How to Encourage Responsibility, Time Management, and Learning Without Homework

Six simple ways for parents to reinforce academic skills, foster good work habits, and teach responsibility at home without homework.

The boy across from me was fighting back tears. He was tall for his age, with long, sandy brown hair that grew over his eyes and hid his emotions in a way that was not entirely unintentional.

He wanted to succeed and – as a new teacher – I wanted to do everything I could to give him that chance. Now, as the tears welled in his eyes, he stood up and pushed the desk over. He hadn’t completed his spelling homework (again) and I, his teacher, had to administer a test we both knew he would fail. He’d requested more time to study but there was none left. The class had to move forward.

This was a weekly dance for us and there had been days, though rare, when I could coax him into finishing his work at home through heartfelt pleading and thinly veiled bribes. Today was not one of those days and since I couldn’t let him skip the test while the rest of the class took part, he knew he faced another failure. The homework designed to support him was actually leaving him further and further behind when he didn’t do it. And I think a part of him hated me for it.

Five years later, I’m no longer a teacher but I’m now a parent and I have to admit, I cheered a little bit on the inside when I read the letter announcing that our local elementary school had done away with homework. Teaching at a new charter school that was attempting to assert itself as a balance between arts integration and academic rigor, homework had been a regular part of our routine. And just as regularly, I had students who did not, or could not, complete it. It was always a difficult balance.

On the one hand, there were students who were working hard at home to complete the tasks assigned, and on the other I had students who sometimes did not understand the work, had no help at home to complete it, or had a schedule so filled with extracurriculars that they didn’t even sit down at the table until past 8 p.m. The deck was stacked against us.

While there does exist plenty of research supporting the academic boost from homework in older grades, most of it also suggests that these benefits don’t begin in earnest until middle school. Even an overview of the studies revealing academic advantages of homework notes that for elementary students “the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement … hovered around zero,” meaning there was no relationship.

Other studies found that too much homework, in fact, can have negative effects. Opponents assert that homework can increase boredom with schoolwork and decrease the time that kids have for leisure activities such as sports, music, and playing outside – in short, the stuff childhood is made of. Another study reveals that homework widens the achievement gap and reinforces socio-economic disparities. 

But is homework always a bad thing for our youngest students? One study suggests that homework does in fact produce positive outcomes at the elementary level, but not specifically in terms of academics. Instead, it proposes that homework for elementary students is a good thing because it fosters positive work habits and responsible character traits, encourages parental involvement in school-related work, and reinforces simple skills learned in class.

This is also the argument from local parents in our town who were concerned about the shift away from formal homework. They echoed the lead researcher who notes that, “a little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits and learn skills developed through practice.” But can these skills only be learned through homework?

What’s a parent to do? Are there ways to reap the benefits of homework at the elementary age without actually subjecting your grade-schooler to potentially fruitless work? Of course there are! The benefits of homework for elementary schoolers are skills easily reinforced at home, without any actual assignments from school. Here are six simple ways for parents of grade school students to reinforce academic skills, foster good work habits, and teach responsibility at home without the help (or hindrance) of homework.

1 | Talk to your kids about what they’re learning

Make a habit of checking in daily with your children about what they’re currently doing in school. Go through their backpacks every afternoon or evening to find completed work and ask your child to explain it to you. Or start a family tradition of sharing over dinner one new thing they learned each day. It can sometimes be tiring to pull all of the details out of your child, but there are some good tips on how to get them talking here.

Also make sure to keep communication open and flowing with your child’s teacher. Most teachers can now be reached easily through email and will be happy to keep you updated on current curriculum and any skills that your child may need reinforced at home. Studies on academic achievement agree that high-achieving students have parents who work together with teachers to support learning at school and at home.     

2 | Give your children real responsibilities at home

It’s never too early for kids to start taking some responsibility at home. Even toddlers can be in charge of turning off the lights or wiping out the sink. In the beginning, share the work with your child by starting the task and then inviting them to help. Young children will initially be more willing to work if they view it as a team effort.

Also, make sure to model responsibility yourself and talk about it as you go. For example, when you come in the door, hang up your coat and put your shoes away while saying aloud, “Now I put my coat on the hook and my shoes on the mat so that no one will trip on them and I can find them when I need them next.”

