Building skills and confidence at home – helping your young child with homework and study

Posted by Paige Champion on 7 July 2015 | Comments

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For many parents of children in primary school homework time is usually time of tantrums, tears and defiance. Unfortunately it doesn't matter where your beliefs fall on the merits of homework- they are an unavoidable aspect of education in Australia. While studies have suggested that hours and hours of homework on end for primary school students is not beneficial, a small amount regularly can allow your child to gain confidence about a topic they were unsure of in class and developing organisational skills. Research strongly suggests that the environment within which your child does their homework and the type of help you extend to them can affect how your child benefits from the work they are doing. Associate Professor Walker from the University of Sydney said that "Where parents support their children's autonomy and essentially try to provide guidance and assistance rather than being interfering and controlling, that's beneficial for students." Creating a positive, supportive environment can help bring the best out of your child and make homework time a lot more pleasant. Here are some simple tips which you and your child can talk through and use to create an empowering framework for doing school work at home.

Set up a quiet place for your child to study. Televisions, screaming siblings and uncomfortable furniture can make homework sessions torturous and impossible to concentrate within. Ideally your child should have space to spread out which is free from noise and close enough to a parent or caregiver that they can ask for help if they need to. 

Knowing what lies ahead for the week can allow you and your child to formulate a plan of attack. If there are four different spelling activities for the week it makes sense to do a different one every night so that we don't have a huge pile of work to get through on Thursday night. On Monday night sit down with your child and their homework diary and have a look at what they've got to do this week. Let them know if there are commitments such as family or sport during the week to make allowances for and ask them which bits of homework they think they're going to tackle each night. It doesn't matter if you don't stick to it exactly, but it allows your child to break their big pile of homework into manageable tasks and helps their organisation skills. It also allows you to get your head around the week that's coming up and to how homework is going to slot into the routine. Between the demands of home and career many parents do not have great reserves of energy and time, planning can help alleviate some of that stress. 

Arguably the most important aspect of homework is developing and maintaining a routine. Imagine if you had been looking forward to settling down in front of your favourite television show after a long day at work, but once you get there someone tells you there's no way you're going to be watching T.V until you finish this paperwork they want you to do. Don't worry though- it will only take an hour. Even if the tears don't escape I'm certain they'd be lurking behind the surface. 

Television, iPads, the computer and pretty much anything else under the sun is more exciting than homework. If your child's current routine is to get home and go straight to playing, it is probably a lot harder and more volatile to get them to give up their playing and begin homework. 

Creating a new routine of coming home, getting changed and enjoying a snack before turning to their work will allow your child to have a bit of a break- they're no longer in their school clothes and just eating out of their lunchbox, they're in the safety and comfort of their home. Delving in to the homework relatively straight away means that they haven't switched off from school and the things they've learnt are still fresh in their minds. For students that seem unhappy or stressed I find that spending five minutes writing down what happened during their day and how it made them feel helps to work through stifling emotions and allow them to focus on their work. 

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Try to put a positive spin on their new routine. Don't make it seem like punishment, because it isn't! We want our kids to get excited about completing their homework and showing off how clever they are to us. Let them know that once they're done their homework for the night (which they've assigned themselves through planning) they have lots of free time at their disposal to play and have fun. Comments like “Wow, you're almost done! Now you've got the whole afternoon to play outside!” are often encouraging as they show your child that because of their wonderful work and organisation they are now able to have lots of fun, instead of framing homework as a punishment. 

In terms of making sure homework actually gets done, routine is extremely important. But when it comes to ensuring that homework is a good experience for your child which genuinely allows them to develop and grow, positive reinforcement is without a doubt the most important facet. No matter where your child is in their education and how well they are doing relative to their peer group all they really want is for you to think they're dreadfully clever and be proud of them. When they're completing their work let them know they can ask you for help if they're struggling but don't jump in and show them how to complete a question if they haven't asked. If they make a mistake correct them, but let them know you saw and appreciate how hard they tried. Nobody likes to be told they're wrong and it can be especially hard to be corrected by mum or dad. Softening the correction with phrases like “I can see how you got that answer” or “That's almost spot on! If we change this bit it will be perfect” can let your child see that you're only there to make them even better, not to criticise them. 

Be your child's cheerleader. Hi-fives, cuddles and tickles are great ways to make your child see how proud you are of them and to reward them for their effort. Letting them know they did a wonderful job in your eyes is guaranteed to make homework time feel a lot better and encourage them to keep going. More long term rewards like extra time on electronic equipment, more play time and even special toys can also be introduced to praise your child for their continued effort.