Homework tips? Talk amongst yourselves.

Amazon: Board Dudes Magnetic Dry Erase Calendar w/ Cork StripJill from Atlanta had a wonderful idea: while I get back on my feet posting-wise, how about a little open discussion about homework tips? Most of us are likely in the grace period before the big-time assignments, so let's talk about ideas for getting off to a good start.

Some ice-breakers:

Where and when does your child do homework? Right after school at the kitchen table? After a snack at a desk? Before bed? Early morning? What combo seems to work for you?

Any tips for keeping the homework area stocked and organized?

Do you do homework with your child, or are you only available as an as-needed resource? I never recall asking my parents for homework help, but it seems that it's a family affair these days, and I'm not sure why. (We're still homework newbies around here.)

All other ideas welcome!


  1. WG says

    I hate homework SO MUCH. That said, my daughters are in 2nd and 3rd grade, and they do their homework at the kitchen counter. I have a pretty box labeled “Homework Supplies” stocked with sharpened pencils, crayons, erasers, hilighters, etc. The box is kept up high in a cabinet, so a parent retrieves it and puts it away daily. I have a daily “afternoon routine” before they get home from school that involves prepping the mudroom for their arrival, prepping their snack, and putting the supply box on the counter.

    I encourage my daughters to do all the work they can without any help first, and then we go back and look at what needs help.

    My primary concern is how to get both girls to REMEMBER their homework EVERY day. I just posted about this, and it’s killing me.

  2. hedra says

    G’s school for the first few years (1-3rd grade) was one that did weekly packets of homework, instead of daily assignments. This was GREAT, IMHO, and allowed us to take a year to teach him how to make a homework plan, implement it, correct the course as needed, complete it, review it, and make a new plan the next week based on his findings.

    Homework is HIS job. The consequence of not doing it is his feelings about turning it in late, and whatever consequences the school/teacher requires. We did give a small bonus for getting it in early, but the reward was a quarter a day that it was early, so that it stayed below the true intrinsic reward of feeling proud of himself and pleased with his teacher’s pleasure at his responsibility.

    We took the full year to teach him the skill, and the second year (last year), he just took off and did it himself. His homework was never late, often early, always done, and he didn’t complain about the timing, schedule, etc., much, as HE was the one who chose it. He could tweak the program so he could have more time one night, or different blocks of time, join in different family activities, etc. He would look at the homework, get a sticky note, write how many pages of what sections on which days, and stick that on his homework folder. He could then just check the sticky, and do what he had assigned himself that day. If he couldn’t get it done in the time allotted, we’d talk it out with him about what the roadblock was – was the time he was choosing inappropriate for work? Was there too much distraction? Did he need a different space or tools? Was he mis-estimating how long different tasks took? We let him figure out what the problems were, just did the bouncing-board approach, asking him to determine what the problems were for himself, but providing enough hints about what KINDS of problems might occur that he could inquire for himself in appropriate ways.

    He is really struggling this year, because he changed schools, and the new system is daily assignments. There’s almost no planning required, and he feels stifled and handcuffed by the daily cycle. He cannot give himself a break one day by putting more on another day. He cannot adjust for things he wants to do, good weather for playing outside, or family activities. He is trapped by it, and has skills that he is desperate to apply, with no opportunity (yes, we’re going to talk to the teacher about how to allow him some opportunities to use those planning skills… even if it is just for reading, I do not want the skills to die out for lack of use!).

    We also problem-solve about anything to do with homework. G works well if music is playing but not if there is talking. We’re trying to figure out where his iPod was put, so he can listen while working. He asked for a place with less distraction visually, too, so we’re working this weekend on fixing up a spot in the office for him. He has a rolling drawer set with supplies for homework, which is at the moment totally a mess… will be fixing that this weekend, too.

    We also do not HELP with homework. This is from his previous school, where they said that homework is one of the things teachers use to determine if the child understands, and that provides them the chance to catch places that they don’t, and support those, provide guidance, and ensure comprehansion. It is reinforcement and practice, sure, but it is also a litmus of comprehension. If we help, they cannot see how the child is doing. The only help we provide is helping with directions that aren’t understood, when asked. We do not check homework for completeness – that’s his job. We take his word for it, and trust him to do it. If he does not, he knows what will happen – HE will feel bad. HE will be embarassed. HE will feel nervous and uncomfortable. I also was very clear early on that he needed to listen to his body – the sinking, stomach-tight, sick, shaky, cold feeling he got when he turned his homework in late was his body’s way of saying ‘PLEASE do not do that again!’ – it isn’t US that has to tell him, his body already did. No additional load, guilt, shame, punishment, etc. required.

