Back to School: Taming the Homework Beast

I should have homework under control by now. It’s October when all is said and done. How many years have I been at this “mom of a school-aged child” thing anyway? 12? 13 years? And yet why don’t I have a set system in place? Why am I scrambling for a routine?

First, let me say that I love seeing my kids hop off the school bus. Though it signals the end of my workday and I know I will have to catch up on work later, I can’t wait to hear what my kids did at school that day. My kids leave for school at 6:30, 6:45, and finally at 8 a.m. They are gone for a long time. When they get home, I want them to unwind and relax from a full day of school.

Second, let me say that I have NEVER loved the transition from “kids walking in from school” to “homework time.” I’ll watch the clock. The kids will be happily playing with Lego, playing outside, eating a snack, and generally enjoying being home. I’ll see that 3:30 is becoming 4, then it is 4:30. Once 4:30 rolls around, I start to get nervous. I start thinking that homework needs to get underway. Most nights the kids have activities after school. At times, I have to leave to take the middle child to an activity while I leave the oldest child at home looking after the youngest. The best case scenario is that the youngest will have his homework started before I leave. You know what they say about the best laid plans…

Are you having the same homework angst? I shouldn’t paint all the kids with the same brush. For the most part, the older two come home from school or practice, unwind, get a snack, and then get started without no prodding from me. Occasionally, I will talk to one of them about how much homework is due the next day. I have the hardest time getting my youngest started on homework. I have strategies that work some evenings but not others. I have to be flexible…roll with it…go with the flow…but ultimately the goal is for homework to be done in a timely fashion.

So here’s my strategies for successful homework time:

  1. Set up a homework area. One of mine likes to lie on the family room floor, which leads to sloppy work. So I have found that sitting at the kitchen or dining room table works better.
  2. Let your child blow off some steam before homework…run around outside…shoot baskets.
  3. Screen time before homework is a big no-no in our house. I’ve tried it and what happens is that my kids will watch TV or play a video game, but when it comes time for homework they are resistant to starting. Very resistant. So screens are off during the week except for special occasions.
  4. Assemble homework supplies. I have my son collect pencils, a ruler, erasers, and rough paper. The pencil sharpener is nearby. Use a pencil cup or a tote.
  5. Ask what homework is due tomorrow. If an assignment is not due until later in the week, work on those assignments later. Start with the ones due tomorrow.
  6. Depending on the age of the child, stay close. You will need to answer questions, read assignments, etc., so it helps to be next to your child. With my K-2nd graders, I sat at the table while they worked. I found that homework got completed quicker if I was close at hand. For my 3rd-5th graders, I stay in the same room, but try not to hover. For middle schoolers, let them work in their bedrooms. My oldest liked to work in her bedrooms as she was distracted by her younger siblings. My high schoolers will study and do homework in their bedrooms.
  7. Once my child is working on homework, I don’t engage with him about anything else. I only talk about the homework. If he asks a question about something else, I direct him back to the homework. If he complains, I ignore him. If he argues, I re-direct him but don’t engage with him.
  8. Consequences. I try not to use consequences unless the situation is dire, but if necessary I will dangle an incentive — like, screentime — or use a consequence — like, losing TV time. Here’s where my inconsistencies show. Ideally, I’d rather not do the incentive or consequences…but desperate times call for desperate measures.
  9. If you have a child who flat out refuses to do homework, a good tactic is to let them not do an assignment one night. Tell them that it is their choice not to do their homework. Remind them that you previously “forced” them to do the assignment and now you are no longer going to force them. Remind your child that their may be consequences at school for not doing homework. This tactic works for 3rd graders and up. Fortunately, I’ve only had to do this once. The very thought of having to explain to a teacher why they didn’t do their homework was enough to stop the behavior.
  10. Offer breaks if the child looks stressed.
  11. Encourage your child to put completed assignments back in his backpack. While she is doing homework, you will have a chance to look through the backpack for paperwork or permission slips.
  12. Once homework is done, have child zip up the backpack. Offer words of encouragement for completing the homework in a timely fashion.
What is your best tip for completing homework?

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