It can be hard to get your head around managing children's homework. Where to start and how to manage it?
And case you didn't notice, kindergarten starts with a bang these days. No more gentle first year to colour in and play games and sing. Kindy kids are expected to know the full alphabet by February and start reading by Easter, so it pays to be guided by your child's pre-school staff about whether their maturity and coping levels are up to the task.
Your child's homework schedule depends on:
- Whether they are a morning person or a night owl.
- How busy your household gets in the morning or afternoon with extra-curricular activities.
- When their energy levels are at a level when extra work is sustainable.
- The activities of other children in the household.
- Whether they need lots of extra support or bare minimum support from you.
The last point is perhaps the most important, as it determines whether homework can be slotted in between other activities very casually or whether the homework serves as more of a vital support role to your child’s understanding in their classroom each day. Nobody wants their child to fall behind, be bewildered by class content or become despondent to the school environment so it’s good to keep an eye out and a good line of communication between the class teacher and yourself as to how your child is coping.
In a perfect world we would have an hour a day to spare for each of our children for one-on-one help with homework and listening to all their school gripes and grievances. Sadly, the reality is as parents we are pulled in all directions, wishing we had more time to give.
There are a few things you can do to make best use of time with each homework-laden child. I have divided each grade and added information to each stage as the workload increases from kindergarten to grade 8.
Generally speaking, the younger the child the more the adult will need to be actively involved in their home work. Once they can actually read and write words and read written instructions your job will move to an overseeing role, ensuring the homework is being done and keeping an eye on areas where performance is lacking.
Some children need to be watched like a hawk and others are super independent and breeze through the work. Only you know your child. Try not to compare to Little Foopsie down the road, she probably refuses to eat her vegetables or has a head full of nits. The grass will always be greener.
If you can set up a regular morning routine ( get dressed, eat breakfast then attack homework) your kids will come to know what to expect very quickly and good habits segue well into the high school years when their organisational skills will be tested and at the end of the day you can’t be in the classroom at every assessment time holding their hand and sharpening their pencils for them. No screen time during the weekdays assist here, or can be used as a reward if everything is done and they're ready for school.
Like-wise, an evening routine, straight after bath & dinner or straight after school. If your household is chaotic or just super-busy all is not lost. You can fit homework in, you just have to think laterally (see below).
Homework in kindergarten shouldn't take too long as they have already had to take in so much new information during the day and the school routine of bells, library books, news, playground negotiations is like us being dropped off in the middle of a foreign country. No wonder they get extra tired.
This can be done anywhere, anytime such as waiting for other siblings during swim lessons, music tuition or sport sessions. Reasonably confident readers can read to you while you're driving, read to older siblings, grandparents or read to you while you cook. You are not a bad parent if you are stirring something on the stove while listening to reading aloud, you are maximising everyone’s time.
Make sure your child knows to sound out unfamiliar words to you, establishing a lifelong habit where it feels safe for them to tell you when they don't understand so you can help them. If your child thinks you're going to sneer at them or get cranky they will quickly learn to stop asking. Communication is key. Ask their teacher for correction tips if you feel out of your league.
Again, these can be listened to anywhere, which makes them portable and easy to knock over in a sitting at a cafe, car or poolside. If you have more time you can do memory games or give them little quizzes. The key is confidence and familiarisation. Buy a little whiteboard and keep it in the car or at home for quick revision anywhere, anytime. And that includes long car trips on your way to a family holiday. Nothing like a captive audience.
Writing at home can be supervised to ensure each letter is the correct size ( the e isn't massive, the g has a tail that hangs down etc). You can check your child's writing even if you’re on holidays, our family habit is to do an hour in the rooms during the hottest part of the day (hello? you’re on a tropical island missing school, no whinging) by getting them to keep a travel diary. Anything from a couple of lines to a paragraph depending on their ability and obviously waiting till a little later in the year until they’ve covered the basics. Keep an eye on letter size, or unfamiliar letter or reversals. Number or letter reversals can remain an issue right up to grade 3 before it becomes an issue to call in professional help in the form of occupational therapists or language consultants, of which there is a thriving industry.
