Homework helpers

Your son walks in from the bus stop with a sour expression on his face. You know that look, but decide to proceed anyway."How was your day?” you ask in an upbeat voice. At first, he just slumps over, letting a full backpack fall to the floor."Horrible,” he mumbles,"every teacher gave me about a gazillion pages of homework.”

As he picks up his baseball mitt and looks out the window, your spirits also sink. It’s only the second week of school and getting homework done is already becoming a fight. As a parent, you know that homework is important; however, after not seeing your child all day, the last thing you want to do is argue about it.

Why homework?

Jennifer Cullen, fourth-grade teacher at Meadowview School in Grayslake, explains why homework is a valuable tool.

First, homework reinforces skills learned through the day in school by giving students time to practice those skills outside of the classroom. Next, homework invites parents to be actively involved in their child’s learning; they can see the material, how the child is learning the information and the child’s level of success with the skills being taught. Third, homework encourages responsibility. Children are held accountable for their learning because they are expected to complete and return their assignments.

Making homework work

Timing is everything. As soon as the first page of homework comes home, have a set time for working on it. Think about your family’s schedule and your child’s personality and endurance. Although each day brings different challenges, try to keep a similar homework time. If your daughter has to do her homework every day after dinner, this helps to keep fighting to a minimum because it is expected.

Location, location, location. Where your child does his homework is important. Find a spot that allows him space to spread out. Keep distractions to a minimum, including TV, siblings and cell phones.

Am I done yet? Creating a simple visual schedule can help make homework more manageable. It also allows your child to be more responsible. On a magnetic surface, such as a refrigerator or cookie sheet, make a"to do” and"done” side. Have your child make a 3-by-5 card for every subject or type of homework and add a two-sided magnet to the back or use magnetic clips. When your child gets home from school, he is in charge of placing the cards for the homework that he has that night on the"to do” side. When he is done with one, he can move it over to the"done” side.

“I used this with my son,” says Sue Larson, occupational therapist and co-founder of Pwr2Learn in Lake Forest."Whenever he started to get upset with me, I just pointed to the schedule and let it be the bad guy. It also showed him the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Divide and conquer. Some homework is ongoing, such as daily independent reading, spelling practice or reviewing math facts. Homework that is expected on a regular basis could be assigned to a different part of the day. For example, your child might be more relaxed if reading was added to her bedtime routine.

Let’s get physical. Even as adults, our minds wander throughout the day. This is especially true for children."Once the mind loses focus, we need to rev up the energy level to get it working again,” Larsen says. She suggests short—3 to 5 minute—physical activities she calls motor breaks. Some examples are jumping jacks, hopping on one foot and then the other or throwing a NERF ball into a hoop 50 times. When he is done, he comes back ready to concentrate and get back to work.

Roll your wiggles away. If, even after a motor break, your child is full of restless energy, try using fidget toys. Get several small items that can be held in the palm of the hand, such as stress balls, porcupine balls, pipe cleaners or any textured squeezable object. He can use it with both hands as he is reading; rolling it or twisting it between his hands. When he is writing, he can use it in his non-writing hand on the table. Although it sounds counterproductive, it gives him a release for his energy and lets his mind focus on the work at hand.

Being able to work on assignments independently is a skill for life. Giving your child the tools to be successful at homework is a great first step.

Amber Beutel is a teacher, private tutor and mother living in Grayslake.

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