A family is a child’s first introduction to community life and children who do chores learn to support a community and work towards common goals. They also experience higher levels of confidence and self-esteem. It may take more time to teach these skills now, but the long term benefits are well-documented.   

3 | Foster an appreciation for reading

Some schools may ask students to keep a list of books they’ve read or time they’ve spent reading at home. Even if yours does not, encourage your child to keep track of what she reads and how much she likes it.

Set reading goals together and support your child in her efforts to tackle them independently. Let her choose books that she’s interested in and encourage her to seek input from friends, teachers, and the librarian once she knows what she likes. Read together to tackle new subject matter or trickier chapter books. Talk often about what she reads.

Children who read for pleasure build vocabulary and are exposed to new ideas more frequently. While the link between reading and achievement in language arts is obvious, recent research shows that reading for pleasure is also associated with higher achievement in math and sciences. 

4 | Create a space in your home where your child can work

He may not have formal homework, but kids are naturally curious and by providing him space and resources to explore, he’s more likely to learn independently. Make sure your child has a desk, table, or counter space dedicated to him and keep age-appropriate learning toys and books available there.

Younger students might keep educational games, books, art supplies and puzzles in this space. Older students might have reference books like a dictionary, atlas, or thesaurus, and even a computer if there’s one available. 

Children who play with blocks and puzzles have been shown to develop better spatial skills than children who participate in parent-led activities. And beyond that, children who have more cognitive stimulation in early years have been shown to have a more refined brain cortex as teens.   

5 | Teach time management

Most children struggle with time management because the area of the brain responsible for executive functioning is the last to develop. While their brains are maturing, children will need support in grasping this concept.

To teach time management, begin with the basics of telling time on an analog clock. A child who cannot tell time cannot be expected to independently manage it. Keep analog clocks visible throughout your home and make a habit of noting the time and guessing the time throughout the day.

Once your child can understand the basics, practice estimating time through simple games. These can easily be played in the car or while waiting in line. Expand her knowledge by challenging her to estimate time spent on simple tasks. Children with a better grasp of time will naturally develop better time management skills.

You can reinforce basic time management skills through structure and routines. For example, your child should know that after dinner, he must put away his toys, take a shower, brush his teeth, and put on pajamas before he can watch a show or play a game on the computer.

Rather than using the screen time as a reward, it’s the positive end result of his actions. The logical consequence of not completing his after-dinner routine in a timely manner then becomes not having enough time to use the computer. Sometimes setting a timer or alarm can help to reinforce that time is not flexible.   

6 | Support organizational skills

Organizational skills are another concept linked closely with executive functioning. While their brains are still developing in the prefrontal cortex, children will need support in developing organizational systems that work for them.

On the small scale, help your child with daily organization by providing written checklists of the day’s activities, responsibilities, and commitments. Very young children might need pictures instead of words. Though you may need to fill them out for your child initially, keep him involved so that he can make the lists himself in the future.

Another way to support your child’s developing organizational skills now is to lay the foundations for daily routines that can continue when your child is older and does have homework.

Set up a filing system that is easily accessible to your child. It could be color coded folders, drawers, or boxes. Have one box for things your child wants to keep over the long term, have another drawer for works in progress, and have one last drawer for papers ready to be returned to school, like completed permission slips or reading logs, and completed homework further down the line.

Help your child to go through his backpack each night and sort any papers into the filing system. Keep a recycling bin handy so that anything that doesn’t warrant keeping can be efficiently purged.

Finally, keep a large monthly calendar accessible in your home. This will reinforce for your child that organizational skills are a lifelong process. Have your child help you to fill it in at the start of each month and add important deadlines, commitments, and responsibilities together as they arise.

Don’t let a lack of homework mean less responsibility at home; instead, let it be an opportunity for more meaningful, authentic responsibilities. Though the absence of homework might initially seem like permission to let skills slide at home, it’s really an invitation for parents to become more involved and invested in their child’s development.

Schools, especially crowded or understaffed ones, cannot possibly be responsible for teaching our kids everything they need to be successful in life. When parents and teachers work together to nurture well-rounded kids and to reinforce budding skills both at school and at home, everyone comes out on top, homework or no homework.   