    That’s our main approach, I guess – teach them how to plan and schedule, teach them how to read their OWN pride/pleasure and discomfort, provide minimal rewards (he puts all his homework-early money into his Charity bin, which is somehow very satisfying to me – that was his own choice also), allow them to be responsible but teach them how it functions, and be willing for it to take a LONG time to learn. I knew that if I tried to teach it in weeks or months, I’d be frustrated and he’d get resistant. But taking a year, a whole school year, to teach it meant that yes, he handed it in late a good few times the first year, and incomplete rather a number, too. But he learned what it felt like, and how to avoid it feeling like that, and grew proud of his competence at planning, and that reinforced the whole thing.

    Okay, so maybe this won’t work with every child, but it is worth a shot! :)

  3. Rachel says

    I think homework for the under 10 set should be abolished. It aggravates me to no end that I have to be involved with this stuff AGAIN. I’m not in school anymore!

    Thus my affection for this blog and the associated book:


  4. Jill in Atlanta says

    I have one sleeping when my 1st grader gets home. He and I go straight to the kitchen table and pull out the homework folder, then get started. I hope I won’t have to walk him through it all forever, but right now I’m helping to read the directions and checking the work, as well as keeping him focused (the hardest part!)

    Hedra, you so often have great plans! I agree that I need to be sure he’s learning to manage himself. I will wean myself away soon and let him “sink or swim” at some point. Right now, the teacher wants parents to initial in five (5!) spots every day to show that we’ve been involved! I’ve got enough of my own work to do to be required to do homework too!

  5. Aaron Sneary says

    My toddler is not yet homework age yet, so this is one more issue I know I will deal with soon.

    But as a child, my school-teacher mother and I did our homework together at the dining table. The TV and radio was off, but we talked sporadically. This really helped me stay focused, without feeling overwhelmed.

    But she never helped me with it. Partially because she had her own, and partially because it was my responsibility. I agree with the litmus test comment above. Teachers need a way to know if their teaching methods work for the student. I know my mother relies more on the homework assignments than on standardized testing results to alter and modify her teaching. She has spoken to me often of her attempts to find a teaching method for her students, changing her tack depending on what works best for that group.

    Once my toddler is old enough for homework, I will likely enforce the no TV/radio rule as well. I will make myself available, and likely will work on my own paperwork, to help provide the motivation of parallel responsibility.

  6. donetta says

    We placed a shelf on the entry wall and the back packs go on the hooks after homework. Lunch boxes on the shelf in the morning.

  7. Jean says

    One word for you fellow homework-haters: Montessori!
    If your local Montessori school is assigning homework, they’re not really a Montessori school.

  8. Aliza says

    Ugh – homework. I dread homework, because it’s just something else, as a single (working) mom has to deal with when I get home. I am told by the school all of the hmework will be online, on each teacher’s website, but it rarely is (and who do I complain to when it isn’t?). So I have to trust my daughter to tell me if she has homework or not, and more often than not, she will tell me she has already done it or she doesn’t have any. How do I know for sure??
    At any rate, I would LIKE tobe proactive about her homework, but it’s usually after the fact, when I get her report card, that I find out that homework isn’t being done.

  9. Marta says

    Thanks everyone for the insightful posts, especially Hedra. I’d like to add to the idea about not helping your kid with homework. I work at the public library and too often, I see parents coming in alone to pick up all the books for the kid’s research project. I think it’s super to help guide your child through the library, but doing the work yourself robs your kid of all the fun. Not only are kids cut out of a trip to the library, they lose that powerful feeling of choosing their own books. I usually encourage parents to at least check out more books than the teacher requires, so the kid can do a little choosing at home.

  10. hedra says

    (psst, on the Montessori schools and homework – certified Montessori schools MAY include homework – but it has a very specific and limited function, and it starts later than most schools, grade-wise.)

  11. Julie says

    To all the parents complaining about their children not doing homework, or *gasp* having to actually help with it, I pose this question: Why did you have children in the first place? To pawn them off to a teacher once they reach 5 and have someone else raise them, then complain about the way they’re doing it? Maybe if you can’t trust your child to tell you if they have homework, or whether or not they’ve completed it, maybe you’re not raising them with right? Just a thought.

    I’m sure you will all join together to bash me, and that’s fine, what ever you have to do to justify it to yourself. However, homework is an essential part of learning. If you don’t practice something, you aren’t going to learn it.

