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Help! It's homework time

Single approach to homework help doesn't fit all families

Single approach to homework help doesn't fit all families

September 30, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

Kevin and Mark Sokol know when they get home from school they have 30 minutes to themselves.

Then, it's homework time.

For a half-hour, they can unwind by having a snack, watching TV or spending some time outdoors.

But when that time is up, they know they better get back to work as studious seventh-grade students.

It is the routine that the twin Sokol boys have practiced for many years under the guidance of their parents. The system works for the family with few questions about what is expected when it comes to schoolwork.

The Sokol boys, including two older brothers, "know that their homework comes first before any other thing," says Linda Sokol, the boys' mother. "We're trying to make them more responsible for what they do."

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Being involved with a child's homework routine is a crucial role for parents, say local educators and administrators. But it's also important to give homework help in a constructive way.

"I really feel it's important that parents are there as a resource and used for guidance and encouragement," says Cathy Scuffins, principal at Hickory Elementary School in Williamsport.

She adds a caveat: Teachers do not want parents to do homework for a student.

So what helps and what hinders children with their studies?

Everyone studies and learns differently, say seasoned mothers and educators.

Molly Ingraham of Fairplay had to adjust the way she helped her son and daughter, both now in high school. The two have totally different approaches when it comes to studying, she says.

"You kind of have to feel them out and find out what works best for each child," Ingraham explains. Her son, a ninth-grader, does not like to sit and do homework, she says.

"If there is a lot of homework, it can be overwhelming to him," she says.

So, Ingraham encouraged her son to get his homework done early and helped him learn to break big assignments into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Ingraham's daughter, a senior, is a different story.

"She's OK with the homework," Ingraham says.

Whatever works for a family and child in getting homework completed, it is important that it becomes routine, says Scuffins.

Homework and study habits should be as routine as "brushing teeth and eating dinner," Ingraham adds.

Here are more tips on how parents can best help children with homework and get them motivated to be good students outside of the classroom:

- Start early. "Looking back on it, one of the things that I can say is, definitely put the time in with your children when they are young. Now I can see that the hard work pays off," says Ingraham. Principal Scuffins says that elementary schools start with kindergarten students, giving them regular assignments to get used to doing schoolwork at home. Students are encouraged to read every day and go over class materials, she says. However, it is most often in the third grade that students can expect to get regular, nightly homework assignments, Scuffins says.

Getting kids in the third grade to remember what they have to study can be a big adjustment, Linda Sokol says. She remembers it took her sons a few months to get used to the homework routine.

"We had to manage it more," she remembers. "They had so much all at once."

The Sokols found the best way to get their sons used to studying was to drill the daily routine.

"Now, they just automatically know," Linda Sokol says.

- Cut it into pieces. Some children have trouble getting started on homework, especially when the assignments are large. The staff at Hickory Elementary School suggests that parents help divide homework into segments and then set time limits for each segment. This can be helpful with children who tend to procrastinate or daydream instead of getting their work done.

- Give short breaks. Allow children to take breaks between assignments or tasks, but make sure such pauses are only given when they have completed work. It is also important to make sure children return to homework after the specified break.

Sokol suggests giving praise when children go back to work by themselves.

- Check homework. To raise children to be good students, it isn't enough to just complete homework assignments. Check kids' work for quality and accuracy.

Sokol says she sometimes reads an assignment aloud to her children and asks "how does this sound to you?"

If parents aren't sure if a child is completing all the homework assigned, know that there are resources to double-check. Many schools, such as Northern Middle School, have homework hot lines, which allow parents to call and hear what a teacher assigned for the day, explains Principal Barbara Rice. "It's an easy way to verify: 'No, I don't have any homework,'" she says.

At Northern Middle many teachers maintain Web sites that list nightly assignments. Students also must maintain homework planners that their parents sign.

"Our main goal is making the child responsible," Rice says.

- Show interest. "It's important that kids know that (homework) is a priority," says Tracie Welch, a unit director with the Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle in Charles Town, W.Va. When the club sets aside homework time, organizers try to make it an atmosphere of support and positive reinforcement, not a punishment, she says.

Western Heights Middle School Principal Jennifer Ruppenthal shared this advice from a pamphlet called "How to Get Good Grades in Ten Easy Steps": "Make sure that your child knows that his or her academic progress is important to you. Know when each grading period ends and make sure that you see all progress reports and report cards as soon as they come out."

It also can be a motivator to children when parents recognize effort and improvement, Ruppenthal shares. Praise an improved test score along the same lines as a strong report card, she suggests.

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