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31 Things Your Kids Should Be Doing Instead of Homework

So, what are some of the things kids could be doing in those hours between the end of the school day and bed time? Science and research say these work.

There are many aspects of my more than decade-long career as a teacher that I’m proud of. My reputation for giving lots and lots of homework is not one of them.

For most of my teaching career, I taught fifth or sixth grade. Sometimes I gave more than two hours of homework. Kids complained a lot, though parents rarely did, at least not to my face. I think parents mostly felt the same way I did: that homework was the best way to practice new skills, that it teaches responsibility and helps to develop a strong work ethic, and that it’s an opportunity to reflect on new learning.

But most of all, my students’ parents and I were more than a little afraid that our kids would fall behind – behind their classmates in the next classroom, behind the kids in a neighboring school, behind the kids in other countries. Homework was considered one of many ways to prevent that from happening.

I wasn’t entirely wrong about all of that, and I still believe a lot of those things. But only for middle and high school students (and not hours of assignments). Not for elementary students, and certainly not for kindergarteners or preschoolers.

When I entered a doctoral program in education policy, I learned about the research that suggests that homework is not good for young kids. Not only does it fail to improve the academic performance of elementary students, but it might actually be damaging to kids’ attitudes toward school, and to their physical health. In a review of available research studies, Harris Cooper, a leading researcher who has spent decades studying the effect of homework, concluded that “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

When I became a parent during graduate school, I experienced for myself just how tired and overwhelmed kids can be after a full day at daycare, preschool, or elementary school, often followed by more after school activities. After hours spent sitting and engaging in mostly adult-directed activities, children’s minds and bodies need other kinds of experiences when they get home, not more academics.

It’s not just that homework itself has no academic benefits for little kids, and may even be harmful, it’s also that homework is replacing other fun, developmentally appropriate, and valuable activities – activities that help them grow into healthy, happy adults.

So, what are some of the things kids could be doing in those hours between the end of the school day and bed time? 

1 | Jump rope.

An important part of how young kids’ minds develop is through free, self-directed play. According to David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, free play is critical now more than ever, as recesses are shortened or eliminated, and kids’ calendars are busier than ever.

“Through play,” Elkind writes, “children create new learning experiences, and those self-created experiences enable them to acquire social, emotional, and intellectual skills they could not acquire any other way.”

2 | Talk with parents.

I’ve heard from countless friends about their daily battles with their elementary-aged kids struggling to do homework, and the way it’s negatively affected their relationships.

Instead, of parents nagging their overtired kids to do homework they’re too young to do independently, families should spent much time talking together about their day. In fact, conversation is the best way for all of us – especially young children – to learn about our world and cultivate empathy.

3 | Sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 25 and 30% of children aren’t getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of problems in kids, including poor attention, behavior problems, academic difficulties, irritability, and weight gain. But even small amounts of additional sleep can have big impacts. One study found that only 20 additional minutes of sleep can improve kids’ grades.

4 | Independent reading.

Most of us know that developing good habits (and hopefully a love of reading) is critical to doing well at school. However, homework can actually interfere with the time that kids can spend on reading.

5 | Listen to a book.

Studies show that kids who are read aloud to do better in school and have better vocabularies.

6 | Work on a puzzle.

Being able to play on their own without adults (called “solitary play”) builds confidence in kids and makes them more relaxed.

7 | Go up a slide backwards.

“Risky” play — activities like climbing a tree — is good for kids. Children need to explore their own limits, to be able to assess risks, and to learn how to negotiate their environments.

Researchers theorize that risky play, found across all cultures and in other mammals, has a evolutionary role in preparing offspring for life without their caretakers.

8 | Dig in the dirt.

Another type of play, sensory play, is also critical for kids’ development. When kids knead clay or finger paint, they are stimulating their senses. “Sensory experiences,” explains one early childhood educator, “provide open-ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product; how children use materials is much more important than what they make with them.” 

9 | Playing with a friend in a sandbox.

Parallel play, or the type of play in which kids play next to each other, begins in toddlers. But even for older kids, parallel play can help develop critical social skills.

