Helping Children With Their Homework


Assisting children with their homework can be a learning experience for parents as well as for children. It is indeed a challenge for parents to strike a balance between giving children the assistance they need to successfully complete assignments, and helping them to develop independent thinking and problem-solving skills. Whether your child needs occasional help with homework, or has more frequent homework difficulties, you may wish to use the following techniques to make homework assistance a more meaningful and less frustrating experience for all.

Be Constructive: Creating a relaxed and positive atmosphere is extremely beneficial when instructing children. Children will be more open to instruction and more willing to attempt problems on their own if parental support is positive. Berating comprehension difficulties or making negative comments will only hamper your child's efforts. Consistently using constructive criticism and positive reinforcement is at times, however, easier said than done. Patience and more patience will be needed to repeat and reinforce instructions, to correct errors, to try different approaches to the same problem, and to simply get the assignment completed. Especially after a long hard day, homework battles are more likely to occur. Try your best to praise your child's good attempts and to understand that what may seem simple to you, may take a little more time and practice for your child to grasp.

The Homework Rule: A wise person once said, "Tell Me and I'll Forget, Show Me and I'll Remember, Involve Me and I'll Understand." This certainly holds true in the homework department. When it comes to parents helping children understand difficult homework concepts or assignments, getting a child interested and involved in the learning process is paramount. A challenging word problem is much friendlier when the problem character names are changed into your child's name or a best buddy's name. Or how about using manipulatives (household objects that children can move or count in order to figure out an answer) to help a child visualize a concept? Try counting out beans to show how 3 beans + 2 beans = 5 beans. Why not even enjoy a pizza dinner while demonstrating how 4 slices of pizza equals 1/2 of a pizza pie? The topic of fractions can be made friendlier and more relevant by involving your child in cutting up and comparing fruit slices, Cheerios or just about anything that interests him. Perhaps you and your child can even use your best acting skills to act out a difficult word problem. Not only will homework comprehension improve, but you'll also have some fun in the process.

Look For Clues: Your child is having difficulty with a tricky fractions problem and asks for your assistance. Uhh…Common denominators??? Your stomach begins to gurgle and you start getting that uneasy feeling you remembered from grade school. What do you do now? This is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to your child how you can search for clues and solve a problem together. It is so important for children to see their parents model problem- solving strategies. The "think aloud" technique encourages the problem solver (either parent or child) to work through the problem by talking out each step. The listener receives valuable insight on how to approach a problem by closely following the problem solver's thought process. The adult or teacher can also listen to a student's out loud attempt to solve a problem and be able to correct any errors in reasoning or strategy along the way. Before you proceed, however, it is time to do some detective work. Take a good look at examples of similar problems in your child's textbook or notebook. Most probably the class has done some introductory work on the topic. Pay close attention to the way in which it has been taught in the text or by the teacher. If possible, try your best to imitate the technique so that your instruction will reinforce what has been learned in class.

Role Reversal: You can really tell if a person understands something if he can effectively teach it to someone else. Simply asking your child whether or not he understands will not guarantee that he does. Once you think your child has mastered a concept, it's your chance to play student. As a student, ask your child to teach a particular problem or concept to you. Listen carefully to your child's explanations and ask specific questions in order to have him demonstrate understanding. You and your child can enjoy this interesting reversal of roles. It is a great way to develop your child's confidence in his growing problem-solving abilities.

Be a Homework Sleuth: Some of the most valuable and enlightening information you can receive is by becoming a homework detective. In order to get to the root of homework problems, try to sit down with your child while he does homework. Simply have your child go through the assignment step by step without your assistance. Silently observe the work techniques and make a mental note of any concerns such as difficulty with directions, careless computations, incorrect procedures, level of distraction, etc. As difficult as it may be, try not to interfere or nit pick when observing for details. Offer constructive pointers after the completion of the assignment and share any information with the teacher that you feel would be valuable. Having played the role of homework detective, you will now be prepared to assist your child with those pinpointed areas of difficulty on future assignments.

Create Independent Thinkers and Workers: Don't make the mistake of doing your child's homework for him. By all means, feel free to assist him with any problems or concerns, but know when to draw the line. Children need to build up the confidence and ability to tackle challenges on their own. Our job as parents and educators is to teach children the strategies which they can use to find their own answers. After all, we will not be there with them to supply answers during daily classroom work, exams or job interviews. The best instructor is one who can teach others to think for themselves. Obviously, this does not happen overnight and requires a great deal of time and patience, but creating an independent thinker and worker is definitely worth it.

For additional information, see Homework Help! at


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