Happy Homework Hour – How to Organise, Support and Encourage Your Child’s Learning at Home

As children progress from primary to secondary education their school-life undergoes many changes. One of the most important changes for teens is in the volume and quality of homework that they are expected to complete and deliver.
Here, I outline 10 key strategies to help your child to get organised and show how you can support their learning. With effective support and interest in his/her learning, your child will be motivated to make more effort in their school-work, leading to a general increase in the level of learning and achievement.
1. Let him show you what’s been set – often students are given a daily diary from school, in which to make note of homework set and due dates for projects etc.
2. Discuss each task and what it will involve – ask your child what he thinks is being asked of him e.g. does he need to respond to a set text, or carry out research, or write short responses or even design and make a poster. As exams approach, the teachers will set revision tasks. Be sure that your child knows and understands what the teacher expects of him for each task.
3. Help to decide which have the tightest deadline – This is called prioritising, something many parents have to do each day e.g. put the dinner on before sitting down to watch T.V. or pay the monthly electricity bill before the quarterly water bill. Your child will benefit from learning this skill early on in his life. The task which has to be submitted tomorrow must be completed before tackling a project which is not due until next week.
4. Allocate a time slot in which to complete the task – here you need to ask your child to estimate how long the work set is likely to take. This sort of target setting allows him to understand how much weight to place on the task and the speed at which he should be able to complete it. E.g. designing and making and colouring in a poster for Science will take about an hour to an hour-and-a half whereas writing a sentence to explain the meaning of 10 keywords in Science will take 20 minutes or so. If a task is taking much longer than expected to complete, you can check to see that your child is still on track i.e. is handling the task at an appropriate and the expected level of detail. However, it is better to be flexible and allow your child to learn that it’s okay for a task to take longer to complete than estimated at the start. In the long run, your child will learn to estimate the time required more appropriately – an excellent life-skill for adulthood.
5. Provide the resources necessary to complete the task – a plumber, a doctor, a chef or an electrician cannot be expected to deliver a task on time to the standard required if they are missing the tools of their trade. Through the same logic, a student cannot produce a quality piece of homework without the necessary resources e.g. dictionary, atlas, construction paper, scissors, glue, internet connection etc.
6. Provide an appropriate environment for your child to study in – A comfortable chair and table in a quiet spot is fine. Dining tables are quite ideal if your child doesn’t have his own room or space for a desk in his room. Some people find it helpful to have some background noise while working e.g. radio or mp3 player; others prefer to work in silence without any audible or visual distractions. Find out what works best for your child and try to remove distractions or provide the mood-setter to help him settle down.
7. Check his progress regularly – Every 10-15 minutes ask or (unobtrusively) peer over his shoulder or sit by his side for a minute to find out if how he’s coping i.e. whether he is struggling or is finding it easy or interesting etc.
8. Stay around but be busy – Your physical presence will help your child in two ways: i) it shows that you are interested in his learning and the learning process and ii) that you are there to support him if required.
9. Support him but don’t do it for him – It can be tempting for sympathetic parents to complete the task for the child, particularly, if he is finding it difficult; bear in mind that you will be doing a disservice to your child by i) removing the opportunity for him to learn through experience, ii) not allowing him to take the risk of failing, iii) removing the opportunity for him to be responsible and iv) by removing the opportunity for him to succeed.
10. Praise him when he finishes his work appropriately. This is enough encouragement for him to take more responsibility next time. In fact, he will eventually start initiating the homework hour without you having to remind him. And ultimately, that is what you want for your child – a responsible, confident approach to tackling any task head-on, knowing his efforts will be supported and rewarded.
Key concepts:

  • Help him to get organised by prioritising and setting a target time in which to achieve each piece of work.
  • Provide the necessary facilities and resources to allow successful homework to be completed.
  • Support and encourage his efforts but don’t do it for him, so that he can learn from his mistakes and enjoy his successes.
  • Celebrate and praise his achievements and efforts by recognising what he’s done right before criticising his shortcomings.

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