Tips For Helping Kids
and Teens With Homework and Study Habits
Certain key practices will make life easier for
everyone in the family when it comes to study time and study organization.
However, some of them may require an adjustment for other members
of the family.
Turn off the TV set.
Make a house rule, depending on the location of the set, that
when it is study time, it is "no TV" time. A television set that
is on will draw youngsters like bees to honey.
What about the radio?
Should it be on or off? Contrary to what many specialists say,
some youngsters do seem to function all right with the radio
turned on to a favorite music station. (Depending on the layout
of your house or apartment, maybe an investment in earphones
would be worthy of consideration.)
Certain rules should
be set about the family phone during study hours.
The more people in the household, the more restrictions on long
and unnecessary phone calls are needed. A timer, placed next to
the phone, can help to control the length of calls so that the
telephone will be available if it becomes necessary to call a
schoolmate to confirm an assignment or discuss particularly
areas for homework and studying.
Possibilities include the child's room or the kitchen or dining
room table. Eliminate as much distraction as possible.
Since many young people will study in
their own rooms, function becomes more important than
beauty. Most desks for young people really don't have
sufficient space to spread out materials. A table that
allows for all necessary supplies such as pencils, pens,
paper, books, and other essentials works extremely well.
Consider placing a bulletin board in your
child's room. Your local hardware store sells wallboard that
might not look too pretty and isn't framed, but a 4 x
3'section is inexpensive and perfect on which to post
pertinent school items. You might want to paint or cover it
with burlap to improve its appearance or let your child take
on this project.
Encourage the use of a small book or pad
for writing down assignments so that there is no confusion
about when certain assignments must be turned in to the
Keeping general supplies on hand is
important. Check with your child about his needs. In fact,
make it his responsibility to be well supplied with paper,
pencils, note pads, notebook paper, et cetera.
Regularity is a key
factor in academic success. Try
to organize the household so that supper is served at a standard
time, and once it and family discussions are over, it's time to
crack the books. If the student doesn't have other commitments
and gets home reasonably early from school, some homework can be
done before supper.
Consider you child's developmental level when
setting the amount of time for homework. While high school
students can focus for over an hour, first-graders are unlikely
to last more than 15 minutes on a single task. Allow your child
to take breaks, perhaps as a reward for finishing a section of
Organize study and
homework projects. Get a large
calendar, one that allows space for jotting down things in the
daily boxes. Rip it apart so that you (and the child) can
sequentially mount the school months for the current semester.
For example, you can tear off September, October, November,
December, and January and mount them from left to right across
one wall. Have the child use a bold color writing instrument
(felt tip pen) to mark exam dates in one color, reports that are
coming due in a different color, et cetera. This will serve as a
reminder so that things aren't set aside until the last
Teach your child that
studying is more than just doing homework assignments.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of schoolwork is the
difference between studying and doing homework assignments.
Encourage your child to do things like:
- take notes as he's
reading a chapter
- learn to skim material
- learn to study tables and
- learn to summarize what
he has read in his own words
- learn to make his own
flashcards for quick review of dates, formulas, spelling
words, et cetera
Note-taking is a
critical skill and should be developed.
Many students don't know how to take notes in those classes that
require them. Some feel they have to write down every word the
teacher says. Others have wisely realized the value of an
outline form of note-taking. Well prepared teachers present
their material in a format that lends itself to outline form
Should notes ever be
In some cases, they should be, particularly if a lot of material
was covered, and the youngster had to write quickly but lacks
speed and organization. Rewriting notes takes time, but it can
be an excellent review of the subject matter. However, rewriting
notes isn't worth the time unless they are used for review and
recall of important information.
A home dictionary is
essential, but if it is kept on a
shelf to gather dust, it won't do anyone any good. Keep it in an
accessible place and let your child see you refer to it from
time to time. If the family dictionary is kept in the living
room and the child studies in his room, get him an inexpensive
dictionary for his exclusive use.
Good dictionary, encyclopedia and
organizational skills depend on the ability to alphabetize. See
if your child's teacher practices alphabetizing in class. Try
alphabetizing spelling words, family members' names or a few
favorite toys at home as a way of practicing.
Help your child to
feel confident for tests. Taking
tests can be a traumatic experience for some students. Explain
to your child that burning the midnight oil (cramming) the night
before a test is not productive. Better to get a good night's
sleep. Students also need reminding that when taking a test,
they should thoroughly and carefully read the directions before
they haphazardly start to mark their test papers. They should be
advised to skip over questions for which they don't know the
answers. They can always return to those if there's time. Good
advice for any student before taking a test: take a deep breath,
relax, and dive in. Always bring an extra pencil just in case.
During a homework
session, watch for signs of frustration.
No learning can take place and little can be accomplished if the
child is angry or upset over an assignment that is too long or
too difficult. At such times the parent may have to step in and
simply halt the homework for that night, offering to write a
note to the teacher explaining the situation and perhaps
requesting a conference to discuss the quality and length of
Should parents help
with homework? Yes-if it is
clearly productive to do so, such as calling out spelling words
or checking a math problem that won't prove. No-if it is
something the child can clearly handle himself and learn from
the process. And help and support should always be calmly and
cheerfully given. Grudging help is worse than no help at all!
Read directions, or check over math problems
after your child has completed the work. Remember to make
positive comments - you don't want your child to associate
homework with fights at home.
Model research skills by involving your child
in planning a family trip. Help your child locate your
destination on a map or atlas. Use traditional encyclopedia or a
CD-ROM to find information about the place you will visit; try
the Internet or books in the library.
How best to handle
report cards? To save shocks and
upsets, gently discuss from time to time "how things are going
at school- with your child. Something casual, such as "How did
the math test go?" "How did you do on the history report?"
"How's your science project coming along? Need any help?" are
questions that aren't "third degree" but indicate interest. Find
out if it is a policy at your child's school to send out
"warning notices" when work isn't going well. Generally, such
notices require the parent's signature to verify that the parent
has, indeed, been alerted. This is the time to contact the
teacher of the course, along with your child, to learn what the
difficulty may be. If such notices aren't sent, then grades on
projects and reports and from tests may be the sole source of
information short of what your child wishes to share. Be tuned
in to statements such as "He's an awful teacher," "She goes too
fast," etc. This may be the child's way of indicating
frustration in understanding content or lack of study time with
the subject. However, be cautious in contacting teachers without
your child's approval or interest. It may disrupt good feelings
between you and make you seem to be interfering and spying.