How parents can really help kids study

September 17, 1993|By Gail Stewart Hand | Gail Stewart Hand,Knight-Ridder News Service

When it comes to homework, a student's work ethic "is the main thing," Linda Jenkins said.

Ms. Jenkins, director of special education for the Grand Forks, N.D., Public Schools has some tips on how parents can foster an approach that translates into completed homework.

That usually spells school success.

"They will be real general guidelines, that may not work for everybody but have for a lot of people," she said in a phone interview.

Parents need to be positive toward their children and their assigned homework, she cautioned. If you get into a power struggle with your children over homework, it's likely to backfire. Some children resist parental advice. Or in some cases, they will listen to one parent but not the other. "It's important that it's a positive experience for both," she said. "If either the parent or the child is starting to feel overwhelmed or put down, you need to work on that -- before you can work on the homework. A parent's fTC most important job is to parent."

A student's responsibility is to do the work. A parent's is to set up the environment so that's practical. Turn off the TV, or have a work area where the TV can't be heard. "Most kids like to work on a floor or on a bed, rather than at a desk," Ms. Jenkins has found. For some students, background music in soothing but doesn't interfere with work. For others, it's distracting.

Good students tend to have things in common, too: They have figured out how to plan what needs to be done and have the discipline to do it. "Successful students know that if they don't know how to do the work, they know how to look through notes, call a friend or reread the chapter. A parent may have to model that for a kid who doesn't know it."

A child psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston advises parents to do paperwork while their children study. "Sit nearby with some work of your own [to] give your child an idea of how to do homework," she said in a press release.

"Flexibility is the next key in creating the right homework environment." Dr. Florence Eddins cautions parents to remember that what works for them may not be right for their child. "A child's attention span is much shorter. You may need uninterrupted quiet to get work done, but your child may need short breaks. If your child has trouble establishing a good routine, help them set time limits for completion," Dr. Eddins wrote.

Homework success also depends on good communication between parents and teachers. Parents should learn what the school expects of the child and the parents. Teachers can establish a system for sending home written notices of home

work if a child is having difficulty remembering to do homework or failing to tell the parents about it.

One underlying fact of schoolwork: "If the reading ability is poor, it's going to impact everything," Ms. Jenkins underscored. That can be a real stumbling block for any student.

What discouraged students seem to have in common is a lack of confidence, she said. Those with poor study habits are easily overwhelmed and don't have the motivation to stick to it. She will teach some strategies for parents to share with children to help them organize their work so they get the most important things done first and still experience the satisfaction that comes when work is completed.

Timing can make a big difference, she said. Some students need to have a chance to unwind, to fool around before settling down to homework. For others, the best approach might be to polish off the homework before relaxing. "Most parents need time after work to unwind. No one wants to start working right away. If a student has spent six hours doing something they're bad at, they need a break to shake off that feeling," Ms. Jenkins said.

What's a reasonable amount of homework? For those in elementary school, no more than half an hour a night. For junior high, maybe an hour a night. High school students would do more, depending on how rigorous the classes are.

"Kids have to have a life, too."

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