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Helping Kids With Homework Problems

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You've probably heard the saying: small kids, small problems; big kids, big problems. When it comes to homework problems, that is certainly true. The older your children grow, the more trouble they can get into for neglecting projects, math worksheets and spelling lists.

However, homework problems are truly your children's domain. The parent's role may be larger when they are little, but you must gradually turn over more responsibility to them. That, after all, is our primary job: to allow greater and greater freedom on the path to adulthood. Here's how to start them off on the right track.

Instill Responsibility

Okay, easier said than done to instill a sense of responsibility in our kids, but it's one of the most important elements of homework problems. The more control you can give your children over their homework, the more they will truly own it.

This means sitting down with them as early as kindergarten or first grade to get their ideas about a homework routine that they feel will work. You can gently guide the conversation, but be open to their perspective and willing to try their suggestions. You may find that they do better when they run off the day's energy for 30 minutes after school, before sitting down to the worksheet.

Kids should also know it's their job to physically put their homework in their folders and backpacks for the next day. I can't tell you how many times my kids have slaved over homework, only to leave it on the kitchen table as they run off for dinner or to play. Next morning, when they are at their desk at school looking for the lost homework, you want them to realize that they forgot it and vow never to do it again -- not to blame you for failing to place it in the backpack.

This brings us to the hardest part of letting your children take responsibility for their homework: allowing them to fail as they are learning the job. If they forget their homework and have to face the teacher's disapproval, they will learn the lesson more quickly than if you rush home from work during your lunch break to deliver it to school. (You may need to prepare the teacher in advance to be disapproving, so that she doesn't inadvertently give the message that it's not important to complete homework.)

Stick to the Routine

Once you and your child have established a routine for homework, stick with it. At first you may need to remind your child about the routine, until it gets to be a habit. But after a while, it should become second nature. Of course, this means resisting the pull of after-school play dates or overscheduling your child with enrichment activities, if such commitments would interfere with the routine.

If you find that activities are always bumping up against the routine, maybe you need to rethink the plan. For instance, instead of finishing homework before dinner, you may need to switch to an after dinner routine.

Make sure that other child care givers know what the homework routine is and are willing to enforce it just as you do. Some may be tempted to let your child slack off, while others may want to give more help than is appropriate.

Give Limited Help

Indeed, the amount of help you should give your child is guided by your child. You shouldn't be sitting next to her correcting every math homework problem. The homework provides your child's teacher important feedback about how much of the material she is learning and retaining. It doesn't help your child to demonstrate that you know second grade math, after all!

Wait to give help until your child asks for it. If you're tempted to intervene because of consistent errors in a certain subject, check with the teacher to see whether your child might need extra instruction. But again, the job of checking with the teacher and getting help will gradually become your child's responsibility as she gets older -- so make sure you're also teaching her to notice when she's falling behind, and to seek help.

Keep Homework Organized

Most articles on homework problems begin with this advice, and I'd be remiss for skipping it: help your child create an organized homework center and identify a place that his backpack goes as soon as he's done using it. This habit could be the most valuable of all lessons you teach your child -- a place for everything and everything in its place.

Moreover, ensure the homework center is fully stocked with school supplies, and help your child create a system for noticing that certain supplies are running low -- and adding them to the shopping list. While the coloring sheets in kindergarten seem simple now, they'll soon turn into a pile of books and folders.

What are the biggest homework problems in your household? Please share them!

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