Most children are familiar with presenting in front of their peers from pre-school years, so aren’t as daunted as the parents might be. As long as the kids are reminded of the topic of the day they should be able to present something they are comfortable with. No pressure from parents required. For the less confident it may take a little while to get the hang off public speaking and every skill is ‘not for everyone’.
Year 1 and 2
The homework gets more complicated and extensive during year 1 and 2. Lower case letters are assumed knowledge, reading levels go up incrementally according to their ability. There is the opportunity to do extension spelling words and by grade 1 and 2, you as a parent start getting a general idea whether your child is coping, struggling or ‘blitzing’ it. Mathletics and Reading Egg online programs are excellent resources for parents to sit side by side with the child and watch (don’t interfere at this point) whether they are keeping up with all the topics and concepts. These online programs can be done on tablets or laptops in lots of different locations that suit each family situation. Whether it be sitting in the car waiting for a sibling to finish a dance lesson, in a cafe, on a family holiday or at a relative’s house. There is really no excuse for a little homework to be done as these programs are so mobile, so long as you have the password and log in combination. These programs are good for one-on-one time with both parent and child.
A hot chocolate at a cafe once a week while your kids do homework (or other treats) help kids form happy associations between homework and pleasant relaxed times. Treats don't have to be sugar-laden. Fruit salad, toasted cheese sandwiches, milk shakes, gyoza or sushi work well for my kids.
Motivation for homework?
There are two kinds of motivation, the intrinsic and extrinsic kind.
Extrinsic motivation refers to rewards being used to persuade your child to get the work done. Intrinsic motivation refers to the desire to get the work done coming from the person wanting to do the work because it's enjoyable. Sometimes starting with a little extrinsic motivation drives intrinsic motivation down the track. You never know what is going to kickstart great learning habits for your child, it's worth experimenting what is your child's personal currency. Screen time at the end of the week, playdates with friends, bike rides, the list is endless.
If you notice your child is not ‘blitzing’ it, Mathletics has easier options with each topic you can attempt together. Sometimes it can be just a matter of going over it a couple of times to get the concept, or having it explained a different way that is not going to draw attention to themselves in front of their peers. It gives kids more confidence to do the classwork if someone has clarified it for them at home. Reading Eggs has easier book levels to read together and lots of certificates to print out once they achieve each level, which gives them confidence that they are progressing. Extrinsic driving the intrinsic.
Maslow's Theory of Needs
There is a basic theory in education that an individual's basic needs have to be satisfied before they will do their best learning. A simple example of this is when we can't concentrate when we feel hungry, or if we can't concentrate because we don't feel safe. It's good to establish a routine with your child of making sure they've have had something to eat before they attack homework, or their worries from the playground have been heard and acknowledged. They may not be able to do their spelling properly if they're stressing about being bullied.
Year 3 and 4
From here on, it is assumed that kids have mastered the ‘foundation skills’ of reading and writing and begin to read for meaning, rather than read for the task of learning to read. This means lots of reading aloud to you and getting your child to work out what the author is inferring. Higher order thinking comes into play here, and in terms of homework this is a lovely and opportune time for lots of discussion about the book they’re reading in terms of what the characters could have done, would have done, were thinking, were going to do next or might have done differently. You can create a habit of talking about these things at bedtime so it’s less of a task and a chore than writing it out, unless they particularly enjoy it.
Maths becomes more complicated in these grades, which is why struggling kids benefit from going over and over maths they learnt in grade 1 and 2 as the work starts to build up on top of assumed knowledge. Half of the times tables are learnt in grade 3, the other half in grade 4. In the ‘old days’ rote learning was the flavour of the day for times tables (memorisation based on repetition). It’s not in favour anymore as it doesn’t ‘cater for different learning styles’. I’m a big fan of the rote learning for times tables, as times table knowledge is the foundation for all the maths that follow. And maths moves quickly the older the kids get, so it can affect their maths if they're still taking 10 minutes to work out what 8×7 is and the teacher is explaining the next concept.
For active wriggly kids they can jump on the trampoline yelling their times tables out, go over them on a ski holiday (perfect on a chairlift), recite them in the car on the way to school for 10 minutes or 5 minutes when they go to bed, drawing them in the sand on the beach, in chalk on footpaths or anywhere else that promotes being active. There are many ways to skin a cat.
