OMO: How to Help Your Kids with Homework

Do you dread homework as much as the kids do? Here’s how to help your kids hit the books and develop good study and homework habits.

Layout a Plan

Start by setting up two or three goals at the beginning of the year. Discuss the areas that your child battled with previously. For example, did homework time run into bedtime? Then agree on an earlier start time. Did your child battle with reading? Try to find ways to make it fun—maybe set up a reading tent under your dining room table? Review these goals at the beginning of each term and adjust your plan as you go, letting your child take as much ownership of the process as possible.

Get into a Routine

The single best way in which to improve your child’s homework performance, is to create a daily schedule or routine. Every home is different, so, for some this could mean jumping into homework right after school; for others, especially if your child is the type who needs to expend some energy before he dives back into the books, it could mean waiting until after dinner. Give your kids at least 30 minutes to have a snack and unwind without a screen—television, e-mail, or video games.

Dirt is good – so plan an outdoor activity or two to ensure that your child gets some fresh air and a bit of exercise. Giving kids a half-hour break between after-school activities and homework is always a smart idea. This however, does not include any extra-mural sports or after-school care. Kids need to relax a little at home before launching into homework.

The key to any great routine is consistency. Take a few weeks before homework gets heavy to try different approaches and see what works best, then stick to it. What about weekends? Everyone deserves a break on Fridays, of course. Just be sure to pick a consistent time during the weekend for tackling homework.

When to get extra help

If your kid is struggling with a homework assignment, your goal is not to become your child’s study buddy. Trying to re-teach the work might be too different from the teacher’s lessons and could therefore just create more confusion. Rather send an e-mail or note to the teacher asking her to please explain the material to your child again. If your child is in Grade 4 or up, have him write the note or talk to the teacher. It’s important that he learns how to speak up for himself. The teacher will likely have additional time set aside for those who need help.

Setup a homework station

Some kids do best with a desk set up in their bedroom so that they can work independently; others prefer to work in the middle of the kitchen while you cook dinner. Let your kids choose their preferred study spot. Keep it distraction-free—no TV, video games, or loud siblings playing nearby.

Try to avoid being too involved

Of course it’s okay—and actually necessary—to sit with 5-or 6-year-olds while they do their homework. However, your goal should be to help less over time and move physically farther from where your child works. You want your child to be encouraged to think through her work on her own before asking a parent for help.

Don't always "bail" them out

If your child leaves her home work (or lunch, gym clothes, or other items, for that matter) at home and calls, begging you to bring it to school, agree that you will only do this once a term. For many kids, just one missed break (or whatever the teacher’s policy is for not turning in homework) usually improves their memory.

Watch for overload

If your child in Grade 3 is spending an hour and a half on her math homework alone, for instance, that’s way too much. Keep track of her time for several days, then, if necessary, talk to the teacher. Sometimes teachers honestly underestimate how long an assignment will take. If your child routinely works long hours because she’s struggling, also bring this to the teacher’s attention. But if she seems to be slaving over homework because she’s a perfectionist, you may need to discuss a reasonable amount of time to devote to an assignment, and then time her.