Back to School: How to Help your Kids with Homework

I was tempted to title this post “How NOT to help your kids with homework” because so much of what I’m about to share stems from learning the hard way about what works – and what doesn’t – when helping my kids with their schoolwork at home.

Homework often gets a bad rap from kids, but as a parent I can admit that I see its value. From letting me see what my kids are learning at school to helping them develop their independent study skills, I’m convinced that a reasonable amount of homework is good practice for them in the long run.

And with the return to school just a couple weeks away, it’s a good time to think about what makes homework more successful for your family, and what you need to stop doing to save your sanity.

1. KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly).

This is probably the most valuable tip. As adults who have taken more and harder classes, plus all the skills and time management we’ve learned on the job, we tend to approach homework with our adult sensibilities, experience and knowledge.

And yes, we might have better or easier ways to solve the problems or concepts our kids are learning, but it’s not always the same way they are being taught, and more importantly, what they are being graded on. Trying to help them with thick style and grammar guides, algebra short-cuts, and old-school approaches to long division only muddies the water. Instead, we need to use their grade-school techniques to solve their grade-school concepts, and they also need to practice finding the answers in the notes and resources they have.

In a nutshell, our kids’ teachers usually give them all the tools they need to do their work, and if we’re looking too far outside of those resources, we’re usually looking too hard and overcomplicating the work.

2. Make a regular time for homework.

I’ve learned the hard way what my family’s ideal time for homework is – and when it isn’t.

With busy kids, and a busy mom, in multiple activities outside of school all week long, we certainly tried to work on a couple speeches, math sheets and the occasional essay in French after 8 p.m. This was not successful for me or my kids.

Instead, we find homework happens more smoothly when we tackle it after school, following a snack and 30 minutes of downtime, but before we head out the door for any other activities. And if we don’t get it done in that window, we leave it for the next day – I’ve also learned that a late assignment is sometimes better than cranky kids and tears over homework that would otherwise be straightforward earlier in the day.

Some of my friends like to do everything from homework to music practice in the mornings before school. Other kids we know function very well after 8 p.m. and can happily do an hour of homework before bed.

The trick is finding the time that works best for your family and make it part of your routine.

3. Create a homework-friendly zone.

This is probably the most challenging part of homework for me. Often, I’m the only adult with three school-aged kids in the house. One or more needs a little homework support (or worse, nagging to get it started), one wants to practice their piano, and somebody is playing every song very loudly from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack in the living room. It’s not a quiet place to concentrate on algebra.

I find the easiest solution is this: if one kid has homework, it’s a quiet zone for everyone. Music and any other screen stays off, and we all sit down to read, colour, and make lunches or dinner while the homework get finished.

I also find it’s easiest if the kids do their homework in the same room as me, so I can talk to them while I also chop the veggies. Or even better, so they can help each other a little. I also have a desk set up in the living room with everything they need for homework, including pencils, sharpeners, calculators, dictionaries and piles of loose paper.

4. Check out your online resources.

I know I said that keeping it simple is best when it comes to homework, but sometimes we do need to consult outside resources from the vast pool of knowledge available on the Internet.

For example, we can’t get by in our house without asking Google to help us translate from English to French and vice-versa, especially when I’m trying to help my kids understand their French geometry worksheets.

When my daughter was struggling with calculating area and perimeter last year, we found it really helpful to watch a few YouTube videos to remind us both how to solve these kinds of problems. Some kids are visual learners, and sometimes we all need to review the concept of repeat a few times to help it stick.

Similarly, there are many free or affordable apps with great ratings that cater to school-aged kids and their parents for homework help. From myHomework Student Planner that offers kids an app-based agenda to keep track of all their assignments and tests to websites like the Khan Academy for tutorials on math, humanities and more, there is no shortage of good help out there to support your child’s home-based learning when needed.

5. Talk to your child’s teacher.

And of course, the best resource of all to support your child’s learning at school or at home is their classroom teacher.

I know my kids often balk at the idea of admitting they don’t understand their homework assignments, mostly out of fear that their teachers will think they weren’t paying attention. Convincing my kids that their teachers will welcome their questions, and that they should also be the ones to ask them, has been  an extremely valuable life lesson for them.

I do also make an effort to get to know each of my children’s teachers for the same reasons. Whether it’s parent-teacher interviews, volunteering on a couple field trips, or simply stopping to say hi after school, it’s nice to have some face-to-face time with your kids’ teachers when it can be managed to keep the lines of communication open.

My oldest daughter, now in Grade 8, also finds her circle of friends a great resource for homework now. Her whole class has a friendly group chat, and they support each other with homework and studying (among other things), which again, is an important skill to build as they prepare for high school next year.

Ultimately, I’ve found that the key factor to making homework less stressful is simply having some strategies in place to tackle it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – and the more ways your kids have to get their homework done, the better the chances of making it a successful and regular part of your family routine.

Carmen Kinniburgh

Carmen Kinniburgh is a freelance writer and editor exploring topics and ideas about parenting and families, Canadian science and research, health and medicine, as well as travel and lifestyle. Born and raised in Alberta, Carmen has also lived in Southern Ontario and Manitoba, where she worked in professional communications for a university and a national health charity. Currently living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, she gets all her best ideas and insights for Parentwise from her own three delightfully precocious children.

You may also like...