As a student, I hated homework because I would rather spend time reading my story books. As a parent, I hated homework because I would end up yelling at my child who would rather spend time reading his story books. As a teacher, I hated homework because I have to mark hastily completed assignments by students who would rather spend time reading their story books.
At some point of their school lives, most children will forget to do some assignments, lose homework, and make careless mistakes. Some will be confused or overwhelmed, and need more help with completing assignments than others. Others may not be able to complete their classwork in school and so have to bring it home, adding to their pile of homework.
Homework is probably the mother of all conflicts between parent and child. Having to track homework to meet the school’s demand as part of the daily routine in the busy lives of parents only creates tension and frustration, since many children would rebel when they feel they are doing too much homework. We never tell our children, but really, as parents, we dislike homework as much as they do.
Our children’s teachers spare no effort in reminding us about how important homework is as part of the school experience. We have been drilled since young that completing and “passing-up” homework on time is what all good students do… and of course we all want to be good students, don’t we? We can hate it all we want, but homework will always be the hallmark of our educational system.
So how do we make best of the situation? The goal would be to help our children develop essential homework skills that will allow them manage homework within their stride. Here is a 3-step process which you can follow:
Step 1. Create a CONDUCIVE environment
Locate a suitable place for the child to do homework
This depends on your child and your family space. A number of children have desks in their bedroom, which is quiet and comforting. This is most suitable for independent children who can work by themselves. However, some children will fall asleep or get distracted by toys they keep inside their bedroom. Others require adults to be present to keep them on track or to help them with the questions. In such cases, it will be best to use high-traffic areas such as the dining hall. The disadvantage would be that you will need to turn off the TV or anything that may distract the child.
Regardless of where you choose, the place should be well lit and ventilated. Invest in a good inverter lamp that can be adjusted to throw as much light as possible on the books as the child reads or writes.
Set up the homework station
When the location has been decided, create a homework center in its place. It should comprise a space large enough to set out all necessary homework materials.
Sufficient stationary supplies should be placed within easy reach, and that should include
pencils, multi-colored pens, color pencils, highlighters, pencil sharpener
a ruler, scotch-tape, stapler, glue, scissors, hole puncher
lined paper, drawing blocks, jotter books
a clock with timer
Calendar or desktop planner
CD player for playing music conducive for studying, eg. Mozart
Calculator (only for older children)
Laptop (careful, may be a distraction if not properly supervised)
Dictionaries and thesaurus
You may wish to let the child decorate the area, but be careful NOT to clutter up the place. There MUST be enough desktop space for doing the work itself!
If the homework station is makeshift (eg. dinner table), have a Homework Cart which allows you to set up or put away the stationary quickly.
Once the Homework Station has been set up, make it a point to call it that, and all homework should be done at that place.
When purchasing stationary, avoid cute stationary or those with embedded toys, because they can be serious distractions to the child at school and at home.
Step 2. Make it a ROUTINE
The most successful students have a routine process for doing homework.
Fix a regular time for starting homework
You must get your child into the habit of doing homework at the same time every day. This depends on school hours, and also your child’s preference. You might want to give your child a break when they come home from school, for meals or some exercise. Another possibility is to start on homework immediately after school while the lessons are still fresh in the child’s mind, assuming the child is excited about the lessons.
Generally, it is best to get homework done as soon as possible. This will reduce the temptation to procrastinate. Also, as the day draws on, the child will get tired and lose the necessary focus to get the homework done quickly and efficiently.
Establish a plan for doing the homework
Before your child starts on the homework proper, you should first establish the goals for that particular homework session. These goals will tie in with the incentive system that we need to set up. At the same time, the goals will provide distinct targets that the child can strive towards, with the understanding that once they are accomplished, homework would be completed and they will have free time to themselves.
If parents don’t inspect, they cannot expect. You need to go through all the assignments to understand what your child is expected to do, and give a chance for your child to ask for help on the questions he may be unsure of. This way, you can distinguish careless mistakes from those which are due to insufficient understanding of the topics when you go through their work later.
Prepare a Daily Homework Planner book. This book will be used to record all targets to be set for each homework session.
Let your child estimate how long he or she will complete each assignment. Then down the target assignment and the estimated time. As a general rule of thumb, children should not spend more than 15 minutes per level on homework each day, ie. Primary 1 students should spend 15 minutes, Primary 2 30 minutes, Primary 3 45 minutes, … all the way to Primary 6 which is 90 minutes.
Plan in the breaks. These should not exceed 10 minutes. Breaks could be scheduled after activities that take more than 30 minutes to complete. You should specify what breaks can be used for – eg. toilet breaks, snacks, exercise, call a friend, etc.
Now let your child start doing the homework. Use the clock to time the starting and ending times. This is an important step because it focuses the child’s mind on completing the assignment. On the other hand, there is the danger that the child may try to cut corners in trying to outrun the clock, ending up with a shoddy piece of work that is full of careless mistakes. To counter this, the incentive scheme must take into account the quality of work.
Step 3. INCENTIVIZE
Very few children enjoy doing homework. There are indeed some children who are self-motivated and see doing homework as the means of getting good grades. They will therefore automatically do their homework without further incentives, since the grades themselves provide the motivation. Unfortunately, such children are few and far between.
For the majority of school children, it is necessary to look for other ways to incentivize children to complete their homework in time and properly. Rewards can be absolute or points-based. Regardless, we should avoid giving actual money as rewards because it creates a different set of problems in the long term.
Absolute rewards are those which are executed immediately upon successful completion of the tasks.
Examples are activities which the child enjoys doing, such as playing computer games, reading story books, playing with neighbourhood friends, watching TV shows, or even having a favorite snack.
In this case, the child earns points for work done. The points can be accumulated and be exchanged for items in a “rewards menu” which can be regularly updated to keep it interesting for the child. They can range from a highly desirable toy to something simple like a hour of uninterrupted reading time. The menu should comprise rewards of varying points to allow for both instant gratification such as watching a TV show to something big such as a trip to Disneyland.
Designing an effective incentive system is complicated by the fact that children outgrows most incentives quickly. As a result, points-based systems are more lasting and flexible, while teaching children the importance of “saving” points for bigger rewards.