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Taming the Homework Battles

We were the lucky ones–when my son was in kindergarten, the kindergarten teachers had decided that they’d cut out homework–the only thing we needed to worry about was keeping a reading log. Now that my child has entered the 1st grade, things are different, but not by much. He’s responsible for one “book report” a week, reading a minimum of ten minutes a day and practicing spelling and math. Doesn’t sound like much, but by the way my child reacts to it, you would think he was writing a thesis. On top of his not being eager to do it, I realized that I don’t carve out much time in the day to get the homework done. Starting at 5:00 after a long day isn’t cutting it. Knowing that this is one year of many where we’ll be doing homework together, I needed some advice. So Breezy Mama turned to Ann Dolin, M.Ed. Author of “Homework Made Simple” and President of  Educational Connections Inc., for help.

If your child battles you on homework, saying they don’t want to do it, don’t like to do it, etc, how should we respond?

The best thing to do is to have a predictable schedule. About a thirty-minute break after school is a good amount of time before getting started. When kids know what to expect day in and day out, they are less likely to procrastinate. In addition, consider the “tolerable ten.” Set the timer for ten minutes and encourage your son to work as hard as he can for just ten minutes. This sense of urgency often gets kids over the hump of beginning. After ten minutes, he can take a break or keep on working. Most often, kids can keep on going.

How can a parent avoid frustration when the child is rushing through their homework—i.e. sloppy work, not trying?

I’m a big proponent of establishing a Dedicated Homework Time, oth­erwise known as DHT. It’s a scheduled block of time each weekday that is dedicated to homework, whether the student says she has it or not. DHT helps break the rushing habit. Regardless of how quickly your child finishes homework, the entire DHT should be dedicated to academi­cally related tasks. If she finishes before the DHT is up, she can study for a test, work on a long-term project, organize her notebook, or read.

The general rule of thumb is that the total time spent doing homework should be equivalent to 10 minutes per grade level. For example, a third grader’s DHT should be 30 minutes; 4th graders should complete 40 minutes and so on. Once 7th and 8th grade rolls around, I recommend at least an hour. I’ve found that for many parents struggling with the homework issue, implementing DHT is the best place to start. The question then becomes, “How do I do it?”

To establish a Designated Homework Time, sit down with your child and discuss why you’re implementing this new concept. It’s best to have this discussion either at the beginning of a month, a new school week, or a new grading period. At this time, you may say, “I know homework has become stressful for both of us. Let’s try this for the next month,” or “Let’s start this quarter off on a positive note.”

A common question regarding DHT is “What do you do if there’s no homework assigned?” It’s been my experience that there is almost always something to do. Ask your child to do a binder check. She’ll probably find assignments she forgot about or is putting off. If there is really no homework, consider the following options:

  • Begin to work on an upcoming book report or project.
  • Study for an upcoming test.
  • Practice math facts on an educational website or computer software. A great website is
  • Simply read a required book or choose one for pleasure.

DHT is an easy and highly effective solution to homework woes. You may find that your child is resistant to her new found schedule at first, but stick with it. It truly does take 21 days to change a habit. In just three weeks, your child will adjust and the precious after-school hours will be a whole lot less stressful.

I’ve heard of setting up a reward system when a child completes their homework. What are your views on this? If you like the reward idea, can you provide some suggestions on how this should work?

I’m  not a huge fan of rewards, but I am a big fan of giving privileges for homework completion.  Things like watching TV, playing video games, and using the computer are privileges and students should be granted after homework has been completed.  Some parents will set a start time for these things, such as 7:00 pm or sometime after dinner.  They realize that their children are so excited to get through homework and onto an electronic device, that they’ll rush through their work without putting in much effort.  Delaying the start time of electronics is a good idea.

My own battle is that we have activities after school, so it’s hard to carve out an hour of quiet time, when my son’s not too tired or hungry, to do homework. Do you have any advice for me?

It’s not unusual for young children to fatigue early on especially after a long day at school.  If you find that this problem is chronic, consider cutting back on extra curriculars so that homework can be done after school.  About a 30 minute break is good immediately following school.  Kids do need down time and if this time includes exercise, your child will be more attentive.  A 20 minute bout of aerobic exercise has been proven to significantly increase attention and performance in both reading and math.  But whatever you do when paring down your child’s schedule, don’t cut out sports.  In fact, use sports to your advantage and have your child start homework in the car ride home or right after returning from a game or practice.

Do you have any suggestions for what younger siblings (that are not yet doing homework) could be doing at this time?

Without a doubt, separate your children into different rooms when doing homework.  If they are sitting near each other, one child will distract the other one and there’s simply no way around it.  For your younger child who likely does not yet have homework, make this “quiet time”.  That means the younger sibling should be doing something quietly that doesn’t include TV or the computer.  Consider coloring, working on an art project, or looking at books.

What materials does a child need? My son does his homework at the kitchen table, so I’d like to set up a “homework box” which has all the supplies he’ll need to get his homework done. My idea is that he brings his box to the table and is ready to work.

I love that idea!  In fact, you may want to consider changing the location in which your child does homework.  Studies show that students retain more information when they alter their homework study areas from time to time.  For example, one day your child might do homework in the dining room, but the next day in the home office, and the third day at the kitchen table.  Stock a portable bin or shoe box with materials such as pencils, a ruler, paper, crayons, and anything else you think he’ll need.

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About Ann Dolin, M.Ed.: Ann Dolin is a former Fairfax County, VA public school teacher with over 20 years of teaching and tutoring experience. Ann’s undergraduate degree is in Child Psychology with Teacher Certification for grades 1-8. She received her M.Ed. in Special Education from Boston College and now resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children.

After leaving Fairfax County Schools in 1998, Ann founded Educational Connections Inc. as its only employee with the goal of providing individualized one-to-one instruction based on each student’s learning style. Today, her company employs over 150 tutors, serves the Washington metropolitan area, and has worked with over 4,000 students.

Ann is a recognized expert in education and learning disability issues. She sits on the board of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) and the International Dyslexia Association. She has delivered hundreds of presentations focusing on academic achievement and parenting issues. Ann is also the author of the award-winning book Homework Made Simple — Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. In her book, Ann reveals the core problems that commonly lead to homework stress and offers 100 proven solutions to parents to tackle each situation.

To order Ann’s book, Homework Made Simple — Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, ($9.26 from Amazon) click here.

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  1. I am sooo going to need this starting next year!

  2. jeanette stroh says:

    I like the DHT concept A LOT. I also found the concept of homework being a “moveable feast” interesting. I wonder if kids would buy in to the concept with enthusiasm if they got to pick the designated place each week? (Which goes to say that I totally approve of the homework box idea.)

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