10 | Help with dinner.

Kids who learn about new foods, and how to prepare them, may be more likely to choose more nutritious foods later on.

11 | Walk the dog.

Kids who help take care of family pets may be less anxious, less likely to develop allergies and asthma, and are more active.

12 | Volunteer at an animal shelter.

Even kids who don’t have pets at home can benefit from being around animals. The emotional and psychological benefits of being around animals can also be found when kids care for injured animals and take on care-taking responsibilities for other people’s pets.

13 | Plant a garden.

Kids who work in gardens may have higher achievement scores in science than those who don’t. That’s because they’re actively engaging in scientific concepts and practicing math skills as they learn about plants.

14 | Practice an instrument.

Kids who participate in musical activities – those who practice an instrument regularly and participate actively in music groups – may have brains who are better wired for literacy skills, according to one study.

15 | Hang out at Grandma’s.

Encouraging multi-generational relationships can yield many lessons for kids. They can learn how other adult role models in their lives who love them handle conflict, create and negotiate rules and routines, and embrace family traditions.

16 | Participate in a community service project.

Through volunteering, kids can become more grateful, empathetic, and feel more connected to the wider community.

17 | Draw a picture.

For kids who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, drawing can be a way for them to relax and communicate in a different way.

18 | Do a science experiment.

Kids are naturally curious and want to know how things work. Scientific exploration outside the classroom may be particularly effective at teaching kids about scientific thinking.

19 | Play dress up.

The significance of imaginative “pretend” or “fantasy” play for kids’ creativity and future problem-solving skills is difficult to overstate. When kids pretend they’re superheroes or talk to stuffed animals, they’re learning about social roles, setting the stage for later learning, and processing ideas from the world around them. In fact, some research suggests that kids who don’t engage in fantasy play may actually struggle in the classroom later.

20 | Wrestle with a sibling.

Rough and tumble” play is not the same as aggression. It’s vigorous, free-form, whole-body, energetic, happy play.  Kids learn decision-making skills, relieve stress, improve their ability to read social cues, and enhance their cardio-vascular health.

21 | Clean their room.

When kids are spending their afternoons working on homework, there’s often not time for them to help out with housework and other chores. A University of Minnesota researcher, Marty Rossman, found that one of the best predictors of a kid’s future success is whether they contributed to household chores as a young child.

According to Rossman, “Through participating in household tasks, parents are teaching children responsibility, how to contribute to family life, a sense of empathy and how to take care of themselves.”

22 | Write a story.

By writing down stories, kids can express their feelings, stretch their imaginations, and practice their fine motor skills.

23 | Zone out.

Just as important as play is “down time.” The authors of “Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Happy, Successful Kids argue that every kids needs PDF: playtime, downtime, and family time.

Downtime is when kids are allowed to literally do not much of anything, like sit around and listen to music or stare at the ceiling. These moments allow children to reflect, rest, and reset their minds and bodies.

24 | Meditate.

Kids also benefit from meditation. Studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can improve behavior, focus, and reduce impulsiveness.

25 | Create a collage.

Constructive play” – building a fort, making a snowman – is goal-oriented and involves kids building something using tools and materials. Constructive play also has an important role in developing children’s communication, mathematical, and socio-emotional skills.

26 | Listen to classical music.

One study found that playing classical music to children can improve their listening and concentration skills, as well as self-discipline.

27 | Learn to knit.

Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are hobbies that can help enhance fine motor skills, improve coordination, and develop longer attention spans.

28 | Take pictures.

“Photography can help develop a child’s voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community,” according to one photographer who teaches photography to children in Canada.

29 | Ride a bike.

Kids who are physically active – as well as adults! – have stronger hearts, lungs, and bones. They are less likely to develop cancer or be overweight and more likely to feel good about themselves.

30 | Listen to a long bedtime story.

Babies, children, and adult sleep better when they have a regular (not rushed) bedtime routine. Kids who don’t have bedtime routines are more likely to have behavior problems, be hyperactive, and suffer from emotional difficulties.

31 | Play “Simon Says.”

During cooperative games, kids collaborate to reach a common goal. There may be a leader, and kids start to learn about social contracts and social rules.

