Teachers assign homework to give students the opportunity to discover if they are confused, so that they can then seek help. It also helps the teacher gauge each student’s progress in each content area. Homework can be a breeze or a battle, depending on the child, the subject area, and the resources they have available at home. The following six strategies will help parents set their elementary school students up for success.
- Communicate with the teacher
In the beginning of the year, it is likely that your child’s teacher will touch base with parents regarding homework routines and expectations. Children typically come home with a folder and a schedule for the week. That being said, not all teachers are alike. Be sure to check in sooner rather than later to get an understanding of homework expectations and any resources the teacher recommends for extended learning.
- Empower your child to develop a routine
It’s 4 o’clock and your child gets home from school. Do they immediately get started on their homework or run outside to play with friends? Have a conversation with your child about what works best for them. Experiment with different routines so that your child can decide their preference. After spending the day engaged in learning, it is unlikely that most kids will want to come home from school and immediately dive into homework. Regardless of when they begin their homework, encourage your child to spend at least 30-60 minutes playing outside, having a snack, and decompressing. Playing can boost their endorphins, having a snack can refuel their bodies, and decompressing can prepare their brains to approach challenging, independent homework. Once your child sets a reasonable routine, hold them accountable to it.
- Dedicate a space for homework
Having a consistent spot for homework is part of the child’s routine. Make sure it is quiet, comfortable, and free of distractions (which can sabotage homework efforts). Here lies another opportunity to empower your child to make the right choices for themselves. Do they work best at a desk or on a beanbag chair? Does classical or gentle music help the focus, or do they prefer total silence? Try to avoid spaces used for playing and eating. If there are multiple children in the home, make sure that they have enough space to concentrate without disrupting others.
- Take a break — anticipate shortcuts and tap-outs
Some students truly struggle completing their homework without a teacher. As a parent, it can be difficult to watch your child cry, get frustrated, or shut down over a math problem or reading comprehension activity. Periodic breaks, particularly between subject areas, can help children transition from one topic to another. Additionally, they can be useful when a child is getting worked up over a homework task.
When children are stressed, they are more likely to take shortcuts (i.e., writing illegibly, skipping questions, using incomplete sentences, or not following directions). When they are considerably overwhelmed, they may shut down entirely and refuse to complete an assignment. Providing breaks may prevent the child’s nervous system from becoming overloaded. In these times, it may be helpful to do deep breathing exercises, go on a short walk, play with a pet, or do some quick exercises to release pent-up energy.
- Offer encouragement
A little support can go a long way. Children may put pressure on themselves to get every problem right. Let your child know that you love them regardless of their grades, that you know they are capable of learning information and skills, and that you have seen them show confidence and persistence in other realms of life. Praise them for setting high standards for themselves but remind them of the purpose of homework (it is meant to be low stakes).
It can be tempting for parents to provide too much help…make sure that whoever is offering help or encouragement is not doing your child’s work for them. While that may alleviate some anxiety in the moment, it cheats your child from the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to progress within a given content area.
- Seek assistance, if needed
At some point, your child will get stumped by a problem or confused by instructions. Encourage your child to choose a “study buddy” or peer from class that they can contact to get clarity on an assignment. Teachers may not always be available to answer queries after school, so reaching out to a friend can help you get clarity faster and avoid potential meltdowns, if the child is prone to getting overwhelmed. For students who receive special education services, it may be useful to reach out to their resource teacher. Older siblings may also be helpful.
There is an abundance of helpful sites to consult if your child is stuck or interested in learning more about a topic. Consider exploring some of the following:
- DreamBox Learning (for K-8 students) provides a personalized learning experience for students experiencing challenges in math. Independent research demonstrates that just 1 hour per week of DreamBox engagement can improve student math scores by nearly 60%!
- Khan Academy is a nonprofit site that offers activities and instructional videos designed to help students improve their skills in math, science, computing, history, art history, economics, and more. Resources for elementary students are specifically dedicated to math, reading, and language arts. An elementary student might go to Khan Academy to get help with their multiplication tables, locate a new book, or apply vocabulary knowledge.
- ReadWriteThink (powered by the National Council of Teachers of English) provides educators and parents with assistance in reading and language arts. Some of the most popular student interactives for elementary school students include story maps, plot diagrams, and word construction games.
- The Smithsonian Learning Lab has millions of digital resources and tools for creating content. Parents and students can search for images, videos, text, audio content, and other learning resources by provider, decade, cultural group, and geographical location. Their Learning Lab collections cover a range of academic subjects, where students can explore the rainforest, learn about sharks and stingrays, and read about women’s suffrage.
- National Geographic Kids is a kid-friendly site that provides games, videos, and exploratory opportunities for young students. Content is mostly focused on animal species, but there are additional resources for students learning about space, science, geography, history, ELA, and other topics.
- PBS Learning Media for Students hosts a plethora of resources and lessons for elementary school students in virtually all content areas. Users can search for videos, interactive lessons, audio content, images, documents, webpages, or other collections to extend their learning about a topic they’re currently studying in class.
- BrainPOP Jr. is dedicated specifically to encouraging young students in grades K-3 to ask questions and develop their own ideas. The site categorizes resources based on subject area: science, health, reading and writing, social studies, math, and arts/technology. Students can access information about the parts of a computer, freshwater habitats, and the food groups, to name a few.
Homework demands will evolve as your child progresses through school. By encouraging your child to set a routine, establish a space, communicate with the teacher, seek assistance, and do their best, you are helping them cultivate the resourcefulness and courage to persevere when tougher obstacles come along.