Show That You Think Education
and Homework Are Important

Children need to know that their
family members think homework
is important. If they know their
families care, children have a good
reason to complete assignments
and to turn them in on time. You
can do many things to show your
child that you value education
and homework.

Set a Regular Time for Homework

Having a regular time to do homework helps children to finish
assignments. The best schedule is one that works for your child
and your family. What works well in one household may not work
in another. Of course, a good schedule depends in part on your
child's age as well as her specific needs. For instance, one child
may do homework best in the afternoon, completing homework
first or after an hour of play and another may do it best after
dinner. However, don't let your child leave homework to do just
before bedtime.

Your child's outside activities, such as sports or music lessons,
may mean that you need a flexible homework schedule. Your child
may study after school on some days and after dinner on others.
If there isn't enough time to finish homework, your child may need
to drop some outside activity. Let her know that homework is a
high priority.

You'll need to work with your elementary school child to develop
a schedule. An older student can probably make up a schedule
independently, although you'll want to make sure that it's a
workable one. You may find it helpful to write out his schedule
and put it in a place where you'll see it often, such as on the
refrigerator door.

Some families have a required amount of time that their children
must devote to homework or some other learning activities each
school night (the length of time can vary depending upon the
child's age). For instance, if your seventh grader knows she's
expected to spend an hour doing homework, reading or visiting
the library, she may be less likely to rush through assignments
so that she can watch TV. A required amount of time may also
discourage her from "forgetting" to bring home assignments and
help her adjust to a routine.

Pick a Place

Your child's homework area doesn't have to be fancy. A desk in
the bedroom is nice, but for many children, the kitchen table or a
corner of the living room works just fine. The area should have
good lighting and it should be fairly quiet. Your child may enjoy
decorating a special area for homework. A plant, a brightly colored
container to hold pencils and some favorite artwork taped to the
walls can make homework time more pleasant.

Remove Distractions

Turn off the TV and discourage your child from making and
receiving social telephone calls during homework time. (A call to
a classmate about an assignment, however, may be helpful.)

Some children work well with quiet background music, but loud
noise from the CD player, radio or TV is not OK. One history
teacher laments, "I've actually had a kid turn in an assignment that
had written in the middle, 'And George Washington said, "Ohhhhh,
I love you."' The kid was so plugged into the music that he wasn't

If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family
members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You
may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to
play. If distractions can't be avoided, your child may want to
complete assignments in the local library.

Provide Supplies and Identify Resources

Have available pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper and a
dictionary. Other supplies that might be helpful include a stapler,
paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, glue,
paste, scissors, a ruler, a calculator, index cards, a thesaurus and
an almanac. If possible, keep these items together in one place. If
you can't provide your child with needed supplies, check with her
teacher, school guidance counselor or principal about possible
sources of assistance.

For books and other information resources, such as suitable
computer Web sites, check with the school library or your local
public library. Some libraries have homework centers designed
especially to assist children with school assignments (they may
even have tutors and other kinds of individual assistance).

You may want to ask your child's teacher to explain school policy
about the use of computers for homework. Certainly, computers
are great learning and homework tools. Your child can use her
computer not only for writing reports and for getting information
through Internet resource sites, but for "talking" with teachers and
classmates about assignments.

In many schools, teachers post information about homework
assignments and class work on their own Web sites, which also
may have an electronic bulletin board on which students can post
questions for the teacher and others to answer. (For more
information about using the Internet, see the U.S. Department of
Education's booklet, Parents' Guide to the Internet, listed in the
Resources section, page .) However, you don't have to have a
computer in your home for your child to complete homework
assignments successfully. Some schools may offer after-school
programs that allow your child to use the school computers. And
many public libraries make computers available to children.

Set a Good Example

Show your child that the skills he is learning are an important part
of the things he will do as an adult. Let him see you reading
books, newspapers and computer screens; writing reports, letters,
e-mails and lists; using math to balance your checkbook or to
measure for new carpeting; doing other things that require
thought and effort. Tell your child about what you do at work.