When homework is assigned to young children, it doesn’t improve academic learning. In any case, the learning done in school is only one form of learning. Homework takes away from the time available to engage in endless other forms of learning, such as social, physical, and emotional, as well as rest.

Our kids deserve a chance to spend all their other hours outside of school doing their most important job of all: being a kid.

Those “Homework is Useless” Articles Are Lying to You

The “no homework” revolution has recently gained serious momentum. However, homework can be a beneficial tool to support our kids’ learning.

There’s something strange happening right now. There’s a movement afoot, and it’s getting stronger and louder every second.

Take, for example, this letter from a teacher that recently made its way around the internet. “Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance,” it reads, and promises, “There will be no formally assigned homework this year.”

It’s hardly the only one like it. Articles like it have been filling the internet lately, claiming that “homework offers no academic advantage” or calling on schools to “ban homework.” Even the people at Scholastic have written up an article called “Down With Homework!”

It’s catching on with parents, too. Some parents are writing articles saying that they won’t make their kids do homework in elementary school, others saying they won’t make them do any for as long as they live. And even Time Magazine is chiming in and telling parents that they “should not make kids do homework.

This is an incredible, passionate revolution of parents, seemingly more motivated to change their children’s lives than I’ve ever seen before.

It’s also completely insane.

It’s great that parents are fired up over something, but we all need to take a second and calm down and think about what we’re saying.

Homework obviously offers an academic advantage. Your kids should be doing their homework. And you should be encouraging your children to do their homework.

If we don’t take a moment and re-evaluate, we’re going to ruin an entire generation. Because here’s the thing about all of these articles:

They’re lying to you.

The study that shows homework is useless doesn’t exist.

This “homework is useless” trend all seems to come from one person: Dr. Harris Cooper. Almost every article telling us homework needs to be banned quotes his work. Those that don’t quote Cooper directly, quote books by Alfie Kohn or Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish – books that are almost entirely based on Cooper’s studies. In fact, the blurb of Kohn’s website mentions Cooper 37 separate times.

I tracked down Cooper’s work and read every word I could find, all while gritting my teeth, ready to argue with the man who was apparently telling the world that homework is useless. Once I read it, though, I couldn’t actually be mad at him – because Cooper doesn’t say that.

Not even once.

If you don’t believe me, you can read Cooper’s study for yourself. You’ll find that Cooper actually says there’s, “generally consistent evidence for a positive influence of homework on achievement.”

Dr. Cooper’s study is a review of every study on homework he could find. He was looking for patterns of evidence to show what effect homework really has in an effort to help temper the debate between parents and teachers about how much homework kids should do.

He definitely found some issues in the way we do homework. But overall, Cooper concluded that almost every study showed homework helps student performance.

The reason we keep hearing that homework is useless mostly due to the twisted game of telephone playing out in the media. Cooper’s study was quoted in Kohn’s book, Kohn was quoted in articles, and then other articles pulled the most sensational parts, turning them into clickbait pieces that drive traffic. Slowly, the actual results of the study were blurred, and the only piece left in the headlines doesn’t even resemble the truth.

Homework is practice, and practice makes perfect.

Even if there is a study determining that homework was useless, it still shouldn’t change your opinion. The fact that homework helps academic performance is just common sense.

We were eager to eat up this idea that homework was pointless because it made parenting easier. We didn’t stop for a second, though, to think about how ridiculous it might be to ban homework altogether.

Imagine if you heard this about something else. Imagine if somebody told you that practicing piano between lessons doesn’t improve piano-playing ability, or that playing baseball doesn’t improve a child’s ability to play baseball. Would you believe them?

Homework is practice, and it’s a way to help kids develop good habits. It’s a chance for your kids to take lessons they’ve learned in class and make sure that they can do them on their own. It’s also a chance for teachers to check how well their students understand what they’ve taught them, and give feedback that helps them improve or get back on track.

We can make homework better.

Cooper’s study wasn’t just gushing about how great homework is. He identifies a few problems with the way it’s delivered. And it’s these problems that continue to be quoted in articles. But his recommendations weren’t nearly as drastic as what you read online.

