Homework without tears

The excitement of back to school has just one glitch: All of the homework.

As a former elementary and middle school teacher and now a mom of two, I totally get both sides. Here are some tried-and-true tips to help make this school year homework- meltdown-free.

Take small steps. For super-dreaded assignments, have your child nibble away at it. Here’s an example for a math worksheet: Before snack, have him get out the math worksheet, a pencil and an eraser. That’s it. After a snack break, have him find and complete four of the easiest problems. Time for another break. Then have him dive in.

Pick your battles. Keep in mind the objective of the homework. If your child is doing a spelling assignment where he has to cut out the words and categorize them, does it matter who cuts out the pieces? If not, help cut out and glue. With assignments that require writing, sometimes it’s daunting to come up with the idea and to physically write it, so have your child dictate his answers to you. Then, after a short break, have him copy what you wrote. If your child has to draw a picture and despises drawing, don’t make him color it if it’s not necessary.

Invest in quality supplies and have them accessible. A pencil with a lousy eraser can be frustrating. So can trying to hunt down a glue stick. Consider buying quality pencils—possibly mechanical ones that don’t need to be sharpened—and a large, separate eraser. Have notebook paper handy, as well as scrap paper for computations. It’s hard to get in the homework groove if he’s having to stop to sharpen a pencil or hunt down needed supplies.

Have a go-to topic ready. If your child loves superheroes, use them in examples when helping them understand a math concept. If he needs to write spelling sentences, have him write about superheroes.

Use math manipulatives. Pieces of food or toys can make learning concepts like subtraction or fractions more fun. Search online for ways to teach concepts with objects or for related games. (Pinterest is great for this!) And even if it doesn’t help with a particular homework assignment, it can help learn the material.

Outsource. Sometimes you and your child just aren’t gelling at homework time. See if someone else can work on homework with him that day—a high school/middle school neighbor, a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle. This could even be done over the phone or by video chat.

Don’t mess with a good thing. If you child has gotten into the groove, don’t disturb him! It seems obvious, but I’ve made the mistake of asking, “How’s it going?” and the magic is lost.

Avoid the negative. No matter how frustrated you become, avoid talking bad about the assignment or teacher as in, “This is a pointless assignment,” or “I don’t know what your teacher was thinking assigning this.” If you were told something was pointless, would you want to work on it?

Celebrate successes. The purpose of homework is to practice a concept. Once it does click, share your enthusiasm. Don’t you feel great when you finally understand something you struggled with? If he finishes a dreaded assignment, point out the accomplishment. He did it!

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