Help your child to use everyday routines to support the skills he
is learning-for example, teach him to play word and math games;
help him to look up information about things in which he is
interested-singers, athletes, cars, space travel and so forth; and
talk with him about what he sees and hears as the two of you walk
through the neighborhood, go shopping at the mall or visit a zoo
or museum.

Be Interested and Interesting

Make time to take your child to the library
to check out materials needed for home-
work (and for enjoyment) and read with
your child as often as you can. Talk about
school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your child
what was discussed in class that day. If she doesn't have much to
say, try another approach. For example, ask her to read aloud a
story she wrote or to talk about what she found out from a
science experiment.

Attend school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences,
plays, concerts, open houses and sports events. If you can,
volunteer to help in your child's classroom or at special events.
Getting to know some of your child's classmates and their parents
builds a support network for you and your child. It also shows
your child that his home and school are a team.

Monitor Assignments

Children are more likely to complete homework successfully when
parents monitor their assignments. How closely you need to
monitor your child depends upon her age, how independent she
is and how well she does in school. Whatever the age of your child,
if she is not getting assignments done satisfactorily, she requires
more supervision.

Here are some ways to monitor your child's assignments:

Ask about the School's Homework Policy

At the start of the school year, ask your child's teacher about any
rules or guidelines that children are expected to follow as they
complete homework. Ask about the kinds of assignments that will
be given and the purposes for the assignments.

Talk with the teacher about your role in helping with homework.
Expectations for parent involvement vary from teacher to teacher.
Some teachers want parents to monitor homework closely,
whereas others want them simply to check to make sure the
assignment is completed on time. Ask the teacher to call if any
problems with homework come up. Let her know that you will do
the same.

Be Available

Many elementary school students often like to have someone with
them to answer questions as they work on assignments. If your
child is cared for by someone else, talk to that caregiver about how
to deal with homework. For an older child, if no one will be around,
let him know when you want him to begin work and call to remind
him if necessary.

However, if the teacher has made it known that students are to
do homework on their own, limit your assistance to your child to
assuring that assignments are clear and that necessary supplies
are provided. Too much parent involvement can make children
dependent-and takes away from the value of homework as a way
for children to become independent and responsible.

Look over Completed Assignments

It's usually a good idea to check to see that
your elementary school child has finished her
assignments. If your middle-school student
is having trouble finishing assignments, check
his work, too. After the teacher returns completed homework,
read the comments to see if your child has done the assignment

Monitor Time Spent Viewing TV and Playing Video Games

American children on average spend far more time watching TV or
playing video games than they do completing homework. In many
homes, more homework gets done when TV viewing and "game"
time is limited.

Once you and your child have worked out a homework schedule,
take time to discuss how much TV and what programs she can
watch. It's worth noting that television can be a learning tool. Look
for programs that relate to what your child is studying in school,
such as programs on history or science or dramatizations of
children's literature. When you can, watch shows with your child,
discuss them and encourage follow-up activities such as reading
or a trip to the museum.

Likewise, limit the amount of time your child spends playing video
games. As with TV programs, be aware of the games she likes to
play and discuss her choices with her.

Provide Guidance

The basic rule is, "Don't do the assignments yourself." It's not
your homework—it's your child's. "I've had kids hand in homework
that's in their parents' handwriting," one eighth-grade teacher
complains. Doing assignments for your child won't help him
understand and use information. And it won't help him become
confident in his own abilities.

Here are some ways that you can provide guidance without taking
over your child's homework:

Help Your Child Get Organized

Help your child to make a schedule and put it in a place where
you'll see it often. Writing out assignments will get him used to the
idea of keeping track of what's due and when. If your child is not
yet able to write, write it for him until he can do it himself.

A book bag or backpack will make it easier for your child to carry
homework to and from school. Providing homework folders in
which your child can tuck his assignments for safekeeping also can
help him to stay organized.

Encourage Good Study Habits

Teachers generally give students tips on how to study. But it
takes time and practice to develop good study habits. To reinforce
good habits at home, you can:

· Help your child manage time to complete assignments. For
example, if your eighth grader has a biology report due in three
weeks, discuss all the steps she needs to take to complete it on
time, including:

1. selecting a topic;

2. doing the research by looking up books and other materials on
the topic and taking notes;

3. figuring out what questions to discuss;

4. drafting an outline;

5. writing a rough draft; and

6. revising and completing the final draft.

