An education in homework

Family: When studying becomes a test of patience for parents as well as children, it's good to remember that help is available.

February 28, 1999|By Theresa Walker | Theresa Walker,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Derek Brooks is convinced of it in his 9-year-old mind, and there's no dissuading him.

Whoever invented homework is not really a good inventor, he tells his mom any time she'll listen.

Derek, a third-grader, is not alone. Many kids -- dare we say most kids? -- hate the very thought of homework, let alone sitting down to do it.

Why?

Derek explains: "It takes a long time, and when I want to play it takes so long I don't have a lot of time left to play."

You can pretty much forget about explaining how important homework is to academic development, how much you learn by doing it, how it instills discipline and helps establish good study habits, how, in the long run, it prepares you to work independently, no matter what you do in life.

"Obviously, they don't realize that doing homework is actually helping them," says Trevor Romain, whose book "How to Do Homework Without Throwing Up" proceeds from the premise that homework turns stomachs. "It's a chore to them."

So the challenge for parents is how to get your kids to do homework without having to throw a fit first. Or something like that.

Educators and parents alike say there are ways to make homework a more pleasant experience for everyone concerned. It takes patience, commitment and consistency. And if needed, there's help out there.

"The key is to try not to get frustrated," says Lauren Brooks, whose sons Derek and Kevin attend grade school in Irvine, Calif. "But that's easier said than done. I know myself, I get frustrated. And that's not a good way to be."

It's best to get your kids into the homework habit as soon as they start school. If you don't set priorities early on, you're asking for trouble later.

"This is something that is very important. In the elementary school we can change behavior," says Nadine Rodriguez, principal of Roosevelt School in Santa Ana, Calif., where homework is assigned Mondays-Fridays in all grades.

"But by the time the student gets into middle school, it's very hard to change their behavior."

Educators know that, on average, those children who spend more time doing homework do better in school.

But based on his experience as a classroom teacher, Reg Weaver surmises that part of the problem is that parents don't bother to make homework a regular routine. Weaver is vice president of the National Education Association, on leave from his duties as a junior-high science teacher in Harvey, Ill.

But there are lots of opportunities for clashes: The child procrastinates, or the child rushes through the work but doesn't get it done right, or an assignment is misunderstood.

Showing a genuine interest in your child's work will get you a lot further than a lecture will, says Weaver.

From the time her kids were in kindergarten, Vinny Zuabi made them finish whatever work they brought home that day. "I wanted to instill in them that this is important and you need to get it done," says Zuabi, whose four daughters attend school in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Now, when they get home, they have a snack, then sit down and do their homework -- before play time, dinner, before even thinking about asking to watch television.

Another way to help keep kids in line is to keep the lines of communication open with the classroom teacher.

"If the child knows the parent is speaking with the teacher, you'd be surprised how much more disciplined the child is," Romain says.

The school should be your first resource, Weaver says.

Across the country, schools and support organizations offer a variety of ways to engage parents in their children's schoolwork or to be of more assistance in helping with homework.

Some schools run homework centers for children whose parents aren't home after school or who need more intense help.

Other schools offer homework hot lines, teacher e-mail or voice mail, or Web sites so parents can check on assignments. Some send home a weekly agenda for parents to check off and sign.

Others run family math and family literacy nights for parents to sharpen their skills or become familiar with material their children must learn.

Sources

Seeking resources on homework? Here are books, Web sites, hot lines and other suggestions to consider:

* The U.S. Department of Education publishes free "Helping Your Child" brochures that cover homework in general and specific topics such as writing well, geography, history, math, reading. Download them at www.ed.gov/pubs/ parents, or call 877-433-7827 (a toll-free number) to order.

* The National PTA has materials available on its Web site, www.pta. org. Or call 312-670-6782 and ask for customer service. They're willing to download and ship some of their publications to you free.

* "Homework Without Tears" by Lee Canter and Lee Hauserm, ($12, HarperCollins) is recommended by the U.S. Department of Education and educators.

* Other books that may be useful:

"How to Do Homework Without Throwing Up" by Trevor Romain ($8.95, Free Spirit Publishing)

"How to Help Your Child With Homework" by Marguerite Radencich ($12.95, Free Spirit Publishing)

"Ending the Homework Hassle: Understanding, Preventing, and Solving School Performance Problems" by John K. Rosemond and John Resemond ($8.95, Andrews & McMeel)

Scholastic Trade also publishes a series of homework reference guides for ages 4-8 and 9-12 that provides a quick review of material updated to keep pace with curriculum and teaching methods. Subjects include math, science, world history, geography and English. Cost is $8.95 each.

* Got a puzzling math or chemistry question? Get paper, pencil and calculator ready and dial the McDonnell Douglas Homework Hot line, manned by engineers. Call 800-876-3867, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Pub Date: 02/28/99

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