  12. B M Nelson says

    What I hate about homework isn’t the work, or the fact that the teachers so far (he’s in 2nd grade now) have wanted either his father or me to initial things on a daily basis. It’s that nothing we try in order to get our 7-yr-old son to do his homework without fighting with us over it has ever worked.

    Having supplies handy, having a special place to sit down, letting him have some time to play first, bribing him ($.25/assignment, treats when done, a/o extra hugs and parent time) telling him he has to get it done by a certain point, giving him as much control of when/how as humanly possible… it seems like we’ve tried everything and so far, NOTHING works for more than about 2 days, if that long.

    By now, I’m just about convinced that the problem is he’s bored enough with the classwork that he has no personal use whatsover for being told he has to do more when he gets home. I’m pretty sure that if the teacher told him his homework was to watch a History Channel about one of his favorite topics (Pirates, ancient Romans, Egypt), he’d argue about that until he turned blue in the face if we let him, just because it was homework.

    Now, eventually the work does end up getting done, and I insist that he does as much of it by himself as possible. Usually he gets top marks on it, so that isn’t the problem. I’d just like to see him finally realize that if he’d sit down and do it, it’d take him maybe 5-10 mins/night instead of the 1-2 hours his arguing can (and has) extend it to. So far, neither trying to reason with him nor his own experience has worked. Any new ideas are welcome.

  13. Jill in Atlanta says

    B M Nelson– Hedra has a point. “If he does not (do the work), he knows what will happen – HE will feel bad. HE will be embarrassed. HE will feel nervous and uncomfortable”. The grade is his, not your’s, so let him decide if he’s going to do the work or not. He may get a few F’s before he decides he cares. Refuse to argue with him. Post the rules and have materials and time available. Leave the rest to your son.

  14. Danni says

    I also think homeworks are just another task and shouldn’t be given to kids who are still young and will most likely not understand their homework.

  15. Serene and not Herd says

    B Nelson,
    Though I understand that fighting your son is not fun for anyone in the family, I don’t think it is a valid reason to wish homework away.

    School tends to be a simplified metaphore for the working world. Doing tasks that are boring are a part of being an adult as well.

    I recommend trying to give him different motivation. I was much like your son in school. Smart enough that I was often bored. Knowing WHY I had to do things that I hated. Help him see that homework helps the teacher know she is doing a good job of teaching him. And that it helps you know that he is trying. Sometimes helping others is better motivation than helping themselves.

  16. hedra says

    Oh, B Nelson, your child is seven! He’s a NORMAL TYPICAL SEVEN. Before seven, they have some sense of internal order and rules, though they’re rudimentary. At seven, even that goes OUT THE WINDOW. Fortunately, I had a teacher friend who warned me that my child, at seven, would be unable to remember to tie his shoes, hang up his coat, get dressed, or anything else he’d always managed.

    Do not panic. Do not fret. He’s normal. As the seventh year goes, you have to remind them like they’re TWO for about 8-9 months. But it starts to make sense again to them, and then they start to develop much more advanced skills. This is the threshold, the PERFECT time to start teaching ‘skills’ – not bossing, making them, or laying down consequences willy nilly, but saying ‘okay, your teacher wants you to do homework. It isn’t fun, nobody I know enjoys it, but it must be done. How can we make this work? What would help you? You think about what works for you – music? less distraction? Do you want to work while we work? (For a while, DH did bills while G did homework) … and then build on the skill set. It takes TIME. We took a year, from 7 to 8. First learning how to look at the homework assignment and figure out what was in it – just tell me what is there. Now, guess how long it will take you to do it. Write out your best guess, and split it up HOWEVER YOU WANT. Then, that week, try it. At the end of the week, look at what got done, how he felt (NEVER how you felt – though it is okay to say ‘I’m embarassed because I think the teacher will think *I* am not doing a good job, either.’), and how to adjust the plan. Toss out idea, brainstorm, play with even silly ideas. Go away, come back when the stress is lower, try again. Discuss how he feels when he can’t turn it in, and talk about him reading himself, not you, about what to do and when. Ask him if he wants to talk to the teacher about how, when, and why to do homework – sometimes that gives them more ideas. Talk about the fact that homework solves a problem for the teacher – it is a lower-stress and more frequent way of assessing how much he understood, so she knows if she needs to spend more time on it, or if he needs more help, or if he’s already GOT it, and is done done done! Talk about the difference between talent (the academic gifts) and craft (the skills that support those gifts) – the greatest actors, atheletes, and scientists are all gifted. Some are extraordinarily gifted. Others are somewhat gifted or even just a little gifted, but have superior CRAFT – they have the skills that will take even the smaller gifts very far.

    learning to do homework, for us, is not so much about the things they’re ‘doing’ in the homework, but about the craft of doing something that must be done, just because it must be done, and learning to do it well, on time, and as much as possible ON OUR TERMS. That balance makes it sane to do homework, even though it is not ‘fun’.