Encourage your child to make a chart that shows how much
time she expects to spend on each step.

· Help your child to get started when he has to do research
reports or other big assignments. Encourage him to use the
library. If he isn't sure where to begin, tell him to ask the librarian
for suggestions. If he's using a computer for online reference
resources—-whether the computer is at home, school or the
library—make sure he's getting whatever help he needs to use it
properly and to find age-appropriate Web sites. Many public
libraries have homework centers with tutors or other kinds of one-
on-one assistance. After your child has completed the research,
listen as he tells you the points he wants to make in the report.

· Give practice tests. Help your third grader prepare for a spelling
test by saying the words as she writes them. Have her correct her
own test as you spell each word.

· Help your child avoid last-minute cramming. Review with your
fifth grader how and what to study for his social studies test long
before it's to be given. You can have him work out a schedule of
what he needs to do to, make up a practice test and write down
answers to the questions he's made up.

· Talk with your child about how to take a test. Be sure she
understands how important it is to read the instructions carefully,
to keep track of the time and to avoid spending too much time on
any one question. (See the Resources section for the titles of
books and pamphlets that give more tips on how your child can
get organized and develop good study habits.)

Talk about the Assignments

Talking and asking questions can help your
child to think through an assignment and
break it down into small, manageable parts.
Here are some questions to ask.

· Do you understand what you're supposed to do? After your child
has read the instructions, ask her to tell you in her own words
what the assignment is about. (If she can't read yet, the teacher
may have sent home instructions that you can read to her.) Some
schools have homework hotlines that you can call or Web sites
that you can access by computer for assignments in case your
child misplaced a paper or was absent on the day it was given. If
your child doesn't understand the instructions, read them with her
and talk about the assignment. Does it have words that she
doesn't know? How can she find out what the words mean? If
neither you nor your child understands an assignment, call one of
her classmates or get in touch with the teacher.

· Do you need help in understanding how to do this assignment?
See if your child needs to learn more, for example, about
subtracting fractions before she can do her assignment. Or find
out if the teacher needs to explain to her again when to use
different kinds of punctuation marks. If you understand the
subject yourself, you may want to work through some examples
with your child. However, always let her do the assignment herself.

· Do you have everything you need to do the assignment?
Sometimes your child needs special supplies, such as colored
pencils, metric rulers, calculators, maps or reference books. Check
with the teacher, school guidance counselor or principal for
possible sources of assistance if you can't provide the needed
supplies. Check with your local library or school library for books
and other information resources.

· Does your answer make sense to you? To check that your child
understands what he is doing, ask him to explain how he solved a
math problem or have him summarize what he has written in a

Watch for Frustration

If your child shows signs of frustration, let him take a break.
Encourage him and let him see that you know he can do the work.

Give Praise

People of all ages respond to praise. And children need
encouragement from the people whose opinions they value most—
their families. "Good first draft of your book report!" or "You've
done a great job" can go a long way toward motivating your child
to complete assignments.

Children also need to know when they haven't done their best
work. Make criticism constructive, however. Instead of telling a
sixth grader, "You aren't going to hand in that mess, are you?"
say, "The teacher will understand your ideas better if you use your
best handwriting." Then give praise when the child finishes a neat

Talk with Teachers to Resolve Problems

Homework problems often can be avoided when families and
caregivers value, monitor and guide their children's work on
assignments. Sometimes, however, helping in these ways is not
enough. If you have problems, here are some suggestions for how
to deal with them.

Tell the Teacher about Your Concerns

You may want to contact the teacher if...

· your child refuses to do her assignments, even though you've
tried hard to get her to do them;

· the instructions are unclear;

· you can't seem to help your child get organized to finish the

· you can't provide needed supplies or materials;

· neither you nor your child can understand the purpose of the

· the assignments are too hard or too easy;

· the homework is assigned in uneven amounts—for instance, no
homework is given on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but on
Thursday four assignments are made that are due the next day; or

· your child has missed school and needs to make up assignments.
In some cases, the school guidance counselor or principal also may
be helpful in resolving problems.