Howard Gardner from Harvard identified 7 areas of intelligences that children develop a predilection for (mathematical, visual spatial , intrapersonal, interpersonal, linguistic, bodily kinesthetic and musical) . This is relevant to homework because as parents it helps to not panic if one intelligence is not as strong as another area at an early age. It also gives us clues to how we can help.
Year 5 and 6
These final 2 years of primary school are equivalent to a generation ago's year seven in my opinion. Kids are expected to compose, edit and present coherent and well-structured texts and that’s teacher speak for make sure you’re not doing their work for them by this stage. Difficult for helicopter-parents who want their child’s work to look great, but once again you’re not going to be in the classroom with them so it’s best to give your advice from the sidelines. Take Socrates’ approach when reading over your child’s homework if deeming it not yet hand in worthy and ask your child questions about the details that give your child the power to edit their own work. You could ask them ‘Is there another way to express that so it sounds stronger (more persuasive?’) or ‘What’s another word for…? By these grades many children are utilising the skills of tutors for English and maths and if you’re too busy to help or it’s all a bit complicated by now it’s a great idea to hand these things over to after school tutors. Anything that helps with gaining their confidence is a good thing.
As a parent it’s handy to be up on all the different text types because your kids will be required to write narratives, expositions, reports and procedures among others. You can use the elements of each text type to help your child as they fulfil each task of their homework.
By these final two years of primary school the kids may should have a well-established preference for before or after school homework and may need very little supervision or help. Reading-wise, as long as kids are reading something it all counts towards literacy. Even comic books, kids toy magazines or the back of a cereal box all count.Think of it this way, other cultures ( Japanese or Arabic) don't read left to right, top to bottom. Each aspect of writing contains different slang, formal writing, persuasive writing techniques and you never know when your child will be asked to produce a comic strip, advertisement, poster or narrative so don’t push them unnecessarily towards reading War and Peace as long as their eyes are on some kind of text.
Year 7 and 8
If you were a child in high school back in the eighties or nineties it's a different place and pace now. Assessments begin with a bang in first term and penalties for not handing assessments in on time are steep, losing marks every day it's late.
Year 7 and 8 are all about school diary management and setting up good study habits. Having an eye here helps the kids get into good routines as they are back to being the small fish in the pond, unless they continue at the same school from kindergarten they are back to learning new bells, teachers, faces and travel arrangements. If the school diary is blank that's an alarm bell as there most certainly will be homework in year 7 and 8 and if there's miraculously no homework they can always go over the day's school work or summarise concepts learnt that week in class that will inevitably be tested during term 2 and term 4 exams.
Naplan is the national numeracy and literacy testing in schools and is undertaken in grades 3,5,7 and 9. Whatever you think about Naplan validity it’s a handy general diagnostic tool to help parents see areas where they can help their kids. If you look at the markers (dots) on the page you can see if your child needs additional help in literacy. That's a good thing if it leads to your child understanding what's going on in the classroom a bit better instead of suffering in silence and hating every minute of it.
We live in an age where political correctness reigns supreme, nobody is going to tell you your little Johnny is an annoying little shyster, the devil is in the details, if you care to look closely enough.
Generally speaking, 'working towards' means hasn't mastered that particular skill yet and 'working beyond' means blitzing it. When you receive your child’s school reports you can individually write out comments 'Johnny is working towards using appropriate strategies for multiplication’ helps you as a parent know you need to go over multiplication or helps you work out when it’s time to call in a tutor. You may find online sites such as rainforest maths,Top marks, 1XL Woodlands resources, Maths is Fun or Get smart have topics to assist with any side-by-side additional work.
Helicopter parents, cruisy hands off parents and everyone in between. It’s a 13 year long road between that first day of kindergarten and the day they walk out of that last HSC exam. Dieter Uchtdorf once wrote ‘so often we become focused on the finish line that we fail to enjoy the journey’ so we all need to keep it in perspective that these kids will be the ones to sign the papers on our nursing homes. Amid the reports, narratives and expositions keep your humour and the good times flowing.