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Many parents and teachers have strong views on whether children should be set homework but it’s a fact of life in many schools. Here, Parent Zone’s deputy CEO Sophie Linington has compiled a handy 10-point guide for parents on how to manage your child’s homework effectively, and make it a less painful experience for all of you
What’s homework for anyway?
It can be helpful for parents to understand why schools set homework.
Homework is a reinforcement of what your child has already learned during class and should not be used as an extension of the curriculum.
In primary school, homework can give teachers an indication of how engaged parents are. In some instances it’s fairly obvious to the teacher when a class is set a project task and one child returns with a massive ornate carving while another has a small shoe box with a couple of things stuck on it, while a third comes back empty handed.
Your child’s teacher will be assessing these projects to find out who might need extra support in class.
Routine and consistency are key
Managing homework at the end of the day, when you have other things to do and when your child is really tired, can be challenging.
‘With so much homework now being done online, parents worry it makes enforcing “no screen time before bed” rules difficult’
Children have been concentrating really hard in school all day so the idea that they do more work at home, no matter how well behaved or how keen they are to learn, can be a big ask. And with so much homework now being done online, many parents worry that it makes enforcing “no screen time before bed” rules difficult, if not impossible.
The two things that can help you deal with these challenges are consistency and routine. Children need and respect boundaries so if you can set a routine every night at the same time and stick to it this can be helpful for everyone.
If your child complains about feeling really tired one evening, compromise and maybe suggest doing 10 minutes instead of twenty, but try and stick to this routine.
Create the right environment
Allot a set place that you and your child can use to do homework, a place where you can concentrate – not everyone is going to have a desk or a study; it could be the kitchen table.
Also help other family members understand that it’s important for your child to be able to concentrate. For younger siblings who don’t have any homework themselves, this may involve saving up the iPad or TV time so that they can engage with them while you focus on your other child’s homework. Make it part of the routine.
If you don't have a broadband internet connection at home (10% of households in the UK don’t) or a working computer, check out the opening hours of local libraries, which usually provide free wi-fi and offer desktop computers for customers to work on for free. Many offer late night and weekend opening hours.
Find out how your school/afterschool club can support you
For many parents, schools that offer flexibility for children to be able to do their homework at school is hugely helpful.
Homework clubs run at lunchtime or during afterschool club can support working parents, parents of children who steadfastly refuse to do homework and parents who do not have an appropriate space at home for their children to be able to sit down and study, or who don't have an internet connection or up to date devices for their child to work on.
If these services do not exist at your child’s school, why not suggest to the head or the PTA that they set one up or talk to other parents to make a joint suggestion.
Stay calm, be consistent
Staying calm is easier said than done but it’s important not to get frustrated when you are reading with your five-year-old and they are struggling. It can also be disheartening if they give up halfway through the task because they keep getting the sentence wrong.
It might help parents to know that when children start in reception there tends to be a massive range in ability in terms of their learning - but it pretty much evens out by the end of primary school, by which time most children can do what they are supposed to be able to do.
When you find that things are starting to get emotional, take a break and get back to it later. Offer your child a snack and a drink and agree to return to the work for a shorter period. While it’s tempting to give up and do nothing, you need to be consistent.
A word on using bribery/rewards
There’s no harm in offering your child something (edible treats, screen time, a small toy etc) in return for them completing their homework if that works for your family – incentives certainly work better than punishment. Bribery can also work well if you have a child who is doing just enough, but they are doing it really quickly and have the ability to do more.
However, you need to be clear that they will need to have done their work before they can collect their reward.
If you know that your child has reading four times a week, a spelling test on Tuesday and a maths test on Monday you can give certain subjects a push on certain days.
Timetabling subjects is good training for your child’s transition to secondary school when they will have to manage their own homework tasks.
Helping your child find something that works for them so that they can be methodical at home during the week will prevent them from having a massive workload at the weekends.
For Year 7 children, it’s worth helping them to think of ways they can remember when everything is due in, so that they can start to prioritise their work. Keeping a homework list on the fridge, complete with the tasks and deadlines, is helpful so that when they come in from school they have something visual to look at which allows them to plan what needs to be done each evening. Using your phone or laptop's online calendar to set up reminders can also help you keep on top of things.
Helping them to manage their time can really pay dividends, especially as they approach their GCSE years.
It’s not always a good idea to just ‘leave them to it’
If your child’s reading gets to the stage where they are happy to take themselves off in a corner and devour a book in a couple of sittings, great! However, it’s not always a good idea to just ‘leave them to it’.
Have a conversation with them about the book they are looking at to make sure that they are not just skim reading it or sticking their bookmark in the wrong chapter.
Leaving them to it may lead to the wrong pronunciation of a word or a misunderstanding of what that word may mean so encourage them to read aloud to you.
Asking them questions about the story can help you assess whether they’ve grasped the correct meaning for certain words.
Offering balanced comment on work that your child has spent time doing will also encourage them and help them to improve. Comments like, ‘That’s really well written, now why don’t you check all the full stops and capital letters once more before handing it in?’
Make sure that you carry this through into ‘big’ school. When children start secondary school they often need you to up the input again because it’s such a change of pace from primary school.
Encourage your child to take pride and pleasure in their work
This can help inspire the child who just does enough but is capable of doing more. It can also make the task of doing homework more pleasurable.
Find something that makes reading fun. If you feel you have to do it every night it can suck the pleasure out of it for your child. Books that are helpful in the early stages are the ones with lots of pictures with a simple sentence that your child can read, followed by a more complex sentence for you to read – which can help keep the story going.
Parents keeping a positive attitude towards homework and looking to see how they might extend their child’s learning beyond the home is also helpful. If your child shows interest in a book that features some paintings, why not follow this up with a trip to an art gallery.
Try not to transfer your own prejudices about subjects onto your child
Many parents still have hang ups about their own education but don’t let this blight your child’s. Rolling your eyes at the mention of maths may cause dislike to spread from parent to child. Better to be enthusiastic about all subjects or just remain neutral.
By secondary school many parents also complain that their child’s homework is beyond them but you don’t need to know how to work out the area of a 3D shape to be able to help your child, all you need to do is to test them and ask them to how they arrived at the answer.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: September 2017
Updated: May 2018