    I only wish I’d had these skills before I entered college – I skated by on gifts, got decent grades because of talent, and never had to work until I hit that freshman Poli Sci class… and hit a WALL. One of the greatest gifts I can give my child is to show them the wall, let them hit it under controlled circumstances, and help them understand that there’s more to life than just what comes easy. That’s something that the best teachers will strive for, too – the opportunity for the kids under their tutelage to discover the real joys of SKILL, not just talent.

    Anyway, seven is not my favorite year. It is, so far, the one I look forward to LEAST in my kids. G is organized to start with. His brother, B, is not so much, um, at all. Seven will be merry HECK with him. But I’m still certain he can learn enough skills to get through without too much stress and struggle.

    Oh, and Julie, I think you missed a few of the points here – a lot of teachers don’t explain to parents what the purpose of homework is – and I’m afraid some don’t even understand it much themselves, it seems. Most people seem to get bogged down in the details – the sense of it being ‘busy work’ rather than that it is an opportunity to practice, and more, learn HOW to practice, to acheive finesse and higher mastry, not just basic knowledge. There’s a lot to be said for that, but there’s very little that IS said about it.

    Okay, kids are calling, must go…

  17. Carrie says

    I think homeworks are not so bad. It doesn’t necessarily mean that parents have to do it every time their kids don’t know how. It’s a good way of teaching responsibility to our kids.

  18. B M Nelson says

    Alas, the teachers in our school district insist that we initial his homework chart daily, and it doesn’t even come across as being a “you should take an interest in your child’s education” thing half so much as it is apparent it’s a “you WILL see that this kid does this” thing.

    What really gets to me is that even with his best and favorite subject, he will fight with us over doing it. If we make him do homework as soon as he gets upstairs from the bus stop, what ought to be 5-10 mins of math only takes about 30-60 minutes with the fighting. If we let him play (for 5 minutes or 2 hrs) first, then you can just about reliably triple the fighting time. If he’d settle and just get at it, he’d end up with at least 25 minutes more playing time daily.

    If, however, it’s some other subject, what ought to take 5-10 minutes of work will take easily a half hour plus the fighting time, because then he doesn’t just give us grief over getting started and staying at it for a few minutes, he gives us grief over really stupid stuff we know he knows how to do because he can hold his pencil, find the top of the paper, write his name on the paper, etc. just fine if it’s the weekly math assignment.

    I swear I begin to think this would be simpler if we were trying to deal with a rebellious teenager. By then, at least, the peer pressure allegedly gets to them a little.

  19. hedra says

    Some kids NEVER get peer related. So you’re better off trying to find an internal motivation.

    We have the same kind of ‘power-equals-instant-rebellion’ thing with B. I highly recommend the approach in Parent Effectiveness Training (which is basic collaborative problem-solving with active listening – SUPER useful for rebellion/resistance/conflict issues, this age or any!). Setting up the problem effectively is Absolutely CRITICAL for B. He has to have it be very clear that ‘getting the homework done immediately’ is YOUR problem, not his. His is only ‘dealing with the homework issue with his teacher and dealing with the signoff issue with you’. Really, look into this, it may make both your lives massively easier all around.

    For B, the main crisis (he’s not yet 6) is getting dressed in a timely manner in the morning. He can ignore, avoid, evade, and rebel like a teen on a hormone surge, already! ARGH! So, we set up the problem – WE fret and worry that we won’t get out on time. You being dressed early helps us feel confident that we’ll all get out the door, and G won’t miss his bus, we won’t be late to drop-off at school for the rest of you, and dad won’t therefore be late for work. How can we make this work, so it works for all of us? What are YOUR ideas? Let’s hear them all, and pick a few to try, see how they do at solving everyone’s problems.

    It took a few tries before B believed AT ALL that we wanted to solve the problems HIS way, and weren’t just looking for another way to boss him around. But he’s vastly more receptive to ‘hey, I’m getting stressed that you’re not ready, and upset that you didn’t get dressed first thing, like YOU agreed to try. If this isn’t working for everyone – and if you’re not dressed yet, maybe it isn’t working for YOU, we need to find a new solution.’ He’s declined to bother with a new solution, though he’s tweaked the ‘get dressed before leaving the bedroom’ thing a little. He likes company while he gets dressed. I can put away clothes, sort, fold, whatever, if he has company. So, for the last week, there have been NO getting dressed battles, and he’s been ready on time freakin EVERY DAY. I can’t remember two days in a row that worked like that before we tried this.

