As we soldier on through the second quarter of a new academic year, it is worthwhile to consider how we, as parents, can help our students establish good homework habits.
Recovering Delight in Homework?
I had the pleasure of being present in the first grade math class at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year the very first time the students were assigned homework. To my surprise and great delight, the class broke out in spontaneous cheering and applause. This enthusiasm continued for weeks before the cheers gradually faded. Now, while our older students will probably never regain that level of delight in homework, I do hope this article will be helpful in establishing good habits that will last throughout the year and beyond.
A Vision for Homework
My first goal is to cast a vision for the importance of homework, and secondly, I will share some tips for establishing good homework habits. Let us dive in with three reasons that homework is beneficial:
- Practice is essential to mastery. I will quote our headmaster, as I overheard him saying to the 5th/6th grade math class: “All skills are learned through practice.” Whether it be learning a sports skill, learning to play an instrument, learning how to solve a math problem, spell a difficult word, or write an essay, practice is essential in mastering the skill.
- It shows student understanding to the teacher. While it is not the only indicator of student progress, it does reveal to the teacher what the student does and does not yet understand. The teacher can thus adapt his or her lesson plans to best accommodate learning needs of the students.
- Good homework habits are applicable to other areas of life. As last year’s first grade class quickly learned, homework is not always fun and easy: it sometimes requires perseverance, it often requires self-discipline, and it always requires time, time which one might rather be spending on some other pursuit. But no matter what your children end up doing in life, the character traits that are developed through good homework habits will serve them well.
Establishing Good Homework Habits
Since homework is beneficial to students, how can parents help them establish good homework habits? Here are five tips. Though they may seem to be common sense, I hope that you will find at least one thing that you can apply in your household.
- Plan ahead. Have a designated time for homework each afternoon or evening that works best with your family schedule. This will look differently in each family, but I think you will find that children meet homework with the least resistance when it occurs at an expected time. In our own family, even if my children say they have “no homework,” we still expect them to spend some time on something, just to cultivate the habit. I have found that they can always find something productive to do–perhaps review Latin vocabulary, work ahead on an upcoming assignment, or do extra math, just for the fun of it!
- Meet physical needs. If your kids are anything like mine, they come home from school HUNGRY. The sooner they are fed, the better! Perhaps you have an active child who needs to get some physical activity before hitting the books, or maybe your child just needs some down time to unwind. Be observant of the conditions that allow them to work best. I do want to add a caveat about using screen time to unwind before homework–screen time is best saved until after homework is done, and even then used judiciously. To learn more about Cedar Classical Academy’s approach, please check out our document on Smartphone Stairsteps.
- Consider the environment. I completely understand that it is not possible to eliminate all distractions, but as much as it depends on you, get rid of the ones over which you do have control. Be aware of noise levels and visual distractions and do what you can to alter the environment. Also, having a designated place to do homework may be helpful. The best location will vary by grade level and the amount of help the student may need–for an older child, a desk in their bedroom may be optimal, while for a younger child, the kitchen counter with Mom or Dad available to help may be best. Please keep in mind for children in the younger grades that they are working hard to master good handwriting, so make sure they have a flat surface to write on. We have definitely had days where some homework needed to be done in the car. However, it is especially difficult for younger children to be neat in such a setting, so try not to make this an everyday occurance.
- Encourage excellence. An often-quoted verse in our household is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men….” To promote excellence, encourage your children to do their best work. For children who tend to rush through their work, remind them to slow down and check it over to make sure it is neat and complete. It goes without saying that excellence begins with getting it done and turned in on time. If it is not, students should take responsibility and confess that to their teacher.
- Model a good attitude about homework! I saved this for last for a reason: if you remember nothing else, remember this, because I can guarantee that at some point you will be tested! Make sure that you are setting a good example for your children in your own attitude toward homework. By doing this, you will be teaching your children to approach difficult tasks with a joyful spirit–a lesson applicable to many situations in life.
A Success Story from Less-Than-Ideal Homework Circumstances
My oldest son, who graduated from college with a math major, did not always love math as he does now. In fact, it was very difficult for him when he was young. At the height of his frustration with math, my husband started taking him out to Culvers after a weekly event, and while enjoying a special treat, my son would work on math homework with my husband’s undivided attention to answer questions. Now was this an ideal homework time? No! It was past his normal bedtime, a distracting environment, and involved way too much sugar! But yet, looking back, I believe it was due to the positive nature of this interaction that a love of math was cultivated in my son, along with a determination to tackle difficult tasks with a positive attitude.
Whatever future God has in store for each of our children, it is my hope and prayer that we all, as parents, will wisely arrange homework time to cultivate good habits in our children and teach them to approach their work with joy.
This essay was based on Mrs. DeGoffau’s September 2022 Lightning Talk. Listen here.