Homework helpers work for parents as well as kids

April 08, 2005

My son was working on an assignment, and I was really excited about it. I gathered all sorts of materials for him, spread them out, and proceeded to tell him possible uses for each item.

He let me expound on this and that and the other thing. When I was done, he looked up at me and quietly said, "Mom, that's not what I had in mind."


I asked him about his plans. He had everything mapped out, mentally, and his ideas were good ones.

So I told him to have fun and if he needed me I'd be in the next room.

Helping a child with homework poses an ever-present challenge.

How much help should a parent give? How do you know when it's time to back off or when it's time to intervene?

It's important initially to provide a lot of support, particularly for children in lower elementary grades. Then you can gradually take the support away, helping your child work toward independence, suggests Jeanne Shay Schumm, author of "How to Help Your Child with Homework: The Complete Guide to Encouraging Good Study Habits and Ending the Homework Wars."


Homework is an opportunity for students to learn discipline that they can use later on in their careers, says Schumm, a professor and chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Miami School of Education.

Parents typically want to know about location, Schumm says. Where is the ideal place for a child to do homework? Is it best to provide a quiet study area where the child can be alone, or is it better to have the child do his work at the kitchen table where he can be supervised?

Some families like the social interaction of having the children in the same room while dinner is being prepared or the dishes are being done. However, some children can find this distracting. On the other hand, a child left alone might be tempted to play rather than work.

Families need to experiment to find out which method works better for them.

When a child is involved in several activities, families might find it necessary to do homework in the car while transporting the child, or while waiting for music lessons or athletic practice to start.

The best scenario is to have a routine, a regular place and time for doing the work, Schumm says.

Here are some other homework helpers from Schumm:

· Have materials all in one place so you don't spend time looking for pencils, paper, glue sticks and scissors each time your child sits down to do work.

· Don't wait too late in the evening to start homework. After arriving home, talk with your child about his assignments. The most difficult assignments should be done first. The organizational skills your child learns from this process will prove valuable throughout life.

· Help your child build associations between what he already knows and what is being learned. Schumm gives parents this example in her book: "The electrons in an atom circle the proton. What circles the sun?" By picturing the solar system, a child can gain a better understanding of what goes on in an atom.

· If your child has no homework, provide an enrichment activity for him. This could be as simple as reading the same book and sharing thoughts on it.

· Add some excitement to those assignments your child considers dull.

"The most important thing a parent, grandparent or guardian can do is make learning fun," Schumm says. "It really is a very important thing to learn."

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Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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