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  Homework: Provide GuidanceThursday, December 7th, 2023  
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Educational Research and Improvement

The basic rule is, "Don't do the assignments yourself." It's not your homework—it's your child's. "I've had kids hand in homework that's in their parent's handwriting," one Washington, DC-area eighth grade teacher complains. Doing assignments for your child won't help him understand and use information. And it won't help him become confident in his own abilities.

It can be hard for parents to let children work through problems alone and learn from their mistakes. It's also hard to know where to draw the line between supporting and doing.

Different teachers have different ideas about the best way for parents to provide guidance. Here are a few suggestions with which most teachers agree:

Figure Out How Your Child Learns Best

If you understand something about the style of learning that suits your child, it will be easier for you to help her.

If you've never thought about this style, observe your child. See if he works better alone or with someone else. If your child gets more done when working with someone else, he may want to complete some assignments with a brother or sister or a classmate. (Some homework, however, is meant to be done alone. Check with the teacher if you are not sure.)

Other things to consider about learning style:
  • Does your child learn things best when she can see them? If so, drawing a picture or a chart may help with some assignments. For example, after reading her science book, she may not remember the difference between the tibia and the fibula. But by drawing a picture of the leg and labeling the bones, she can remember easily.
  • Does your child learn things better when he can hear them? He may need to listen to a story or have directions read to him. Too much written material or too many pictures or charts may confuse him.
  • Does your child understand some things best when she can handle or move them? An apple cut four or six or eight ways can help children learn fractions.
Help Your Child Get Organized

As mentioned earlier, it's a good idea to set up a regular time for children to do homework. Put up a calender in a place where you will see it often and record assignments on it. If your child is not able to read yet, then do it for him until he can do it himself. Writing out assignments will get him used to the idea of keeping track of what's due and when. You may want to use an assignment book instead of a calender.

A bag for books will make it easier to carry homework to and from school. Homework folders in which youngsters can tuck their assignments for safe keeping help many students stay organized.

Encourage Good Study Habits

Teachers generally give students tips on how to study. But it takes time and practice to develop good habits. You can reinforce these habits at home. For example:

Help your child structure time in order to complete assignments. For example, if your eighth-grader has a biology report due in 3 weeks, discuss all the steps she needs to take to complete it on time, including:
  1. selecting a topic;
  2. doing the research by looking up books and other materials on the topic and taking notes;
  3. figuring out what questions to discuss;
  4. drafting an outline;
  5. writing an outline; and
  6. revising and completing the final draft.
Encourage your child to write down how much time she expects to spend on each step.

Help your child get started when he has to do research reports or other big assignments.

Encourage him to use the library. If he isn't sure where to begin, have him ask the librarian for suggestions. If he's using a computer for on-line reference resources—whether the computer's at home, school, or the library—make sure he's getting whatever help he needs to use it properly. As mentioned earliler, many public libraries have homework centers where there are tutors or other kinds of one-on-one assistance. After your child has done the research, listen while he tells you the points he wants to make in the report.

Give practice tests

Help your third-grader prepare for a spelling test by saying the words while she writes them down. Then have her correct her own test.

Help your child avoid last-minute cramming

Review with your fifth-grader how to study for his social studies test well before it's to be given. You can have him work out a schedule of what he needs to do, make up a practice test, and write down answers to the questions he's made up.

Talk with your child about how to take a test.

Be sure she understands how important it is to read the instructions carefully and to keep track of the time and avoid spending too much time on any one question.

Several books and pamphlets listed in the Resources section give more tips on how your child can get organized and develop good study habits.

Talk About the Assignments
  • Do you understand what you're supposed to do? After your child has read the instructions, ask her to tell you in her own words what the assignment is all about. (If your child can't read yet, the teacher may have sent home instructions that you can read to her.) Some schools have homework hotlines that you can call for assignments in case your child misplaced a paper or was absent that day. If your child does not understand the instructions, read them with her and talk about the assignment. Are there words she doesn't understand? How can she find out what they mean? If neither you nor your child understands an assignment, call a classmate or contact the teacher.

  • What do you need to do to finish the assignment? Your child may want to talk through the steps with you (or make a written list of them, if he's able to), as described in the section above on good study habits.

  • Do you need help in understanding how to do your work? See if your child needs to learn more, for example, about subtracting fractions before she can do her assignments. Or find out if the teacher needs to explain to her again when to use capital and lowercase letters. If you understand the subject yourself, you may want to work through some examples with your child. But let her do the work herself.

  • Have you ever done any problems like the ones you're supposed to do right now? See if your child has already done similiar problems that can guide him in completing these particular ones.

  • Do you have everything you need to do the assignment? Sometimes your child needs special supplies, such as colored pencils, metric rulers, maps, or reference books. As mentioned before, check with the teacher, school guidance counselor, or principal for possible sources of assistance if you can't provide needed supplies; and check with the local public library or school library for books and other information resource.

  • Does your answer make sense to you? Sometimes the response to a math problem doesn't seem logical, or the meaning of a paragraph your child has written is unclear. If that's the case, your child may need to check over the math problem or revise the paragraph.
If your child is still confused, ask:
  • How far have you gotten on the assignment? Let's try to figure out where you're having a problem.
  • Do you need to review your notes (or reread a chapter in your textbook) before you do the assignment?
  • Are you still having problems? Maybe it would help to take a break or have a snack.

Give Praise

People of all ages respond to praise. And children need encouragement from the people whose opinions they value the most—their parents. "Good first draft of your book report!" or "You've done a great job" can go a long way toward motivating your child to complete assignments.

Children also need to know when they haven't done their best work. Make criticism constructive. Instead of telling a third-grader, "You aren't going to hand in that mess, are you?" try, "The teacher will understand your ideas better if you use your best handwriting." Then give praise when a neat version is completed.

Table Of Contents

Homework: A Concern For The Whole Family
The Basics
Show You Think Education and Homework Are Important
Monitor Assignments
Provide Guidance
Resolve Problems
Homework Resources
The National Education Goals
Homework Checklist

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