Work with the Teacher

Continuing communication with teachers
is very important in solving homework
problems. As you work with your child's
teacher, here are some important things to remember:

· Talk with each of your child's teachers early in the school year.
Get acquainted before problems arise and let each teacher know
that you want to be kept informed. Most elementary and middle
schools hold regular parent-teacher conferences or open houses.
If your child's school doesn't provide such opportunities, call the
teacher to set up a meeting.

· Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a
homework problem (as well as when you think he's having any
major problems with his schoolwork). Schools have a responsibility
to keep you informed about your child's performance and behavior
and you have a right to be upset if you don't find out until report-
card time that your child is having difficulties. On the other hand,
you may figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does.
By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem
in its early stages.

· Request a meeting with the teacher to discuss homework
problems. Tell him briefly why you want to meet. You might say,
"Rachel is having trouble with her math homework. I'm worried
about why she can't finish the problems and what we might do to
help her." If English is your second language, you may need to
make special arrangements, such as including in the meeting
someone who is bilingual.

· Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit. Believe that the
teacher wants to help you and your child, even if you disagree
about something. Don't go to the principal without giving the
teacher a chance to work out the problem with you and your child.

· Let the teacher know whether your child finds the assignments
too hard or too easy. (Teachers also like to know when their
students are particularly excited about an assignment.) Of course,
not all homework assignments can be expected to interest your
child and be perfectly suited to her. Teachers just don't have time
to tailor homework to the individual needs of each student.
However, most teachers want to assign homework that their
students can complete successfully and they welcome feedback.

Many teachers structure homework so that a wide range of
students will find assignments interesting. For example:

—They offer students options for different approaches to the
same topic or lesson;
—They give extra assignments to students who want more
challenge; and
—They give specialized assignments to students who are having
trouble in a particular area.

· During your meeting with the teacher,
explain what you think is going on. In
addition, tell the teacher if you don't know
what the problem is. Sometimes a student's
version of what's going on isn't the same
as the teacher's version. For example, your
child may tell you that the teacher never
explains assignments so that he can under-
stand them. But the teacher may tell you
that your child isn't paying attention when
assignments are given.

· Work out a way to solve or lessen the problem. The strategy will
depend on what the problem is, how severe it is and what the
needs of your child are. For instance:

  • Is the homework often too hard? Maybe your child has fallen
    behind and will need extra help from the teacher or a tutor to
    catch up.

  • Does your child need to make up a lot of work because of
    absences? The first step might be working out a schedule
    with the teacher.

  • Does your child need extra support beyond what home and
    school can give her? Ask the teacher, school guidance
    counselor or principal if there are mentor programs in your
    community. Mentor programs pair a child with an adult
    volunteer who assists with the child's special needs. Many
    schools, universities, community organizations, churches and
    businesses offer excellent mentoring programs.

· Make sure that communication is clear. Listen to the teacher and
don't leave until you're sure that you understand what's being
said. Make sure, too, that the teacher understands what you have
to say. If, after the meeting, you realize you don't understand
something, call the teacher to clarify.

At the end of the meeting, it may help to summarize what you've
agreed to do:

"OK, so to keep track of Kim's assignments, I'll check her
assignment book each night and write my initials beside new
assignments. Each day you'll check to make sure she's written
down all new assignments in her book. That way we'll be certain
that I know what her assignments are."

· Follow up to make sure that the approach you agreed to is
working. If the teacher told you, for example, that your child needs
to spend more time practicing long division, check back in a month
to talk about your child's progress.

Homework can bring together children, families and teachers
in a common effort to improve children's learning.

Helping your child with homework is an opportunity to improve
your child's chances of doing well in school and life. By helping
your child with homework, you can help him learn important
lessons about discipline and responsibility. You can open up lines
of communication—between you and your child and you and the
school. You are in a unique position to help your child make
connections between school work and the "real world," and
thereby bring meaning (and some enjoyment) to your child's
homework experience.