Jan 1, 2011

Homework Involvement or Over-Involvement?

One of the many tightropes we walk as parents of preteens is determining where to draw the line to encourage independence and how much independence to encourage. This challenge can apply to many situations including parental involvement in homework. We can all conjure up the picture of the frantic parent racing to school to bring some coveted item that was inadvertently left at home. Or, taking too key a role in getting a project completed. We might have even embraced an excuse to ensure that our tween wasn’t penalized for an assignment that never quite got finished.

Some would point out that this is giving our tween “too soft of a landing;” others would submit that giving their child every chance to succeed models resourcefulness. Like many choices, it’s personal and likely to be loaded with judgment on all fronts! With even the best of intentions, taken to extremes, involvement can become a hindrance. At what point is that line crossed?

Homework involvement on a parent’s part can vary in scope considerably, ranging from guidance, to co-authoring, to ownership! In the long run, most experts agree that rather than doing their homework for your tween or even over-guiding them, the emphasis should be placed on parents helping children do their own homework. When you think about it, taking over the task and over-directing homework activities may send the wrong message — that getting to the “correct” result is more important than the learning experienced along the way; or more significant, that you don’t have confidence in your preteen.

How Parents Can Be Involved (In a Supporting Role!)

1.  Have a conversation with your tween about the importance of homework. Emphasize the purpose – that it’s not just a way of making them miserable! You can point out the value of homework as a means of reviewing what they learned in class; helping them prepare for the next day’s class; learning to use resources, like the internet, to research topics. They might even want to learn more about a topic they didn’t have time to fully engage with at school.
2.  Make it relevant. Compare the homework process to work that we do as adults; for instance, “Mom goes to work each day and….” If your child is a sports fan, highlight the amount of practice that goes into becoming a sports success. Point out that few of us have a gift to be good at an endeavor without practice. And the truth is, like some aspects of life, we have to commit to certain activities that aren’t always fun. As we know, cultivating perseverance is a wonderful attribute that will pay off in many of life’s circumstances.
3.  Review their assignment(s) with them. Try to resist the temptation to share your strategy, but instead pose the question, “How do you think you’d like to approach this?” Hear what they have to say and make use of the word “Why?” to get at their thinking. If you believe their logic is unfounded, you might pose a possible strategy at that point, “Do you think it would help if you…?” In general, get them on board with the expectation.
4.  Make sure to give your tween a great starting point by establishing a homework routine and a distraction-free setting. Set a regular time, have an agreed upon location and have supplies easily accessible. Once they get started, unless you’re staying with them while they complete the assignment, have an agreed upon check-in procedure to monitor progress and offer guidance. Timed right, the payoff of free time can be a nice “carrot”!
5.  Speak with your child’s teacher to determine school expectations. Some teachers will appreciate parental involvement; others will want to get a full understanding of where your tween needs help by seeing their independent work. Either way, develop an open discussion with your child’s teacher; determine his/her preferred communication method (i.e., email, phone call, note, etc.) and make use of it.
6.  Speak with other parents to get a sense of how involved they are in the homework process. You can exchange points of view and tips to see if there’s something you’ve overlooked. Like many topics, hearing divergent points of view can help us sort out what we believe to be important. You might even suggest a meeting with fellow parents and your child’s teacher to be more efficient in the overall information sharing process.
7.  Reinforce school learning by getting a preview of topics to be studied at school. With this information you might dig deeper into the subject matter by pursuing extra-curricular learning activities (e.g., educational games, dvd rentals, book reading, books on tape, trips to the zoo or museum, family excursions, etc.).
8.  Make a Homework Calendar available to your preteen to record and structure more comprehensive assignments, especially as their homework encompasses a need for planning (i.e., there might be assignments that are broken into phases with different parts due on different dates). The value of organization can’t be underestimated.
9.  Get involved at school to the degree you can by showing an interest in schoolwork, attending school functions and even volunteering on a project. Make a point to ask your tween about school each day and what he/she’s learning and studying.  Connecting within the school will help build an informal support network that you can turn to when you need help figuring out a learning dilemma.
10. Set a good example. If you can, join in the homework process by engaging in a quiet activity nearby. That way, you can model the need for focus while your tween is busy with schoolwork. And, you can be available for help when your preteen needs assistance.

On top of everything, be sure to praise your tween’s efforts in getting their homework completed and ready for school!

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