The stress-free approach to helping your child with their school work
Like all parents, before I had school-age children I had the visions of sitting around the kitchen table, children happily doing their homework; me helping whilst cooking like Mother Earth, feeling somewhat smug that as a teacher I would at least have the advantage of knowing what the homework means and feeling primed to help… the reality is, like all parents of school-age children, helping your own children at home is hard.
From a parent and teacher, here are some tips that I have found helpful in bringing us a lot closer to that kitchen table vision…
1. Manage expectations
Of them, of you. As parents I think we often forget that we already have a lot of “teaching” to do without being our own children’s school teachers as well. Children spend around 6 hours per day at school and in the precious time they are at home we have things to teach them too, things that have little to do with number bonds and spellings and have everything to do with experiences beyond the restrictions of the walled classroom; so that hour you spend in the park worrying that the homework will be rushed later as far as I’m concerned is an hour well spent!
So, be realistic about what you can achieve together as a family; if teaching your child quadratic equations is beyond you then my advice would be don’t, be supportive in other ways and focus on working on the things you can help your child with.
There will never be enough time, but there are good times, bad times and dead times. Find the good times – the time when your children are alert and receptive (or even willing) to learn; it’s a lot easier to coerce children into homework and learning when we time it right. Good times for my eldest tends to be right before breakfast; whilst I am getting breakfast ready she will happily keep herself occupied writing. Avoid the bad times when children are generally hungry, tired or over-stimulated in my experience. Find what I call “dead time”; the time that cannot be used for anything else –journeys are ideal for this. We have an 8-10 minute drive to school every day and then a further 8-10 minute walk; that’s a lot of time if it’s used well. We have learnt spellings in the car, counted, recited times tables, planned stories and so on.
If it’s only possible to find ten minutes a day then make those ten minutes count and don’t expect more than ten minutes worth of work to be done in the time. 5-10 minutes of quality is far better than 30 minutes of battling, after all “success is the sum of small efforts – repeated every day in and out” (Robert Collier).
Scheduling short sessions in before things like screen time really helps to avoid the conflict of trying to pry them away from things they are engrossed in to do homework; no one wants a battle, use the screen time as the reward when homework is done.
3. Choose the right environment
I mention the idyll of the kitchen table, but the truth is that might not be the right environment, many a drink has been spilled on would-be masterpieces in our house and the kitchen in our house can be a busy place. For basic, easy routine tasks – learning spellings, practising handwriting, our kitchen is great; for reading we choose a quieter, distraction free environment – one where we can hear each other and focus entirely on the book.
4. Work on the basics
Aside from the homework set at school, when looking to support your children at home focus on the basics: reading, spellings, basic maths and times tables. The stress-free and most effective way to help at home is to help children rehearse and improve in confidence and proficiency in the things that they already know; not only does this make learning at home less stressful but it will bolster their learning foundations enabling them to better flourish in school as their learning progresses there.
5. Know when to call it a day
Try to avoid homework escalating to conflict, it is better to call it off than to drag them through, perhaps present something different or revisit it at a different time, or contact school if it is really difficult; dragging them through the homework will not only cause conflict with you but will undermine their confidence in what they are doing – creating learning barriers.
Chances are today was a bad day, tomorrow is always different and it’s far easier to revisit a task that you took away before the conflict arose than after.
Lastly, I think it’s really important to decide on your non-negotiable, ours is reading – our children are read to and read every day, so if nothing else happens, we read. Now this has become a habit, an addiction almost: there are tears in our house at the mere suggestion there might not be a story before bed. We are all creatures of habit and it’s down to us to form those habits through small efforts every day.
Maria Moyles is a qualified teacher, education consultant and owner and founder of Learn North West, she lives in Altrincham with her husband and two girls.