Christine Smith said she was taken aback the first time kindergarten parents peppered her with questions during a workshop about how to help children with homework.
Although homework time may be limited for lower grades, it’s never too early to establish good study skills, said Smith, who is a special-education resource teacher at St. Kateri School in Irondequoit. She has a background in teaching at the elementary and junior-high levels.
Homework plays a special role in the educational experience, according to the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools’ document "Shared Expectations for Excellence in Development." This document notes homework "reinforces classroom instruction, fosters study skills and independence, and informs parent(s)/guardian(s) of the curriculum."
Yet parents may struggle to help their children make homework time effective. That’s where Smith comes in. Each October she teaches a workshop for Catholic-school parents called "Homework Without Tears." Her presentation is based on a book of the same name by Lee Canter.
She said the tears mentioned in the title are often due to the frustrations of both the parents and the student.
"You can avoid all that if you have the guidelines set up," said Smith, who chairs the Academic Excellence Committee of the Monroe County Catholic Schools.
She offers several tips for families to make homework "tear-free":
1. Make homework a priority
Make homework a priority that takes precedence over extracurricular activities. Smith suggests that having a scheduled study time can ensure that extracurricular activities don’t cause conflicts. Additionally, children may concentrate better if they have some free time to play first before sitting down for homework.
2. Schedule designated time
Schedule time each day for homework; if work is finished, students can use the additional time for reading, practicing skills or reviewing what they have learned. On average, the amount of time a student spends on homework should increase by 10 minutes per grade level. For example, a third-grader should average about 30 minutes of homework.
For children who are unable to sit still for that long, Smith suggests breaking homework time up into smaller chunks that are punctuated with five-minute breaks.
3. Keep materials organized
Designate a "drop spot" where book bags and school materials can be placed as soon as the student comes home from school. Smith said having a drop spot in her own home helped her now-grown son to stay organized when he came home from school.
"That eliminates the hassle in my home of ‘where’s this’ and ‘where’s that?’" Smith said.
4. Make a study area
Equip a well-lit study area with school supplies that students will need so that they spend their time studying instead of looking for supplies, Smith said.
5. Help only when asked
Allow your child to complete homework on his or her own and only step in if asked. If you are asked, only go over directions and do an example together.
"Don’t do your child’s homework," Smith cautioned. She noted that the purpose of homework is to demonstrate a student’s abilities and understanding of the material, not a parent’s abilities and understanding.
6. Praise completed work
Give specific praise when the child completes an assignment.
7. Don’t deliver homework
Do not deliver forgotten homework to school, because the child does not learn from the consequences of actions.
8. Don’t argue
If a student is not doing homework, don’t argue. Communicate expectations assertively and in the manner of a broken record; don’t make meaningless threats.
Smith said consistency is the key to getting kids to cooperate when it comes to homework time.
"You’ll have parents be gung ho, but if you don’t stay consistent, it goes by the wayside," Smith said.
9. Communicate with the teacher
Contact the teacher if the child is unable to do or finish homework assignments or if the child shows poor work habits.