There has been much discussion in recent years about the merits of homework, but I do believe there are benefits for children of all ages. It strengthens the link between home and school and sets up good habits for learning. Done right, it can reinforce the learning that has taken place in school or help children prepare for learning that is to come.
As a teacher I know the huge benefits brought by creative, practical homework tasks involving the whole family, lots of chatter, glue, glitter and possibly an outing to a nearby wood. As a parent I love and loathe them depending upon how much I had planned for the weekend. So at my school, DUCKS, I encourage teachers to set a balance of activities to suit all our families, and parents to take them only as seriously as they are able in the moment, which brings me nicely to…
Top tip number 1: Use judgement and discretion.
Homework will only ever be effective as a learning tool when children are motivated to do it. You need to get the mood right and be prepared to put homework off when you can feel it isn’t going to work. No homework is worth tears (yours or your child’s).
2: Be prepared to join in.
Very few children can complete homework activities by themselves. Independence is developmental and often comes much later. Most young children will need you nearby and talking them through tasks. Do model writing, help with spelling and make corrections, referring always to tip number one as you do so. Give time to homework to show your child that what the school has sent home is important.
3: Do not do it for them!
It’s tempting and can be a quicker way to get it done, but it is far better if your child writes one sentence of their own than a paragraph of your work that they have copied out. Offer your support when it is needed but try to build independence. The aim is to get to the point (one day) when your child will do it on their own and ask you to look it over. Equally, if you really desperately want to make a castle out of lollipop sticks, do make your own in parallel but realise that it might just demotivate your child to see your perfect attempt sitting next to their very best effort.
4: Choose your timing carefully.
Yes, it would probably be ideal if your child did a little bit of homework each night as soon as they got home from school. Buts sometimes they are just too tired, or they have a playdate, or it’s a sunny day and you all want to go to the park on the way home. For working parents in particular, homework can be better done at the weekend, or before school in the morning, when the children are fresh and you can be on hand to keep an eye on what is being done. There is no right time, just do what works for your family.
5: Create a routine that signals when homework will start or stop.
A snack before or afterwards can be a good idea. Sometimes, children will get into the flow and want to keep working, but for the most part, a fixed time appropriate to the age of the child (school will have guidance on this) is more important than finishing the task. A sand timer can help children who struggle to get going, as will breaking the task into small chunks.
6: Find a quiet place away from distractions.
This might be in the bedroom or the kitchen, away from the television and exciting toys. Help your child to set up an area with all the necessary equipment and resources and make sure they are comfortable. A chair of the right height will help although some children prefer to stand, lie down or even move about as they work, which is all fine as long as they can focus on the task in hand.
7: Do make sure your child does the practical and ‘talk’ tasks.
Most of the points above apply to formal written homework tasks, but often the best activities are those that involve little or no writing. Don’t neglect ‘talk homework’ – it is really valuable. A homework that asks your child to discuss something as a family is one of the easiest tasks to complete, but also often used to prepare children for something they will do in school the following week.
8: Talk to the teacher.
Find out his or her expectations for homework. Is there flexibility about when it is given out and handed in? Is it differentiated or is this work the same for everyone? What are your child’s current targets specifically? The teacher may have suggestions for strategies to help your child based on the way your child learns in school. Keep in touch via the contact book, letting the teacher know what was easy, challenging or especially enjoyable. If you don’t understand a strategy or why something has been set for homework, then ask.
9: Make homework your child’s responsibility.
Ask them about what they need to do. Read the instructions together. Encourage and support, but ultimately make sure they know they have to do it and let them explain to the teacher if it is not done or they forgot to hand it in. Packing a bag the night before and checking the homework book is a job even children in Reception can do with ease. They will feel empowered by the responsibility and are more likely to get on with the less appealing tasks if it for the teacher rather than you.
10: Give praise!
Make sure it’s appropriate, honest and specific: try to focus on a detail that you particularly like. It won’t always be a struggle and for some children there is nothing they enjoy more than sitting down to do more work after school, but they will still love to hear that you are proud of their efforts.
About the author: Nicky Black is headteacher at DUCKS (Dulwich College Kindergarten and Infants’ School) for children aged 6 months to 7 years.
Feature Image credit: She Knows