What parents need to know about making the most of homework

Kids are known for dreading having to do their homework, and more and more, parents are making their dislike of homework known, too. We asked some Chicago area educators for their take on what parents need to know about homework and how to help their kids get the maximum benefit from it.

1 See it as a window into your child’s world

Homework is not intended to be punishment. In fact, schools view it as a helpful tool for parents to gain insight into what goes on during the school day.

“​We view homework as a way for parents to feel connected to their child’s learning and what is going on in their school life. Our goal is not that parents would reteach lessons and concepts, but allow their child to show them what they have learned and are accomplishing,” explains Sarah Lofsness, assistant principal and kindergarten teacher at St. John Lutheran School in Libertyville.

2 Try to be positive

Children quickly pick up on the messages they get from their parents — about homework and everything else in life. “Watch your body language,” advises Annie Melville, lower school principal at Morgan Park Academy in Chicago, who notes that this is something she’s worked on as a parent. As a teacher, though she says, “You really can tell the kids whose parents hate homework.”

A positive attitude from the parent will carry over to the child. If one or both of you is feeling stressed, the educators support taking short breaks.

3 Homework is for the kids, not parents

Being aware of homework is good and even important, but the experts all agreed that parents should not complete the homework for their children.

“Our philosophy is that homework is for the students to do because it reinforces what was taught in the classroom. They should be able to do it on their own,” says Jeanine Rocchi, principal at St. Celestine Catholic School in Elmwood Park.

That doesn’t mean homework will always be easy, but then again, learning can be challenging. “Part of the process of learning involves a bit of struggle, but sometimes the children say, ‘This is so hard, I can’t do it,’” adds Rocchi. If children are stuck, she suggests parents give them enough help to get them back on track and then allow them to complete the assignment on their own. She’s also in favor of parents reviewing assignments once kids have finished them.

When students do master a challenging concept with minimal help, they feel successful. “When they get through the struggle, they gain that inner self-confidence of knowing they can do it,” Rocchi says.

4 Communication with the teacher is key

Parents should not shy away from talking with teachers about homework. “It’s very important for parents to communicate with teachers so they can work together to be successful. It also helps clarify misconceptions on both ends,” says Rocchi.

Melville encourages parents to reach out to teachers when the homework is overwhelming a child, noting that teachers want and need to know when a child is having a difficult time.

5 How to handle those very busy nights when not all the homework gets completed

Every family has one of those nights occasionally when things go off the rails due to unforeseen events. Chances are your child’s teacher has seen it before.

“We want our students to develop healthy work habits and learn responsibility to prepare them for their future. Having said that, we know that there are exceptions with everything and an evening may not go at all as planned,” Lofsness says. “Communication with the teacher is key and our faculty communicates every day with our parents and will work to help find a solution.”

Melville agrees, noting that if it’s late and kids are just trying to cram homework in, odds are they won’t retain much of the information. In addition to letting the teacher know what’s going on, she suggests parents also offer a date they can expect the work completed.

6 Opting out of homework isn’t OK

Some parents are saying no to homework, but that can be a slippery slope, Melville says.

“You don’t want kids to think that obligations are optional,” she says. She also notes that in a worst-case scenario, opting out can send a message that disregarding authority is OK. Even if it isn’t taken to that extent, it can confuse the child. “If you’re saying mom and dad trump the teacher, then the kids aren’t sure where they stand when they’re in the classroom. It gets really tricky.”

Instead of opting out, talk with the school and teacher about their approach to homework. Melville says teachers at Morgan Park are reevaluating how they handle homework, noting that research does not show a strong connection between heavy homework loads and student achievement.

She says just as they differentiate instruction in the classroom, homework should be differentiated, too. “What’s 10 minutes for one student may not be 10 minutes for another,” she explains. Taking a personalized approach can help find the right amount of homework that is beneficial but not overwhelming to all students and families.

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