Homework Helping for No Regrets Parenting
The New York Times “Motherlode” parenting blog is a go-to resource for topical and controversial issues faced by today’s parents. I have had the privilege of posting guest pieces for Motherlode, and have personally felt the impact of the blog’s huge reach and informed audience. Last week, the topic of KJ Dell’Antonia’s post was: “How much should parents help with schoolwork?” I urge you to read the posting, as well as the thoughtful comments that followed: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/how-much-should-parents-help-with-school-work/
The answer I give at my workshops to the schoolwork question posed by Motherlode is “parents should be involved with homework every night through middle school.” This generates some buzz, and requires some explanation.
You already went through second grade yourself; now it’s your child’s turn and you shouldn’t be the one doing “times tables.” But . . . you should know that your child is doing times tables, should look over her homework after it’s finished every night, and should be there to help just in case 4 times 8 becomes 24. Homework checking time is a wonderful opportunity to sit close to your child, maybe while he’s in pajamas and maybe with a cup of cocoa, and provide positive reinforcement for a job well done—or constructive advice on how to do it better tomorrow night. Homework helps kids build independence and learn to take responsibility, so don’t feel that you have to compulsively check each math problem or spelling lesson for minor mistakes—that’s not the point of homework helping. The point is that this is a valuable together time with your kids, and it shows them that homework matters to you and should matter to them.
Don’t just ask, “Finish your homework?” and wait for the inevitable (and exasperated) “Yessss, Dad!” Make it a ritual to have your kids show you the finished product—not because you don’t trust them, and not because you’re worried about the dangling participle they may have missed, but because you are proud of the work they do and it makes you happy to see them doing such a nice job. Your pride in their work will become their pride in their own work.
How long should this ritual go on? Through middle school. By high school, your kids will have gotten all the right messages from you about homework, and then will be ready for the autonomy that brings with it the nightly question from outside the closed bedroom door, “Finish your homework?” (“Yessss, Dad!”).
High school doesn’t mean you stop reinforcing the importance of homework; it just means you don’t cuddle up every night and see the actual workbook pages. But stay in touch: ask your child how their homework grades are, and ask them to see the comments written by teachers on the graded homework. That gives you ongoing opportunities for praise and pride. And make sure your high schoolers know you are available to help with their homework if they ask for help. That assumes, of course, that by the time your kids are in high school you can still understand their schoolwork well enough to help.
What do you think about homework helping? Add your comments below. If the comments box isn’t there, click on the title of this post and it will magically appear.