Cooper found that students learn more from in-class work than they do from homework. Sure, you can make that sound shocking as the headline of an article, but it’s really just common sense. In class, teachers check on a student’s progress and give feedback, and there’s a network of classmates who can help each other out. It’s most likely all that extra help that makes in-class work more useful.

He also found that young children often get too much homework – but he didn’t call for an end to it. Cooper suggests deciding how much homework a child gets by multiplying their grade by ten. So, first graders should do ten minutes of homework a day, third graders should do thirty minutes, and freshmen in high school should be getting half an hour of daily homework per class.

So, yes, homework could be better. There are changes schools could make that would help kids learn more. But we’ve let the actual solutions get so distorted that today, even the people teaching our kids have the wrong idea about what those solutions are.

Parents need to help their children.

Teachers aren’t perfect. Nobody does a perfect job every day they go to work, and no business is full of perfect employees. Teachers are the same as everyone else,  there are good ones and bad ones, and they have good days and bad days. There will be days your kid’s teacher gives homework that helps, and days they give homework that hurts.

What we can control is our parenting. As parents, we can do our best to make our children’s homework as valuable as it possibly can be – but we won’t do that by telling them not to do it at all.

If children are better able to complete work with a teacher present, parents need to be that teacher. When your children do their homework, check in on them. See if they’re having a hard time with something. And if they are, don’t just give them the answer, help them problem-solve.

Homework can be a beneficial tool to support our kids’ learning. But it’s only successful if parents step in to help their children with this work. 

It Only Takes Small Increases in Sleep to Improve Grades

Small cumulative sleep extension can improve kids’ academic performance.

Elementary school-age children who improved their sleep habits also improved in their academic performance, according to a study by researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in partnership with the Riverside School Board in Montreal.

Participation in the program yielded improvements in sleep and report card grades. Specifically, participation in the intervention was associated with improved grades in English and mathematics.

The takeaway for parents:

  • Small cumulative sleep extension may lead to improved academic performance.
  • Parents are advised to ensure their children get sufficient amount of healthy sleep every night.

The takeaway for schools:

  • Re-evaluate how to encourage integration of sleep education programs to the health curriculum

 

Should We Pay Kids for Good Grades?

A suprising answer to the question of paying kids for good grades and getting them to do their schoolwork.

Should We Pay Our Kids for Good Grades?

I’d like to meet the parent who HASN’T bribed their kids at least once.

We’ve all been there – a tricky situation where our kids simply WILL NOT do what we want them to.

So we tell them we’ll give them something in return if they comply – a treat, more screen time, or money – just so they’ll do what we need them to do.

These bribes are often used when the situation is critical – when major consequences are at stake if the kid doesn’t comply.

Nothing fits that description more than school. How kids perform in school often determines where they go to college, what kind of profession they’ll have, or even if they’re able to graduate from high school.

So in order to motivate our kids to do their school work, the best way to get action is to pay them for good grades – right?

Well, yes and no.

First let’s look at the “yes” part of that answer:

Research shows that paying kids for good grades often DOES improve them.

Initially.

When kids receive rewards – whether it’s for doing chores, limiting screen time or doing well in school – there’s almost always improvement. The floor is swept, the A is achieved, the test scores go up.

But the question is – even if kids are able to achieve an A in Pre-Algebra or get a top score on a standardized exam with the incentive of cash, what lesson does it teach and will those improvements last?

Psychological studies going back as far as the early 1970s have found that rewards programs often result in less engaged students. The studies show that students who receive rewards are being trained to do the minimum amount needed to get the reward – not developing an intrinsic love of learning that ultimately makes them more successful academically and as an adult.

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, told NPR: “research confirms that ‘the bigger the reward, the more damage it does’ by encouraging students to focus on the goodies, not the learning. ‘The more you use cell phones, T-shirts, money or whatever, the more you undermine motivation for becoming engaged and prolific learners,’ he said.”

The other downside to giving kids rewards is that they put the responsibility for learning on the parent – who needs to come up with more rewards for sustained results and also has to continue to monitor success.

