Homework – how to help your child do it well

Maybe you think your child is getting enough work at school and shouldn’t be doing any homework when they get home. Remember, most people who become an expert at something practised it many, many times before they mastered the skill. Homework gives children a chance to practise the skills learned at school. Even when the classroom teacher sets no homework, making a regular time with your child at home to practise the reading, writing, and maths skills being taught in class can help them learn those skills much easier and faster.

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You can make a positive difference to your child’s education by becoming involved in their learning. Recent New Zealand research has shown that parental involvement shapes the child’s identity as a learner, and sets higher expectations for the child. Encouraging your children to practice at home what they’re learning in the classroom can have a hugely positive impact on their success at school.

These can be simple tasks such as reading with them, revising letter sounds, practising adding and subtracting numbers and times tables, or coaching more complex skills to remember information for a test or organise homework. A homework habit can begin from the age of five when you read books together and practise writing letters and numbers. You will notice a big improvement in work ethic, subject skills, and also in your relationship with them if you find positive ways to work with them at home.

How to help your child do well at school

Talk to the teacher soon

Form a close partnership with the school, particularly the classroom teacher to find out how to best support your children at home with their learning. Research published by the Ministry of Education last year found that building home-school partnerships to improve children’s educational achievement was much more important than having a computer in the home. Don’t wait for the school to approach you. Build your own individual home-school partnership with your child’s classroom teacher. Ask questions about what skills are currently being taught in class, and get tips on how to help your child master those skills. Check with the teacher about –

  • What literacy and numeracy skills they are working on first, and how you can help.
  • The homework they will be sending home and when it needs to be completed.
  • Consequences if homework is not completed on time. For example, your child might have to complete it in their own time at school.
  • Whether the homework is able to be completed by your child alone or whether they need help.

Make homework a habit – a regular part of your at-home routine

Make regular, scheduled space and time for your child to do their homework. If they don’t have any homework that night, revise the skills they are learning at school. For example, read and write stories together, and practise the maths skills they are currently learning.

The key to learning new skills is practising them little and often

Not for long stretches of time. Homework time doesn’t have to be long. It can be as short as 10 minutes, especially when your child is learning new or difficult skills. Until a skill is mastered, practise it regularly with them and for short bursts of time.

You can successfully work with your child by using negotiation

Negotiation is when you and your child reach a win-win agreement through discussion and compromise, and then stick to that agreement. A win-win agreement is one where you both get what you want. It is a good idea to write down what you both agree on, and place that agreement or contract in some easily-seen place. You will both find it useful to review that agreement regularly, so you can improve on it. Remember to create a win-win situation so that over time your child becomes responsible for their own homework. Negotiate with them about –

  • When they will do homework. Perhaps before a favourite TV programme or after dinner. Negotiate times that you can be available to help and/or check in with them.
  • Where they do it – they need a space they can work in. Some students work best around other people, others need silence.
  • How long they spend doing homework – watch the time to make sure they work as long as was agreed. If there is no homework, they can read, or work on a skill you have both agreed they need to improve.
  • What they want you to help them with and what they want to complete on their own.
  • How you will check their work to make sure they are completing the work correctly.

Regularly check for homework, and then check whether it is done

If in doubt, contact their teacher. At times your child might hide how much homework they are given, or how well they complete it. Do not blame or judge them for this, instead problem-solve with them about how they can get the homework done successfully, honestly, and with minimum stress for you both.

Homework doesn’t have to be stressful

It can be a fun, relaxing time you and your child spend together. Sometimes children may believe it requires too much effort and time to complete their homework. Parents who successfully coach their children to do well at school have told me that the single most important strategy they learned from me is ‘chunking’ the homework time and/or the amount of work. Chunking is breaking up the homework into sections of time or amounts of work. You can –

  • Break the homework content into small chunks to complete over that evening or that week. For example, your child might have spelling, reading, and some mathematics for homework that night. You can ‘chunk’ the content by deciding together how many pages they will read, or how many spelling words they will learn that night, or how many maths problems they will complete each homework session.
  • Break homework time into small chunks of between 10 to 20 minutes, then take a break.
  • Homework is a time for the child to practise what they have been taught already, and it should generally be completed by the child, with only a little help from the parent.

When you do homework regularly with your child, you can both enjoy honing skills they are already good at, while working together to learn skills they haven’t quite mastered.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.