Homework...Help!

What Kind of Homework Helper Are You?

By Tish Davidson

Homework is part of life. As soon as your child is in preschool, the teachers start training. This is to help kids and parents alike hone their skills on simple things like remembering to bring in something orange for sharing. Then come kindergarten and the early grades, when your child graduates to short assignments and reading time followed by the upper grades when long range assignments appear. By middle and high school, things get serious. Your child may be looking at 2 hours of work by now and algebra assignments that make you wish you'd paid more attention in class.

How do you develop a style all your own? Every parent has their own personality and strengths as does each child. You'll likely find what works for you may not suit your spouse and vice versa. Many families divvy up the duties. Mom may not have the patience to listen to a beginning reader sound out Cat in the Hat but she loves math drills. However you share the task, the important thing is to spend the time with your child and let them know you value their education and want to help.

At the beginning of every school year, teachers remind parents that the best thing they can do to help their kids succeed in school is to get involved in their children's education. The most common place for parent involvement comes in supervising homework. Sylvia Seidel, director of the National Education Association Professional Development School Research Project and a former teacher says, "Most important is to provide a place and a time every day for a child to review. This should be a concentrated and uninterrupted time consistently enforced and respected by everyone in the family -- no television, no telephone, no distractions. This is true at any grade level. The student is inundated with information and needs a time to sort information and prepare for the next day." Most parents know they need to help their children with homework, but sometimes their style of homework supervision does more harm than good.

The type of homework help that is most appropriate varies with the child's age, maturity, and difficulty of the homework. Children in lower grades find it hard to stay focused and work independently. They may need a parent to sit with them as they work. However, as they mature, children should be given more independence and responsibility in managing their homework without constant parental involvement.

By middle school many children resent close parental supervision of homework. At this stage, it is often more effective for parents to emphasize organizational skills than to help with specific assignments.

And by high school parents often lack the knowledge -- especially in foreign languages and math -- to help with homework. However, they can show their support by understanding the expectations of the teachers and providing their students with the materials they need to meet those expectations. In some cases, this may even mean hiring a tutor.

Although teachers urgently want parents to be involved in supervising homework, some kinds of parental help create conflict and resentment and interfere with learning. Doing homework for children, standing over them with critical intent, or helping more than is necessary are types of negative homework help that Catherine Stone, an experienced fifth grade teacher, sees in some well-meaning parents.

Failure to adjust the type of homework supervision as children gain maturity can also hold kids back in developing organization and time management skills.

So, what kind of homework helper are you? Look at the styles of homework supervision described below. Can you see yourself in any of these types of homework helpers? Are you stuck in a supervision rut? Would you like to change or combine your style with another?

The Micromanager. Micromanagers are often some of the most involved parents. They know how their child is doing in school and what the homework assignments are. They are committed to making sure their child excels academically. Unfortunately, in an effort to help their kids, micromanagers tend to take over the homework, sometimes even doing homework for their children. "This is a huge problem in some families," says Catherine Stone. "Most parents don't do enough, but some take over the projects and the child learns nothing."

The Corrector. Correctors can't stand for their child to get anything wrong on the homework. They go over every problem or sentence the child writes and correct or improve it. Although most teachers want parents to spot-check homework, correcting every assignment gives the teacher a false sense that the child understands one hundred percent of the material. It also undermines the child's confidence in his or her ability to do the work. Only when the homework material is tested in class do deficiencies in the child's understanding become apparent.

The Organizer. Organizers are parents who have good organization skills and want to pass those skills on to their children. They are the ones who review what is needed for a long-term project the day the assignment comes home and make sure the supplies are available when their child is ready to work. Organizers talk about scheduling and time management. They guide their children into setting aside blocks of time for each subject. Organizers may expect too much of very young children, but they do well with middle-schoolers who need support but do not want a parent sitting with them while they work.

The Drill Sergeant. The drill sergeant barks out orders. "Sit down and do your homework. Did you do your math? No television until you finish." Although drill sergeants mean well by trying to enforce a focused homework time, they fail to recognize that most children need more support than they are offering. Telling children to do their homework if they are confused or disorganized is less productive than taking a few minutes to review the assignments and get them started.

The Lifeguard. Lifeguards have a good sense of what their child's homework involves. They keep a close eye on their child's schoolwork. Lifeguards are not afraid to let their child struggle some, but are quick to step in when they sense their child is truly lost and confused. Lifeguards offer enough help to get the child safely through a homework crisis, but not so much that they undermine the child's confidence in his or her ability to do the work. Lifeguarding works especially well with middle-schoolers who are struggling to develop time management and organizational skills that they will need in high school.

The Cheerleader. Cheerleader parents are always there along the sidelines encouraging their children. Their constant attendance makes them good homework supervisors although their enthusiasm and energy can sometimes overwhelm a struggling student who needs hands on help more than cheering.

The Ostrich. Ostrich parents stick their heads in the sand and can't see problems coming. They prefer not to be involved in their child's school life and rarely help with homework or enforce regular homework habits. Ostrich parents tend to be overwhelmed by their responsibilities. They may not have a good command of English or may feel intimidated by school officials. Often they did poorly at school themselves. Ostrich parents rarely communicate with the teacher until their child has serious academic problems.

The Tutor. Tutors can be parents or someone the parent has hired. In the lower grades parents are often effective tutors, but in the upper grades it may be preferable to look for help outside the family. Tutors recognize that more help is needed in challenging subjects than in ones that come naturally. They have the skills, knowledge, and patience to explain concepts that a child has not grasped during classroom instruction. "If parents are unable to work with their child, either due to personality differences or an inability to speak English, or they do not understand the subject matter as students get older, an [outside] tutor is a good idea," says Catherine Stone. "Some kids just can't accept help from their parents. It becomes a battle of wills, and no one wins." Parents should always let the teacher know when a child is using a tutor on a regular basis.

Whatever your homework style, the ultimate goal is a well educated child. One who learns the facts being reviewed and learns the process; how to plan, organize and complete assignments on schedule independently. Sooner than any parent is ready to let their babies grow up, your children will be heading off to college and careers all on their own.

Tish is a freelance writer for many parenting publications and a dedicated homework helper who tries to blend the best of all styles for her children's success.

Originally published in AlbemarleFamily Living December 2006. For more great stories be sure to visit More Great Reading online or pick up the newest issue of our magazine at a nearby newsstand.

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