Ask an Expert: How Can I Encourage Good Homework Habits Early On?
Oh, homework. You remember it, we remember it, and your child is forming memories of it now. David Timony, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and chair of education at Delaware Valley University answers all of your questions about making homework a pleasant, valuable experience—for both your child and you!
Q: Children get homework as early as kindergarten. When should parents start thinking about encouraging good study skills?
A: As an educational psychologist and a teacher, homework is always a topic of discussion for me—but I don’t think kindergarteners have any business working on study habits. Instead, I try to encourage good attitudes toward learning in general, and that doesn’t always include homework. At the earliest ages, I see homework as a suggestion rather than a prescription. It tells me what the kids have been working on, but sometimes it becomes too much. Homework isn't one-size-fits all.
Q: In that case, how can parents encourage that good attitude toward learning?
A: The best things we can do with our kids at the early ages are fun activities that naturally embed learning. For instance, as part of learning language skills, my daughter and I used to go around the house and sing to each other for 10 minutes. I would sing to her, “Go upstairs, get your shoes, and let’s go to the park!” She would sing “Okay!” back. That activity helped her to be more deliberate about the words she was choosing.
Q: As kids get older and they do have daily homework that they need to complete, is it helpful for them to choose where or how they’ll do it?
A: I think it is. During the 20-minue car ride home, I’ll talk to my kids about the plan that’s going to take place when we get home. I might say, “What are we going to do? Why don’t we knock that homework out?” And then my daughter might say, "That sounds good." I think it’s really important to have that shared agency with the child and to articulate your goals together.
Q: Would you recommend parents give any sort of reward for finishing homework?
A: You know, I’m not really into rewards. I think practice of any kind should have a little bit of satisfaction built into it. Sometimes it’s the satisfaction of getting it done, and sometimes it’s the satisfaction of being together. We have to carve out time in our lives to make some of the mundane activities enjoyable simply because we’re doing them together. One-on-one time isn’t just cuddling before bed, and it doesn’t have to be focus free. It can really be working together on something like homework.
Q: What can parents do if they notice their child is getting bored with their homework?
A: Explain the purpose of the homework: For instance, multiplication tables are meaningful because having those responses at the ready is going to facilitate excellence and achievement in math down the road. You can say that it may seem really mundane or difficult right now, but that it's necessary in order to get to the next level—and that together you're a team. And tomorrow, it’s going to be much easier.
Q: How much should parents really be helping with homework?
A: If the homework is at an appropriate level, the child should be able to do it mostly on their own. If they need help, you might look at the reading and say, “The answer is here, you just need to take a little more time and go over it,” without saying the answer. As parents, we want to get the kids bathed, in jammies, and to bed on time, so it can be tempting to just tell them. But you don’t want to place yourself between the child and the teacher. If you're frustrated with managing homework, the most important thing you can do is work with the teacher to find a solution. Be a partner of the teacher and a teammate of the child. You’re in this together for the long haul to make learning a really great, engaging activity.