As Richard Ryan, a professor at Rochester University told The Sunday Times: “If a parent were to say, ‘I will give you this if you achieve all As’, the child is likely to do it for that reward. It also means that subsequently, he will think, well, the only reason to learn is to get the reward. If I am not getting the reward that I want, I am not interested in learning.”

And if a child decides the money is no longer worth the effort? The parent is out of luck.

What to do instead:

Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author, suggests to reward your child verbally. Once your child has achieved a goal, say how the effort and studying paid off and how you’re proud he improved his grades.

Richard Ryan suggests that after a child does well, the parent can suggest a celebration, like going to a special restaurant for a meal. He argues that this is not a reward but just an acknowledgment and celebration of a goal achieved.

“A reward that acknowledges a great effort is more effective than one that is promised upfront for getting an A. Appreciation is always a better motivator than control. “ Ryan says.

And if you have a kid who is completely unmotivated:

Amy McCready, the Founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com, gave this advice in a New York Times article on how to manage a kid who is unmotivated to get homework done:

  • Make sure homework is done before screen time: Although screen time could be viewed as a reward, it’s also teaching kids how to set priorities. Other activities that are more interesting to kids could be replaced for screen time.
  • Emphasize the action, not the grade: Focus on the effort your child has put into homework, however small, and praise that effort. Also, remind kids that persistence will pay off.
  • Give them the responsibility: letting children manage their own school work, for better or worse, is the best way to prepare them to navigate life’s ups and downs and become who they want to be.

Do you or would you pay your kids for good grades? Why or why not?

What’s The Parent’s Role With Homework?

If we want kids to invest in their education, we have to allow them to take on the responsibility of managing their school and homework.

The relationship our children develop with school (and yes, it is a relationship) begins as soon as they enter their first classroom.

School work and homework play an important part in our child’s first decisions concerning their education and their parents’ role in their education.

If we want our kids to invest in their education, then we have to allow them to take on the responsibility of managing their school and homework.

Here are some tips on how to stay involved, without taking over.

Tip #1: Set clear and reasonable expectations for both you and the kids. 

This might include:

  • We will require the kids set aside 15 minutes for homework or reading.  If the kids choose to noodle away their time, then we will bite our tongues and let the natural consequences do the teaching.  Obviously, as the kids get older you can revisit this issue and decide how much time they need to complete school work so you can factor that in to their busy schedules.
  • We will ask the kids about their classwork, homework and projects, but will not demand that they inform us.  If the kids choose to share, we will keep our opinions to a minimum and if the kids choose not to share, we will respect their decision.   The more you can promote their independence in this area, the quicker they will learn the lessons that will help them take responsibility for their learning.
  • We will provide a place for the kids to do homework but understand that they might not all use the space as we intended.
  • We will offer our assistance if we see the kids struggle, but we will not monitor their homework or demand they let us check their work.  After all, homework is suppose to help the teacher assess the students in her class and if you help too much, the teacher isn’t getting accurate information.
  • If our kids choose not to do their homework, we will support the school’s consequences which might include a loss of recess time or staying after school or taking a zero on the assignment or project.
  • We will do our best to help the kids create healthy study habits but will not jeopardize our relationship with them by forcing the issue.
  • We will remember that the mistakes our kids make when they are young teach them valuable lessons when the stakes are low. They will grow to understand the importance of investing in their education as they grow and mature.

Tip 2: Take into account Your Child’s Style as it pertains to homework.

Consider the following:

  • Some kids need to take a break
  • Some kids need to stay at it until they break through the frustration
  • Some kids need to engage in some physical activity to allow their brain to relax and refocus before returning to their studies
  • And some kids need to plug into their ipods or a tv or a computer game and go inside themselves to reenergize and refocus.

Many kids are beginning to identify the subjects that are difficult for them and subjects that come easy.  This may lead them in a direction of study later on in their lives.  It will certainly help them navigate the rest of their lives if they understand these key indicators of what interests them and what doesn’t.

Remember your kids are developing important life skills and taking responsibility for their own homework is the perfect place to allow these skills to blossom.

It is more important that our kids learn how to become organized, manage their time, problem solve, accept responsibility and build confidence in their ability to make choices and navigate their education, than it is to get perfect marks on their assignments.

