If you’re a parent of school-aged kids, just mention the phrase, “Have you done your homework yet?” and you’re bound to get a healthy mix of huffing and eye rolling intermixed with excuses as to why it’s just not a good time to hit the books. With the new school year here, why not prep for those after school struggles before they happen? Arm yourself with information, and you’re well on your way to preventing another case of homework hassles.
While Tamara Spillum’s kids are now full grown, she won’t soon forget the homework tug-of-wars she endured trying to keep her son and daughter on track in school. She learned quickly that adding a little incentive was the key to success. It is why, as the owner of The Yellow School Bus, an educational supply store in Billings, she makes sure to stock her shelves with tools to help parents empower their kids. In her words, kids thrive on praise and a little goes a long way.
“If the child isn’t getting her homework done on her own, choose an incentive,” Tamara explains. Hanging a chart on the wall with identified goals and redeemable rewards might be all it takes to motivate your child. “A parent could create a chart for the week or could choose a chart for the whole month so that the child becomes an independent learner.” When the chart is fully checked off, the child has a ticket to fun. Tamara smiles as she says, “It worked for my kids!”
Kids crave consistency and they thrive on a routine. It’s no different when homework time hits. “Make sure that your kids are in an environment that is conducive to homework,” says Olga Prather, owner of Sylvan Learning Center in Billings. Create a homework hub that’s comfortable, well-lit and free from distractions. You might think it’s okay for your daughter to watch TV while she’s doing her math but studies show that’s probably not the best idea. Prather says, “Statistics say that kids who have background music or television playing while they do homework are not going to retain as much information. The quieter the environment is the better.”
Did you know, according to the experts, if your kids study for a test right before bed, they retain the information better? Angela Randak from Randak Dyslexia Services in Billings says, “Somehow, our brains process the information overnight.” Of course, she adds, “If you’ve never seen that material before, you can’t learn it all at once.” But, she adds, if you have a good grasp of the material, “Whatever you do right before bed is retained more than, say, if you studied in the middle of the afternoon and then did a whole bunch of other things.”
If you ask Olga Prather, one of the biggest problems she helps parents conquer are those children who like to rush through their homework without a lot of attention to detail. “School is like their job. So, when they come home and we ask them to do their job again, it can be difficult,” she says. Her solution? Set a timer. “Have set expectations. Tell your child, ‘I am going to give you 15 minutes of homework time whether you use it or not.” Prather says, “They might have a tendency to slow down because they know that is going to be your expectation. And, if they do their work correctly, maybe they can earn more time doing something that would be rewarding to them.”
If a child just needs a study partner, why not let your son or daughter teach you? Ask your child to teach you about the subject he or she is studying. Maybe you’ll learn about that novel they are reading in a literature class or get a brush up on a period of history you studied long ago. All that quizzing just helps build those learning blocks and helps your child better retain that knowledge.
Just like you might need to make a list before a major project, your child might need to do the same before a marathon homework session. Give your children the tools to succeed by arming them with a homework planner. Keeping a list of assignments will keep stress at bay if your child tends to worry about missing assignments. With a little organization on the front end, a planner also prevents overloaded backpacks when kids bring home books unnecessarily.
It goes without saying, the brain needs a little downtime. Olga Prather says let your kids come home, have a snack and recharge for a few minutes before they get down to the business of homework. When they do pull out their books, follow the 20/20 rule. Have your child take a break every twenty minutes, stop for 20 seconds and just let her mind wander before taking a deep breath and getting back to work.
Recognize too that your child’s study habits might be different from the way you’d tackle the job. Some people love to work under deadline pressure and kids are no different. Take a step back and watch your children. Do they like to bite off a little bit of a big project over a stretch of time or do they love to dig in and give it their all a day or two before the project is due? If you’re helping your child develop strong study habits, it’s a good idea to know how your child studies best.
If you’ve seemingly tried “everything,” and your child is still not thriving after school, Randak says it might be time to ask “Why?” She says, “Seek out the root of the problem as early as possible.” As an expert in dyslexia, Randak says, “One out of five people has some form of dyslexia. If your child is not reading or spelling well despite normal intelligence and there are no other organic issues, chances are it is dyslexia.” What are some of the warning signs? “If you are hearing from his kindergarten or first-grade teacher that your child can’t seem to learn his sight words, that’s a huge red flag.” Randak adds, “If you are spending a ton of time on your child’s spelling list each week, that’s also a red flag.” The good news is, once diagnosed, a child will have the tools to successfully learn in his or her own way. “My son was diagnosed when he was in first grade. I saw the success the program gave him and I wanted to help other children.” She adds, “My son is going to be a junior in high school. He’s doing amazing.”
No matter what the struggle, all of the experts agreed that parents need to help their children figure it all out. “Sometimes there are bumps in the road and you need to help your child get over them,” Prather says. Whether it’s the routine of homework, the organizational challenges, or tricks on how to retain what they’ve learned, she says, “It’s better to hit it head on than to avoid the situation.” After all, the study skills they develop today will help them well beyond their time in school. Prather says simply, “Their education is their future.”