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Father helping child with homework

Homework without headaches: being a schoolwork sage for your children

For parents with children of any age, trying to remember maths and English skills can be a daunting prospect – but that doesn’t mean helping out with homework has to be stressful. With Family Learning Festival running through the second half of October, Victoria Briggs (@vicbriggs) asked three top teachers to share their tried and tested methods for homework help in this Love Life for LV= Life Insurance article.

  • Encouragement can work like magic – sprinkle over every task
  • Simple rewards provide additional motivation
  • Make space and time for learning so homework becomes a habit

Homework may not top the list of how your children prefer to spend their time – and parents recruited to help with homework may enjoy it even less – but most experts agree that helping children with homework pays off in the end.

Luckily, teachers and parents see eye to eye when it comes to necessity of homework help. In a recent study by YouGov, some thought that helping children with homework wasn’t just a good idea, but fell squarely within the realms of their parental ‘duty’.

‘It’s great when parents want to get involved with a student’s learning, as it provides the student with a very positive role model and firmly sets family expectations and values about how important education is,’ says Lucy Parsons (@LucyCParsons), a secondary school teacher turned academic coach.

Working towards independent learning

For parents whose school day memories still bring about a cold sweat, here’s the good news.

‘You aren’t expected to be a walking encyclopaedia,’ says Chris Swan (@chris_swan), a teacher of some 28 years’ standing.

‘It is important to encourage your child to learn how to work independently,’ she continues. ‘Helping with homework also improves parents’ understanding of what children are learning and, as a positive, it’s often quite interesting as well.’

Laura Burt (@ComputingLaura), a mum and the head of computing at an independent girls’ school, agrees.

‘Children generally want to do well and show parents the new things they’re learning,’ she explains. ‘What we should avoid as parents is doing the homework for them.’

Creating a workspace

When it comes to helping with homework, creating the right environment and giving encouragement goes a very long way.

‘Provide a quiet space somewhere in your home where your child can work – a dining room table is perfect,’ says Chris, where they can use the space to spread out their working materials.

Lucy advises setting the right mood for homework by asking questions like ‘What did you learn today?’ while another failsafe is establishing a routine.

‘Do reading in the morning after breakfast, or have a homework hour after a snack when they come home from school. Habits and consistency are helpful in getting co-operation with homework.’

Finding the winning formula

Laura points out that parents can help with giving homework more context, as well as explaining how skills might be applied.

‘Maths can be used when working out ingredients in a recipe,’ she says, by way of an example. ‘Or explain the science behind the plants growing in the garden.’

If a subject proves particularly challenging, then think about who else in the family might get involved.

‘If grandad is great at physics, ask if he will help. It’s great for children to see that we have to work at things in order to achieve, and that things don’t come easily to everyone,’ says Laura.

‘One of the single most important ways to motivate your kids to do their best is to make them feel proud of their homework’, says Chris. But there are times when a little bit more than encouragement is needed.

‘Providing a simple reward is usually enough. Stickers, a trip to the park, friend time, TV time,’ she says. You could create a homework reward chart similar to our downloadable chore reward chart.

According to Laura, younger learners generally need very little encouragement with their homework – a scenario that may well undergo a 180-degree turn when they get older.

‘There may be the need for some kind of compromise. For example, the Xbox can only be used once the homework is done,’ she says, stressing that a ‘fine balance’ is needed with this strategy so that homework doesn’t come paired with resentment.

Avoiding homework road blocks

Despite your best efforts, there might be occasions when rewards or encouragement alone won’t get students past a block.

In those instances, Chris advises getting children to start with the most straightforward task before moving on to more complex ones. Monitoring how long a child is spending on tasks will also tell you if they’ve stalled.

‘If your child seems to be stuck, there is nothing more powerful than walking away from a problem and having a good night’s sleep,’ she says, adding that often the child will have worked out the solution by the time they return to it the next day.

‘As planning is often a skill that children lack, I advise parents discuss a task with their children and help them to plan it out,’ says Lucy

If children continue to struggle, parents should speak to the teacher.

‘They might be able to explain it more clearly or differentiate it to better suit your child’s ability. If the problem persists in a particular subject it can be helpful to employ a private subject tutor,’ says Lucy.

Laura agrees: ‘Always ask for help from the school. As teachers, we very much encourage you to work with us and we will always find resources to help you help your child.’

Homework plays a big part in every child’s educational development. By combining encouragement with simple rewards and routine, you’ll be going a long way to supporting them in their journey to becoming independent learners.

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