him to do ‘easier’ tasks first to build his confidence, then guide him through the more difficult tasks.
If your child’s struggling with a particular assignment, you could help her approach the problem positively by getting her to pinpoint what she’s finding difficult. From there, you can brainstorm some solutions together, weighing up the pros and cons of the different options to find the best one. You can also help your child identify people or resources that could help her further.
Be a coach
When it comes to homework, it can help to think of yourself as your child’s coach. You can support your child by creating the right time, environment and approach for homework, but doing the work is ultimately your child’s responsibility.
Being the coach might mean you have to let your child ‘fail’ sometimes – but remember that children learn from failure as well as success. What really counts is the attitude you both have to these failures.
When your child does stumble, try talking with him about what he could do better next time. Always focus on the effort your child puts in, rather than the results, and remember to praise
and reward your child for doing his best.
Working with the teacher
Try to set up a friendly working relationship with your child’s teacher. That way, you can easily talk to each other about your child’s schoolwork and homework.
If you have concerns about homework, you should talk with the teacher early on, rather than giving the problem time to grow.
Concerns that teachers need to know about include the following:
Your child is spending too long on homework. Find out how much time children in your child’s class should spend on their homework. If your child regularly spends more time on it than this, talk with the teacher. There might be some underlying learning issues that your child needs help with.
Your child doesn’t understand the work. If this is the case, your child might be missing concepts in class. Let the teacher know so she has the chance to fill these learning gaps during class time.
Your child can’t concentrate. It’ll help you to know if this is just a problem at home (perhaps because she’s overtired), or if it’s also happening at school.
Your child is struggling in one particular subject. The teacher might be able to suggest another approach to the subject. For example, you could use blocks for addition and subtraction practice, or cut up a pizza to help understand the basics of fractions.
If your child needs help with a particular subject, ask the school about additional assistance. You might also want to think about tutoring, either by a professional tutor or by a trusted family member or part of your social network.
How much homework?
There are no hard and fast rules about homework. Some schools give much more homework than others.
More homework doesn’t always mean higher achievement levels, especially in primary school. If students get too much it might get to be overwhelming, or get in the way of other healthy activities, such as play, sports, music lessons, hobbies or relaxation.
If you’re worried
If you feel your child is struggling with homework or learning, you might consider getting his hearing and eyesight checked to ensure he’s seeing and hearing properly in the classroom.
If you’re worried about your child’s learning or concentration in the classroom, it might be worth talking to your GP, a paediatrician or psychologist to look at possible reasons for the problems.
Homework pros and cons
‘Not many people like homework’, says one of the teenagers in this video. But most of the parents and children featured here say they can see that homework does have benefits. No-one wants it to be a burden, but it can help kids revise what they’ve done in class. Some of the teenagers say that homework can even be fun sometimes, especially if it involves an interesting challenge. One of the mums comments that doing homework from an early age can help children build good study habits.