(This is part two of a five-part series on homework. Here's a link to last week's post about Getting the Time Commitment Right in case you missed it.)
Of all the contentious issues that come up in schools—and believe me, there are a few—homework is the issue that causes the most strife between teachers and students, students and parents, and then parents and teachers. Personally, I am against homework. That position keeps me young and gives me some common ground with students. Still, regardless of my personal feelings on the issue, homework is a necessity in schools that have high academic goals for their students.
Because schools that are committed to providing a good education rely on some homework to help them deliver, it is important for teachers and families to take the homework as seriously as the in-class time. My aim here is to offer a few suggestions for making homework more productive and less contentious; in fact, I hope to help you see it in a whole new light.
Settle into a Routine
One enemy of any good work, including homework, is chaos. By chaos I do not only mean the extreme kind that plunges the world into darkness; I also mean the common kind that stems from a lack of discipline and allows the whims of individual family members or even outside influences to dictate terms to the family. Parents, this is your realm. You are the masters of your own houses, and it is therefore incumbent upon you to bring order to every corner of the house, including the homework corner.
Success will depend upon your establishing a routine for when, where, and how homework is to be done. There is no one-size-fits-all formula here because there are a variety of different family situations at play. There are a few universal principles, however: a break between school and homework, a snack, a dependable schedule, and no screens.
When my boys were in grammar school, we established a routine that lasted throughout grade school even though it morphed to fit their age and responsibility level. On the drive home from school they read for thirty minutes. Once we were home, they had a snack and played for at least thirty minutes. After that wind-down time, they got straight to their homework at the kitchen table. The family sat down to supper at about the same time each evening. Any homework that was not finished before supper was completed after supper and shower.
We did not allow screen time during the week—no TV, no video games, no computer. Both boys did get phones in high school, and we made some mistakes learning to navigate that. (Reap the fruit of my research and personal experience with teenagers and phones below.) The lack of screens removed one more distraction from homework while also providing for a more peaceful home atmosphere and a better night’s sleep.
Bed time was at a set time each night, and though it became later as the boys got older and could handle it, it was a set and non-negotiable time. Any homework not completed before bed time was not completed. This did not happen often, but when it did, we questioned our own efficiency and then approached the teacher for help. Our questions for the teacher were not all about the amount of homework, but rather began with inquiries about our boy’s performance in class: Was he listening? Was he engaged? Was he asking questions? Was he goofing off or daydreaming? Was there a better way for us to approach the homework?
I offer this as one example of applying the principles. Your family may require a different order of those principles, but the principles still apply. Children need fuel, they need a break, they need a peaceful atmosphere free of artificial stimuli, and they need a schedule that makes their lives stable. Parents who bring order by settling their children into a daily routine will not only see homework woes disappear but will also see their household flourish in other ways as well.
(This is part two of a five-part series on homework. Next week we'll discuss using homework time to do homework.)