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Take the Stress Out of Homework

How to Help Your Child Handle the Workload

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 and with plenty of time left over for other things. Not any more: it’s a more rigorous academic landscape, and homework is a continuation of a demanding workload. Helping kids manage the demands of homework efficiently for maximum educational benefit is now a priority for the whole family.

The first step to productive homework management is to create a designated study space that’s easily accessible by parents but situated away from distractions, and with space to spread materials out. Kids’ bedrooms often hold distractions such as TV or toys and are a few steps removed from quick parental access, so a laptop at the dining room or kitchen 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.

Within that set time, experiment with how to prioritize the work load: 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. Children often need guidance with this, but giving them some 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, but let your child do the work. Meanwhile, observe their 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 be stumped and need 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 careful 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 for parents is knowing when to 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.

When 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 up 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.

There has been more of an increased focus on standardized testing in recent years; more stringent standards called the Georgia Milestones were introduced here in 2014 and a new edition of the SAT was released in 2016. Freeman says that his service has seen increased demand as a result of these developments and also that a tutor can provide practice and review for the tests, allay concerns and reassure both students and parents as well.

Also, just about all families are typically juggling multiple schedules; having someone there to focus on schoolwork helps everyone meet the demands and gives them back time to be together as a family.

For help 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.
Homework will probably never be high on your child’s list of things to do, but by working together with them and their teachers, and calling in help when appropriate, you can make sure they work smarter, not harder, to get the most out of it with a minimum of tears.

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