Education Cheat Sheet: How to Win at Homework

If homework becomes a battle, how can you help while keeping your child an independent learner?


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If you’re the average parent, your child probably does homework at the kitchen table every night, just as you did as a child.  It seems like a hallowed tradition, a rite of passage that every child, and parent, must go through growing up.


It’s not always easy. Some evenings feel like a no-win situation, as you plead, cajole, or bribe your tired child to finish up his or her homework. You’ve probably asked yourself, while bleary-eyed and exhausted, does homework really help my child succeed in school? How involved should I be? Should I check the work to make sure that all answers are correct?


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Research suggests that there’s very limited evidence to support the often heard claim that homework helps students achieve academically or develop good work habits, particularly in the elementary years. However, there are some who believe that teachers and parents can help students develop self-confidence as learners through homework, which, in turn, will help them to do well in school. The reality is that most schools DO assign homework.  So, what are parents to do to help their child ‘win’?


To get a better sense of how this issue plays out every day, we asked three local experts —Ka’ipo Bailey-Walsh, The Priory, St. Andrew’s Schools lower school principal; Eric Dustman, Montessori School of Maui’s head of  school; and Lia Woo, Hanahauʻoli School’s head of school—to weigh in. Though these schools have distinct ways of approaching teaching and learning, our experts agreed on some key things.


The Purpose of Homework

When homework is assigned, it should be to help students to develop positive beliefs about themselves as learners, build good study habits and time management skills, and should serve as a communication tool between teachers and parents about what their children are learning in school.


Keep It Relevant, Interesting, and Tailored to Each Child

Teachers should focus on tailoring the assignments to each child’s developmental/skill levels to reinforce or apply concepts or skills learned at school.  When a child completes assignments independently, it can help him or her feel successful. According to Bailey-Walsh, your child should feel that homework “is ʻdoable’ without the need for outside help from a parent, tutor or peer.”  Teachers should tie the assignment directly to what students are learning in class and give students choices in the topic or how the understanding or knowledge is expressed.  Finally, ideal assignments encourage students to explore their curiosities while connecting to their families and communities, for example, by interviewing others outside of school, conducting a science experiment at home, or taking photos or videos related to a topic they are learning.


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The Importance of Balance and Rest

In the end, all three advocate for keeping homework, especially in the elementary years, to a minimum. “Your child deserves the time after school to live a balanced life—complete with hobbies and passions that spark joy, open-ended free time, and quality time and traditions with family and friends,” says Woo.


Parent Homework:

Work with your child to co-define his or her workspace. The area should be away from distractions and should be neat and organized, with supplies easily within reach.


Help your child organize and prioritize homework, modeling the skills that you would like your child to develop.


Observe your child’s work style and co-create regular routines to help him or her manage time. Some students can sit for long periods to complete everything. Others need regular breaks and movement in between problems or tasks.


Show active interest in what your child is learning. Ask questions to deepen and prod thinking and check in frequently. Be your child’s cheerleader and let him or her know that you’re proud.


Allow your child to make mistakes, and refrain from doing the homework for him or her, or correcting the work.  This will help to “hold children accountable and providing a home framework for meeting the demands of homework will pay the greatest benefit,” Dustman says. Moreover, the mistakes your child makes will provide valuable information to the teacher about what support and reinforcement he or she needs.


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If your child is struggling:

Communicate your concerns with your child’s teacher. Your child’s teacher should give you multiple ways to communicate your thoughts and concerns on a regular basis.


Monitor how much time your child is spending and any frustration while he or she is working through the assignment. While being challenged is good, unresolved frustration can harm a student’s desire to learn. The teacher may be able to suggest a time limit or assign different homework to better match the child’s skill level.


Balance your child’s homework with after-school activities. The most important thing for your child is to get plenty of rest to be a happy, healthy learner. Regularly staying up late at night to complete assignments is not a good idea.