Beating Homework Stress- A Guide
School is back in session. New school supplies, new teachers, new learning and new homework are all upon us.
I swear I just heard you sigh when you read the word homework. That's okay! Homework seems to be one of those things that is a stress factor in most American homes. Almost all students have it and almost all parents dislike it.
That's okay! Whether you agree with homework as a learning practice or not, chances are your child will come home with some this school year. Homework, though sometimes anxiety causing, is a good way to help your child practice the skills that they are learning in school. Yes, there is good homework and not so good homework but I will have to address that in another blog. The fact is, good or no your child has to complete the homework and turn it back in in one piece. This is where the stress comes in, right?
Stress about the actual doing of the homework. Stress about how to do the homework. Stress about doing ALL of the homework..not just some. Stress about remembering the homework. Stress about remembering to turn in the homework. The list goes on and on! It can leave you or your child looking a little like this.
It is going to be okay. Let's take a couple of deep breaths together and then tackle this homework thing. Here are nine things to work through and implement in order to have smooth sailing in the homework department this school year.
1. Create a Homework Routine
Routines are so important for children even once they enter middle and high school. When your child knows what they will do when they get home from school and when homework will be completed within that time, they do not have to spend energy wondering what they should do next (or asking you every hour). The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to create a new after school routine. Create an order of after school routine with your child and plan in what order they will complete the tasks that they must do after school each day and build homework into the schedule. The schedule that you create may not be a perfect fit once you get into the swing of the school year. Don't be afraid to make adjustments to the schedule with your child.
For younger children it can be helpful to write out the after school schedule and post it on the fridge or in their room. Have your child help you write out and decorate the schedule. If you love your laminating machine (like I do) you can also laminate the schedule so that your child can check off each task as they complete it each afternoon.
2. Designate a Homework Area
This doesn't have to be anything fancy, just a hub for where homework is normally done. The designated homework area can be the kitchen table, kitchen bar or any other area that you feel is appropriate. In this area make sure to keep supplies that your child will need for homework such as writing utensils, calculators and paper to cut down on running around to gather supplies (which adds time to homework). In this area it can also be a good idea to cut down on distractions such as TV noise or notifications from electronics.
Like the schedule, this may need to be adjusted until you find the homework area that is the perfect match to your child's needs.
3. Alter the Environment
Everyone has different needs when they are learning. Some thrive with background noise, some need silence and some need the ability to move around. Think about what type of learner your child is, or have a conversation with them about what helps them most. Alter the environment while your child is doing homework to help them focus.
For kiddos who need to fidget, you can use an exercise ball as a chair or even a half deflated beach ball in their chair to allow them to move around. Soft classical music is helpful for many students to not only activate brain power but to help drown out distracting noises. Who knows, your child might even need the TV on to focus! Figure out what works well for your child and keep replicating it during homework time.
4. Create a System for Tracking Homework
Some schools or teachers have a required agenda system that students must use to keep track of their assignments. If your child's teacher doesn't require this, or the system that the school has in place is not working for your child make a plan on how to track homework assignments. This can be as sophisticated as an agenda book or calendar your child writes assignments in, or as simple as a small notebook that they list assignments in for each day.
Whatever your system is, make sure that it is working and adjust if it is not. Homework tracking is a great way to teach your child about time management, and to keep you from the headaches of last minute panic. If your child has long term projects, help them plan out how they will execute the project over time and then become their accountability partner checking in to see if they have been staying on their schedule.
If your child has trouble turning in homework, create a system for making sure completed homework makes it to the teacher. Think about getting a folder or binder with pockets where incomplete homework can live on one side and completed homework can live on the other. Help your child sort and clean their "homework system" from time to time to make sure things continue to run smoothly.
5. Know Where to Find Help
One of the most stressful things about homework can be when a parent is not able to help either because of time restrictions or because the subject is done differently than when the parent was in school. Help your child make a plan for how they will handle homework when help is not available.
One of my favorite sites for homework help is Khan Academy. Khan Academy has videos for a wide variety of subjects and the videos are easily searchable. When your child gets "stuck" on homework, it is also a great opportunity to help them take control of their own learning. If you are able, lead your child in figuring out how they will gain the knowledge that they need to do their homework. This could be through internet searches, asking someone with the knowledge to teach them, going to the library or asking their teacher for help in class. If your child decides they need to ask their teacher, I encourage you to guide your child in writing their questions down and practicing how they will ask their teacher (if they are in younger grades). After practicing finding the information they need and/or asking their teacher for help your child will be more practiced and able to take their learning into their own hands!
6. Utilize Breaks
A child's attention span is generally their age plus one minute. For example, a ten year old child would be able to focus for roughly 11 minutes. When you try to stretch your child to focus for much longer than they are able it can result in stress all around. Make sure to take breaks from homework to help your child stay focused. During your breaks, take care of physical needs (bathroom, thirst, hunger, temperature) but also make sure to incorporate physical activity to help reset the brain. Do some jumping jacks, hopscotch or running in place to get the blood flowing. I also love to do cross body exercises with my students when we take a break because they get children moving while also improving focus!
7. Let Your Child Use Their Voice
If homework time is getting particularly stressful for your child, make sure to ask them what is going on. Sometimes worries associated with school can grow into anxiety. If your child is worried, make sure to address it and help them work through their worries while also reassuring them that their worries are valid. Ask your child what is work and what isn't working in their after school or homework routine and adjust accordingly. If your child is feeling overwhelmed by homework, work with them to address their feelings. Your child might benefit from calming techniques such as breathing, or stress relief aids such as calming jars or stress balls.
8. Know When to Seek Help
If your child's stress or overwhelm lasts for a long time or if homework time seems to always be daunting, it could be because of gaps in your child's reading or other skills. Make sure to reach out to their teacher if your child is experiencing prolonged stress or difficulty during homework time. Your child's teacher may use this insight to see where gaps are, or direct your child to a counselor or other professional at the school to help with their needs.
9. Have Fun!
Homework and school can get stressful for children and parents. It is bound to happen at some point in the school year. When it seems too stressful, try your best to laugh and have fun! Know when it is time to take a break from the school work and do something fun. Tell jokes, make funny faces, play a funny game or watch a funny cat video. Laughter is the best medicine, and it can cut through the tension and help everyone regroup.
What's the toughest part of homework time in your home? What are you going to change this year to make homework time easier? Let me know in the comments!
Here is to a brand new school year with less stress!