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Making The Grade

Taking The Stress Out Of Homework

By Michelle Bourg

Back in the day, homework was something kids could do before dinner— a page of math problems and maybe a chapter of reading, done with the radio or TV on. Not any more: today’s academic environment is much more challenging, designed to help students meet the demands of a rapidly changing world. Homework is an integral part of that process. In addition, students encounter more demands on their time, with sports, clubs and community service frequently on the agenda. This means that handling homework efficiently while truly learning from it is an essential skill to learn.

“As teachers, we are very cognizant of the workload students are being asked to handle inside and outside of the classroom,” says David-Aaron Roth, an English teacher in the upper school at Woodward Academy in College Park. “We work diligently to make sure that whatever assignments are being asked of the students outside of the classroom are truly supplemental and reinforce the learning in class.” By taking a step-by-step approach, students can master the skills required for effective home study—skills that they’ll use throughout their lives. The first step to productive homework management is to create a designated study space, with space to spread materials out and where parents can keep a watchful eye. Experts recommend keeping bedrooms reserved for sleep to promote good rest habits, and kids’ rooms often hold distractions such as a TV, games or toys, so a laptop at the kitchen or dining room table may be best, at least for younger children.

Next, set up a study time. Some kids like to come straight home and start while they’re still in “school mode;” others need to unwind first. Whatever the preferred time is, it should be reasonably close to the same time every day; our minds learn to adapt to functions done on a set schedule, and it’s also a good way to begin to learn time management skills.

Within that set time, experiment with how to prioritize the workload: some kids prefer to start with demanding subjects while they’re relatively fresh and allot extra time to them, while others want to get the easier work out of the way first. Scan the day’s assignments together and plan a schedule based on both your child’s study style and the amount of work assigned in each subject, making sure that everything is covered. Children often need guidance with this, but giving them input on how they’d like to work goes a long way towards a positive attitude about the work itself.

Once the books are cracked, be available to clarify instructions or suggest an approach to a problem if needed, but let your child do all the work. Meanwhile, observe his or her progress and note what’s challenging and what’s not demanding enough. If there are consistent patterns, talk to the teacher to create a solution as a team. When study time is over, review the work with your child. Praise effort and progress, and review problem areas together to brainstorm on how to improve. Inevitably, your child is going to need some help. When that happens, don’t lead your child down the wrong path by trying to be an expert in an unfamiliar subject. It’s tempting to just Google it, but be care- ful about online resources. Checking the reliability of sources not only helps your child learn to use media responsibly, but also teaches them the most important skill they can ever have: how to learn.

Possibly the hardest part of homework management for parents is to know when to stop and call for reinforcements. Dennis Freeman, co-founder of In-Home Tutors Atlanta (, says there are several scenarios in which a family can benefit from some personal help, primarily “when the child is clearly struggling and it’s gone beyond the parent’s capabilities,” noting that 7th- and 8th-grade math is typically the upper limit for many parents.

If children actively resist homework, have chronic difficulty getting organized, or are dealing with issues such as ADHD, family relationships can suffer as parents get caught in the stress. Children often respond differently to someone outside their circle, and in these cases, a homework coach helps with academics but also helps keep the child organized and on track, which can make homework less of a burden and just maybe, even fun. “Having a less emotionally attached third party can take a lot of stress out of the household,” Freeman says.

Also, just about all families are typically juggling multiple schedules; having someone there to focus exclusively on schoolwork helps everyone meet individual demands and gives them back time to be together as a family. For assistance with locating a qualified tutor that meets your individual needs, a good first step is contacting your child’s school. Other parents may be able to give referrals as well.

By working together with your child to create a plan and getting help when appropriate, you can make sure he or she works smarter, not harder, to get the most out of homework. Ultimately, kids want to do well, and understand the value of homework in the process of achieving that. Says Roth, “As long as each assignment, paper, test or quiz has a purpose, I believe students will rally around the work and see the greater goal in mind.”

Tips For Successful Study Time

  1. Create a designated study space where parents can keep a watchful eye.
  2. Plan a daily homework routine and stick to it.
  3. Prioritize the workload and determine what to do first.
  4. Be available for your child to clarify instructions or suggest an approach to a problem if needed.
  5. When study time is over, review your child’s work.
  6. Praise effort and progress, and review problem areas together to brainstorm on how to improve.
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