Consider:

  • What is your child’s learning style?
  • Does your child want downtime after school? Or is she able to jump right in?
  • Is your child able to tackle school work independently?
  • What is the biggest concern you have about handing the job of homework over to your child?
  • What does your child enjoy the most and the least about school?

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Homework help – how much?

I’ve noticed that almost all parents who ask “How much homework help do I offer my child” have 3 things in common.

Every year the same question comes up: How much homework help do I offer my child?

What I’ve noticed is that almost all parents who ask this question have 3 things in common:

They don’t have a strategy. (At least not a strategy that provides direction and a goal.)

– They have big fat, false fears about what will happen if their child does not turn in homework! (Stay back a grade, flunk out of college, lose scholarship opportunities, become a slacker, etc.)

– They sense this could be a growing problem, which is why they want to nip it in the bud. (They don’t like the idea of being the homework police and I don’t blame them).
The Truth is

The homework is not your problem and the only one who can learn to “fix” homework issues is your child. The teacher is who your child can turn to for homework help.

About homework help, Rick Ackerly, a 45-year veteran and thought leader in the field of Education says:

“When you care about it more than your child, it absolves the child of responsibility.”

In his post (a title inspired by the wise words of a 7 year old), Overparenting? Why Do Grownups Have to Take Over? he guides parents through various feelings and beliefs they have about homework help. He also shares a story that I believe will hit home for the majority of our readers who are still struggling with their over-parenting tendencies. In the post, he says to a couple of well-meaning parents,

Right now, (your son) doesn’t have to do any learning, because you are doing all the work. Your anxiety is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Get Vicki’s book Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids and “The Straight Talk on Parenting: A No-Nonsense Approach on How to Grow a Grown-Up
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This is why you should stop being the homework police

I read a blog post not long ago by the mother of a 2nd grader who needed some guidance on how to help her child with homework. Without rehashing the entire blog post, here’s the gist of it.

Her daughter had an assignment to do, and twiddled her thumbs for hours until mom started breathing down her neck; mom is now afraid that the child will flunk out of college and never learn a thing unless she continues to be the homework police, and, well, forget about dinner!

At the end of her article, this mom still didn’t have a strategy for how to deal with the homework issue. What she did have was a gut feeling that if she didn’t come up with a strategy for both her and her daughter, it could be a very long eleven years.

First off, if this mom is anything like the parents who show up at a class I teach, she just might have a belief that children who dawdle while doing their homework will fail in school, won’t get into college, won’t get a good job and will lead a less than successful life.

I know, it’s a little over the top, but these “beliefs” we have can wreak havoc on us and on our kids’ lives.

If you’re one of these parents who have strong beliefs about homework, take a step back and remember that this child (or yours) is in second grade and working on the first big homework assignment of her life. Of course she’s dawdling—she doesn’t really know what’s expected of her yet!

Second, if mom wants to become the homework police—and stay the homework police for the remainder of this child’s academic career—then she did the right thing by breathing down her neck. And she better get good at it because she has at least another eleven years of poking and prodding to do.

Ah, you hadn’t considered this, had you? That’s one of the pickles parents get themselves into. They create a habit, or a short-term solution to a long-term challenge, and find themselves doing things for years that started out as a “one time only” proposition.

What could she (or you) do if she doesn’t want to be the homework police and has better things to do than micromanage her daughter’s life? She could do—are you ready?—nothing. Yup, that’s right—nothing. At least for a while. At least until she begins to understand more about how her daughter views homework.

This little second grader is never going to learn how to manage her time or how she best gets things done without figuring that out herself. Our kids don’t learn time management because we tell them which assignment to do, when to do it and how it should be done.

They learn by not turning in an assignment, dealing with the aftermath and then coming up with a plan so that it never happens again. (Okay, if it never happens again at 45, you can consider yourself a success.)

My recommendation to this mom? Relax! Your daughter is only in second grade and has a long time to figure out how to manage her time to get everything done. Let her dawdle and doodle, and let her get a C or an F on the assignment. You can be sure that learning is taking place and, after all, isn’t that what school is for?

Instead of standing over her shoulder, you will be free to… do what you like, including having the resources to be happy, friendly and available for your children if they happen to experience disappointment as they learn.

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