Class Act

Flash cards, book reports, backpacks stuffed with assignments. It may seem like your kids have more homework than you ever did. But don’t fret: It helps guarantee your child’s educational success. “Evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows there is a correlation between school achievement scores and the amount of homework that children do,” says Jeanne Paratore, a professor of education at Boston University.

And educational experts know something else. “Parents can have a significant impact on their children’s success simply by taking an active interest in their schooling,” says Linda Hodge, president of the National PTA. Following are five ways to do just that.

  1. ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE

    Do you think homework is important? If you don’t, your kids won’t. A great way to show a positive attitude is to do your own “homework”-reading, writing letters, making lists, and so on-in front of your kids. Do these things daily at a regular quiet time, and let your kids see that you enjoy it. The most important thing is to invite your children to be part of it. Even before they reach school age, have them sit next to you and read, color or write. Read to them and discuss what you’re reading. In short, create a time into which homework will naturally fit as a child grows older. “The best homework assignments give children a reason to work together with their parents,” says Paratore.
  1. FIND THE RIGHT SETTING

    The National PTA advises parents that kids need a regular spot and, as often as possible, a regular time to do homework. The location can be anywhere that is quiet, preferably without a TV in the room. Nearby should be important resources, such as pens, pencils, a dictionary-and you. However, “It is almost impossible to have a regular time,” says Donna Ogle, professor of reading and language at the National College of Education. To accommodate your child’s complicated schedule, a good approach is to plan for primary and backup homework times every day.
  1. GET INVOLVED

    You can enrich your child’s homework and overall learning experience in a few simple ways.

    • Find out what the school and teacher think about homework, how it is assigned, what additional resources are
      available and where to turn for help. “Keep the lines of communication open with the classroom teacher,” says Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA). “The school should be your first resource for homework help.”
    • Avoid battles about homework. “Showing a genuine interest in your child’s work will get you a lot further than a lecture will,” says Weaver.
    • Assume that your children have studying to do every night-even if they don’t have any assigned homework,” says Hodge. “They might review lessons, read a book or work on practice exercises during this quiet time.”
    • Don’t let your child get discouraged over a homework problem that’s got him stumped. Have him write down that he doesn’t understand. “Often teachers don’t know what gives kids trouble,” says Ogle. “If kids write out what does, it provides helpful teacher feedback.”
  1. SNEAK HOMEWORK INTO FAMILY TIME

    Take the opportunity to do what educators think is one of the most important things: Highlight the connections between what’s going on in school and outside.

    • Use newspapers, magazines and TV as a resource. “For instance,” says Ogle, “kids study astronomy in fourth grade. This is an ideal time to read newspaper articles about space with children, or cut out some of those articles and put them on the refrigerator. Connections like this make schoolwork more meaningful.”
    • Look for ways to carry school lessons into other activities such as sports, museum visits and dinner conversation.
  1. REWARD EFFORTS AND RESULTS

    Your children tell you that some kids get a dollar for a perfect homework paper. Don’t follow that example! There are better ways to reinforce good work.

    • Shower them with praise. Words that show you really understand your child’s efforts are the most effective.
    • If you see your child’s interest in a particular subject broaden, choose a reward that reinforces that interest-such as a book, movie or CD.
    • Create an ongoing method to salute good schoolwork, including homework. This could be obvious, such as posting good work on the refrigerator, or a little more elaborate, say, creating a lifetime portfolio of a child’s best achievements.
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