Mention the word “homework” to a group of parents and the conversation is likely to become heated and last for a quite a long time. Are teachers giving too much? Why won’t our kids sit down and do it? And how many of us have actually done it for them, just to save time and avoid tears?
Carolyn Melmed, a Montreal teacher who offers organization and study skills courses, says part of the problem is that parents are not clear what their role is when it comes to homework.
“Parents need to see themselves as a coach who helps children develop the skills needed both to complete homework and to study effectively,” she says. “We often assume that children know how to be organized, use their agenda and take good notes but that’s not necessarily true. Children need to learn these skills.”
For example, Melmed says young people should be taught to write down all assignments in their agenda, to check it at the end of the day and to carry the agenda with them every day.
Carrie Goldberg, Executive Director of the Family Resource Centre, which offers study skills programs, adds that parents should be working with the teachers to identify problems in areas like listening, note taking skills, time management and doing tests.
Children in the younger grades will need help planning and completing long-term projects such as research papers. “Students are told they will have to do a project, but they often have a difficult time finding the information, taking notes, editing a text and proofreading,” Goldberg says. Parents should help their child divide the project into manageable steps such as “go to the library and find three books on my topic” or “write first draft.”
However, Melmed warns that once a plan for completing an assignment has been agreed on, parents should take a step back. If a parent and child established a plan for completing a project, but the child did not follow it, then he or she must live with the consequences (most likely a poor grade). “Do not reward their procrastination by rushing in to help,” Melmed says. “It’s a major life lesson learning how to organize your time and meet deadlines.”
Melmed adds that one of the most-important skills parents should impart is how to problem solve. “When there is a problem, we need to show children how to define the problem, talk about solutions and then implement them,” Melmed says. A child who is wailing “I don’t understand this” probably needs some help identifying what is wrong. Maybe he doesn’t understand a fundamental concept, like fractions? In that case, the parent should write a note in the agenda, explaining the situation and try to follow up with the teacher later in the week. Sometimes, a child hasn’t properly read the instructions for the homework. In that case, a parent can gently suggest re-reading the directions.
Goldberg says that although many parents have heard that it’s important to provide a quiet, distraction-free study space, few truly analyze if this need is being met. “The younger children may be running around, the TV may be too loud,” she says. “Everyone needs to be involved in providing that quiet place to study.”
Children should have a routine and stick to it (see sidebar) and should have a designated place for all materials. Encourage your child to write down phone numbers of friends so they can call if they’ve forgotten an assignment or are missing some information.
Carolyn Melmed offers a workshop on helping children with study and organizational skills. For more information, call (514) 482-3819 or visit www.carolynmelmed.com.
The Family Resource Centre offers a study skills program as well as social skills workshops, parenting classes and counselling. They are located at 4855 Des Sources Blvd., in Pierrefonds. For more information, call (514) 685-5912 or visit www.familyresourcecenter.qc.ca.
Implement an after-school routine
The arrival of kids after school can be chaotic with backpacks needing to be emptied and papers signed. To bring some order, Carolyn Melmed, who offers organizational and study skills workshops, says parents should establish a routine. Here are her tips:
- Insist that backpacks be put in the same place each day and emptied right away.
- After unpacking the bag, kids should make four piles:
(a) homework, (b) materials that must go back to school (including forms that need to be signed), (c) anything to be thrown out, such as old wrappers, and (d) materials to be filed, such as notes, old test papers, etc.
- Check in with your kids about any special equipment or things needed for the following day (pizza lunch money? gym shoes?) and get it ready.
- Ask your child these three questions: what homework is due? When are you going to do it? Where are you going to put it (for example, back in the bag when it is done or on a bookshelf if it is a long-term project)?
- Once homework is completed, put everything back in the appropriate place. Take a minute to ensure everything is ready so your mornings will go smoothly.