    Some kids do well with power/authority/rules and some just do not. Finding another way of teaching them to handle the conflicts that will (obviously in our culture) result is the best alternative I can come up with. Even a whif of ‘I said’ or ‘this works for ME’ or ‘my way is best’ or ‘let me just EXPLAIN why this is best’ (etc.) is instant tune-out for B, or girding for the battle of his life, or both. If you’ve got that kind of kid, this type of approach may make a HUGE difference. Worth a try, no? WAY less fighting around our place as a result, and ohmygod COMPLIANCE! My bane, and my deepest (not so secret) desire – compliant kids! Funny, this is the same management technique I use at work… go figure, works with kids, too! LOL!

    Hang in there, and good luck. I know the agonies of the foot-dragging, arguing, resisting, avoiding, excusing, alternate-crisis-developing, bait-and-switch, topic-change, sudden-bathrooom-break-need, too-hungry, too-tired, too-distracted, NEVER getting down to the task issues. Backwards, forwards, and all around. It may seem insane to use non-power, non-punitive methods that you’d use on a boss or coworker on your KID, but seriously, seriously worth at least a try. Best of luck!

    Oh, and sorry about the teacher-signoff thing being just another authority-equals-obedience-to-power thing… s**t rolls downhill in your school district, it seems… See if you can stop that at your doorstep, at least. And good luck on that side, too.

  20. Stu Mark says

    One, our kids’ homework is *their* homework, so we do the following:

    We obey the school rules on homework, to the letter. That means no helping of any substantive kind. That means no re-writing their reports for them. That means when they ask, “How do you spell porcupine?” our response is “d-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y.”

    Yes, it’s hard. I’ve shed a few tears watching their frustration as they struggle with their homework. But they also get straight As, so I feel like we’re on a good path.

    As for when: Always homework first, before any sort of serious entertainment. Petting the dog, grabbing a snack, this is fine. But no TV or its ilk until the homework is done. I’m open to negotiations on that one, but it better be a good reason for postponing homework.

    As for where: It’s entirely up to them. As long as the homework is neat and a solid effort has been made, I don’t care if they do their homework under a couch or on top of the roof.

    As for effort, they’ve got to make one. I don’t care if they get an answer wrong. I do care if it appears seriously sloppy or displays a lack of effort.

  21. JT says

    I’m with Stu on most of this. My eldest is in 2nd grade and had only art projects in kindergarten (usually a “family” project), then very simple math homework in 1st grade.

    The thing that cracks me up is how Jake went from being proud “I have homework, ergo I’m a big kid” to “I have homework; what a drag.” The really funny part? So far, his homework has consisted only of having to read for up to 30 minutes a day. They can choose to read *anything* — storybooks, kid-appropriate magazines, chapter books — but they have to read. And suddenly, my major-reading kid, who reads by flashlight every night until we nag him for the nth time to go to sleep…. won’t read.

    We talked about it together and discussed it briefly with his teacher, and we all agreed that the point here is not to make him hate reading. So if he wants to read in bed at night — and goes willingly to bed early enough that he’s not staying up late — let him.

    I take the same position on where he does his other homework, such as math stuff. We have a nice desk set up for them to use, but he prefers to lie on the floor on his stomach. I used to bug him to go sit at the desk or a table, but recently I found out that lying on their stomachs and doing things with their hands (like drawing, writing, playing board games) is actually terrific for building core strength in kids! Our 5-year-old’s OT told me it’s like doing pushups for little kids.

    So I got a big, comfy dog bed at Costco that goes well enough with our family room’s decor, and let the boys flop to their hearts’ content. Their homework gets done, they’re happy because they’re comfortable and have some control over their environment. Everybody wins.

    I don’t know that this type of somewhat blase’ attitude will fly when they’re in high school, but whatever keeps them interested in learning works for me.

  22. kittenpie says

    As to forgetting what there is to do – most schools here now use agendas, inwhich children write their homework every day, and parents may have to sign off on it in a spot just for that. It gets them in the habit of organization right from early on. If you rschool doesn’t have one, you might make or buy one for your child and ask the teacher’s help in reminding him/her to write homework down in it.

    And as for helping – my own is to young, but when my sister needed help, I’d just prompt her through the steps a couple of times so that she was doing the thinking and solving, but I’d model the path so she could figure out how to come to work through a problem. You can teach them how to look things up in this way, as well as things like math problems. It’s heloing without doing it for them or giving them answers, and after a few times, they are good to go on their own – like training wheels!