Homework survival guide

Helping your child with homework can be a fun learning experience or a minefield.  Having a plan up front can help minimize stress and tears for your child and wear and tear on you!  Pittsburgh Parent got answers from Joan Rooney, VP of Instruction for Tutor.com, an online homework help and tutoring service in the country, who talked to us about homework.

What rules would you suggest setting up, right from the start?

I suggest spending some time at the beginning of the year figuring out what works best for your child. Kids work better when they have some kind of routine, but the best routine isn’t the same for every student. Some kids do better right after school, rather than waiting till after dinner when they’re starting to fade. Other kids need to come home and decompress for a while before they can face their homework. It doesn’t matter what time you choose, just make a conscious choice with your child and try to stick to it.

It’s also a good idea to pick a place to do homework. It might be the kitchen table, a spot in their bedroom, if they prefer privacy or even the family room couch, if they want you to be nearby, but again, it’s good to have a routine in place.

How much help should a parent offer?  Should you give your child the correct answer?

  1. Keep the goal in mind!  The goal is for your child to do the best s/he can to learn the material at hand and for you to preserve your relationship with your child.  
  2. You don’t want to do all the problems or write the paper for your child, but it is fine to provide some information to get them ‘unstuck’ and out of their frustration.
  3. However, if your child is not understanding the concept, you might write to the teacher to explain that your child worked on the assignment for a sufficient amount of time, but is not grasping the material. This is what the teacher needs to know

What do you do when your child gets frustrated?

 Keep an eye on frustration. You know your child’s tolerance level best. Some kids just want to get the work done; others need to break it up into smaller bites. You might set a time limit and then encourage your child to take a break.  If this is your child’s style, make sure they start assignments early enough to have time to take those breaks. If your child is getting very frustrated and the hour is getting late, with your child’s permission, you can send a note on the homework and let the teacher know they you recommended that the student stop. Teaching kids to advocate for themselves is also teaching them another helpful skill.  

Other tips?

If your child isn’t getting it, try a different approach.  Is your child a visual learner? Then try drawing a picture or diagram that communicates the idea.  Does your child learn by hearing? Perhaps talking them through it will help, or find a video online with audio.  Is your child having trouble memorizing a poem…or all the prepositions? Try putting them to a song!  At least, you’ll lighten the mood!  (Note:  Teachers Domain, a site created by the WGBH Educational Foundation, has a lot of great resources in various media formats: www.teachersdomain.org. Ask your child to explain the information to you. This can be a great way to help your child organize her thoughts and you can offer gentle encouragement (“Aha! Now I understand.”) and ask additional questions to help her master the material.

Make it fun!  Besides songs, you might want to act out parts of history, or make a silly face that ‘clues’ your child that he is forgetting a letter when he is practicing for his spelling bee…anything to keep the mood less stressful!

What about the parent who gets overwhelmed herself; whether it’s from exhaustion after a long workday, the frustration of not knowing the subject well enough to help or just working with a kid who is pushing her buttons?

If you’re feeling ‘out of your league,’ you might consider tutoring help for your child.  Traditional in-person tutoring and tutoring centers are a great option for students who have serious learning challenges or need in-depth help and support. Your child’s teacher may be able to recommend a tutor.  You can expect to pay anywhere from $30-$150 an hour and most tutors work with your child in your home for an hour or two each week for several months.

If you’d like to try online tutoring, make sure to look for the following:

  • Tutor credentials-sites should describe the tutors’ qualifications and training
  • Background checks-reputable services use third parties to verify tutors’ credentials and conduct security reviews
  • Access to tutors (hours of availability to students and whether the site allows you to review your child’s sessions to review their work and see how they are using the service.)

Our service at Tutor.com is available free of charge at more than 2,000 libraries across the country, so you should check with your library to see if they offer it.  If not, Tutor.com’s on demand help is a less expensive option than private tutoring (and offers the benefit of being available till 1 a.m. EST, VERY useful when your child gets into trouble late into the evening and you don’t know where else to turn!).

Joan Rooney is the VP, Instruction Tutor.com. A former classroom teacher and parent of a college-age son, she has been with Tutor.com for 11 years and oversees staffing and instruction for the company’s 2,500-plus tutors and coaches. Ms. Rooney is a passionate educator who has been quoted in Parenting Magazine, Redbook and Woman’s Day providing tips for parents and teachers on how to better engage students in and out of the classroom and on and off the computer.