The Homework War: The Parents’ Camp
School is back in session and all you can think of is the impending nightly homework battle. As a parent, you are more than half responsible for setting the stage for the battle, the strategic maneuvering and the conflict resolution. Here are some suggestions for shortening the skirmishes and for forging a lasting peace treaty. Parents have a obligations to set rules, boundaries and to try to make evening homework time run as smoothly as possible.
First of all, provide a place for your child to do homework. This place should be equipped with material he or she may need, such as writing utensils, a clean area away from the household hubbub, and equipped with resource materials such as a computer and dictionary. This area may be where a parent can help while performing another task such as preparing dinner, but it must be away from a television.
Next, provide a time that is routinely set aside for homework. This must be tailored to the child and the household. If your child plays sports, has other activities or has a job, then homework must be scheduled also. And to the extent possible, homework should be regarded as the priority for after school or evening time. Television and video games are not priorities for your kids’ weeknight hours. They may be enjoyed after all else is done or used as rewards.
Provide an organizational system that helps your child keep track of assignments. This will no doubt include an assignment notebook, either with blank pages or one that has the dates filled in and has spaces for subject and homework. Next, provide color coded notebooks and pocket folders; for example, blue for math, red for language arts, etc. Label one pocket in each folder as “to be done” and label one as “completed”. Instruct your child that daily assignments are to written in the assignment notebook and papers to be completed and assignment hand-outs go in one side of the pocket folder. Once complete, the homework goes in the other side of the pocket folder.
Keep track of your child’s assignments and progress. This is a highly individualized task. Some kids need constant checking that assignments are completed, some need very little. Until you are sure that your child is organized enough to keep track of their work and complete it on time, you need to make sure that they are doing it. If you notice a long-term assignment or project, engage your child in a conversation that includes a plan for completion. Help him or her to break the assignment down into components that might include research, first draft and the final draft; or research, outline of project, supplies and resources needed to complete project and time to complete project.
If your child needs to be alone in his or her room to focus on homework, you should give your child the leeway to try this. Some kids want quiet, some want music. The one rule you must enforce is no television and phone calls during homework. If your child needs to call to get an assignment or get clarification, the call must be brief. If your child has a cell phone, designate a place where the phone gets left during homework time. That must be a non-negotiable stand in the parents’ camp.
You must be available to your child for questions. Whether you can fit it in or not, you are a valuable resource for your child and if you are lucky enough to have your child respect your help and suggestions, you had better be there willing and ready to help. No matter what your expertise in a given school subject, you have still lived longer and your experiences have rendered you more resourceful than your child. Help if you are asked.
Help if you aren’t asked. Make it a point to attend the fall open house at your child’s school. Meet the teachers and learn expectations of each class. Understand how grades are determined. Use this information as the basis for conversations with your child. Make sure they understand what is expected of them in each class. If you know that the big science project is due mid-October, expect to see signs of activity on that project 1-2 weeks ahead of that. If you don’t, ask your child what they have planned. Ask to see class handouts early in the year and copy them. Know when exams are scheduled and help your child prepare or help them stay on track to prepare themselves.
As in any battle, there are 2 sides. Next, we will examine the obligations and position of the other side: your child. Yet, if both sides work toward the same goal, can we still call it a war? No, probably not. But, I doubt anyone will deny that battles will rage nonetheless.
The Homework Battles: The Students' Camp
Previously, we addressed the responsibilities of the parents in the homework war. Now, we'll talk about the responsibilities of the student. We aren't trying to escalate the battles by calling this a war, but most parents would agree that getting homework done can make for a stressful and conflict-ridden evening. By examining the roles of the two sides involved, parents and student, and examining roles and responsibilities of each, it is possible to defuse and prevent homework battles and to create a smoother, more efficient homework united front.
Just as we mentioned that a parent's responsibility is to provide a homework space, it is the duty of the student to avail him or herself of the space. Students need to acknowledge and accept responsibility for working in an environment that is conducive to learning. That means away from the television and cell phone. It means giving the work the undivided attention it deserves. It means getting focused and staying focused. It also means not rushing and not waiting until they are so dog-tired that they can't keep their eyes open. Just as important is that the student take breaks during studying and have a snack.
The student has the responsibility to keep his or her assignments organized. If parents provide the recommended color-coded folders and notebooks, the student should use them. The student's job it to record what must be done and when it is due. They must know what is considered a complete assignment. They should be aware of teachers' expectations and be able to discuss them with their parents when asked.
Timeliness of assignment completion is also the student's responsibility. Parents may know what has been assigned and when it is due, but they do not attend class with the student. Only the student has the benefit of hearing daily about upcoming big projects and should be planning accordingly. Students should keep their own calendar of important work due and plan ahead for completion of lengthy assignments and large projects. They have to share with parents in a timely fashion any help or materials they need them to provide. Students need to avail themselves of study groups or tutoring to educational software that supplements and reinforces class concepts.
Students must be resourceful. Just as parents need to help their kids find answers to tough homework assignments, kids need to try to find alternative help on their own. There aren't many kids who don't know how to use the internet as a source of reference material. But what if they can't find the answer to the exact problem they have been given? What if they don't fully understand the assignment? The student must be able to use the teacher and other kids in the class as resources. That means having contact information for outside help, such as phone numbers and email addresses.
While we are on the subject of the internet, let's talk about what it shouldn't be used for. Most students know that they can readily have their foreign language translation homework done for them on any number of translation websites. That is not an ethical use of the internet. If the student can't translate the words himself, what learning has been accomplished if the computer completes the assignment? Using the computer in this way may be resourceful, but it can't be considered a valid use. And this is a good time to mention cheating. Cheating is not to be tolerated. Not by the use of any clever method, such as using a cell phone to capture a photo of the test at the desk nearby. It is the student's responsibility to not cheat, to try hard, to do their best and earn their grades.
It is a good idea to open homework communication channels by having a back-to-school discussion between parents and students. On the discussion agenda should be the topic of responsibilities. Use the suggestions here to clarify expectations and set guidelines. Remember that the best defense is a good offense. Be forearmed, forewarned and pro-active in the homework war and the battles just may be won.
And if everyone is lucky, along the line somewhere, the student will take the initiative to try to understand the bigger picture of learning. Yes, homework completion is the immediate priority. But students must accept that this is not just a means to an end. Teachers don't give homework to ruin their social lives. The pursuit of and immersion in learning, the joy of exploration and discovery, are the real lessons to be learned.