School Success!

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For many families, after-school time has become a battlefield, filled with tension and tears as children struggle to complete assignments, and parents struggle to maintain a peaceful family life. One family’s cure: family study time. Could it work for you?

The Daily Ritual

The scenario is all too familiar: children get home from school, dump the backpacks on the floor, grab a snack and run out the door. Soon after the mother – me – is yelling at them to come back in and start homework. Soon the hours are filled with nagging, whining, procrastination and threats as the kids resist doing their homework and Mom pesters them to get it done.

The real truth is that I hated homework every bit as much as my children did. Homework was taking away the “fun” time I could be having with my children, and frankly, it was stealing time away from me. This feeling of being “robbed” translated into a negative attitude, which was quickly passed down to my children, further fueling their resistance to homework. I realized there had to be a better way to spend our afternoons and evenings. Perhaps I needed to change my attitude towards homework, so that my kids could too. Enter family study time.

Homework Becomes a Family Event

Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book: 4,278 of Mom Central’s Tips For Moms from Moms (Free Press; $21) and founder of momcentral.com, suggests, “Set a schedule that includes study time for everyone in the house. Don’t allow TV or phone calls during this time. Even when children don’t have homework, make this a time in which reading or extra studying is done. Involve even the youngest children in the house so they get used to the routine.”

John Beaulieu and Alex Granzin, authors of Working Parents Can Raise Smart Kids: The “Time-Starved” Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child Succeed in School (Parkland Press; $14.95), agree: “Set aside a regular, scheduled study time for your child to do his homework assignments. Younger children who may not have homework every day should still have daily study time. They can use this time for related activities that help them practice academic skills, such as reading or writing.

Encourage older children (middle school and high school) who don’t have assigned homework on a particular day to use study time for similar activities.”

What Does Family Study Time Look Like?

It has a set schedule. The overwhelming majority of families I talked to had one suggestion: do homework right after school. It has a comfortable space. “Most children do best when they can work in an area set aside for homework and study,” suggest Beaulieu and Granzin. “A designated study area gives a child a place to keep learning tools in the same place helping him focus on the tasks at hand.” Many parents choose a central area of the house, so that they can be nearby to help as needed.

An adult is present for support. Speaking of the homework time she spends with 10-year-old son, Scott, Leslie Jones says, “I have made it a mother-son time. I sit nearby in case he has problems, but I make him work through it for a while on his own. If he genuinely does not understand (as opposed to being lazy and wanting to be given the answer), I work through it with him. It is emotionally satisfying for both of us, and he’s done in 45 minutes or less.”

The adult is the supporter, not the leader. Family study time does not mean that the parent takes over the homework. Beaulieu and Granzin say, “If you continually step in to carry your child through homework assignments that challenge him, your concern can end up sabotaging his long-term success. Those struggles to understand academic concepts are often a vital part of the learning process.”

Arguing is off limits. “Avoid heated exchanges over homework,” suggests DeBroff. “If your child lashes out at you, simply say, “I’m not the person who should be helping you with this. It’s too frustrating for both of us. Let’s figure out a different solution so it isn’t this hard on either of us.

Many parents suggest calling classmates, calling homework help lines or waiting to ask the teacher the next morning.
Suggest that your child mark the problem or assignment for discussion with her teacher, and move on to the next assignment,” say Beaulieu and Granzin. “Learning to ask for help when you are confused or don’t understand is an important skill.”

Since the institution of family study time, homework is no longer cause for dread in my family. My children know that they are coming home to a place that is quiet, loving and free of distractions and arguments. And I know that homework time can in fact be quality family time.

Martha Wegner is a mother and freelance writer.


School Success Tips

Getting to Know You – Get to know your child’s teacher, and let her know that you appreciate feedback on your child’s progress – both positive and negative. Get to know other school staff members as well. The more involved you are, the better school experience your child is likely to have.

A Place of One’s Own – Every child needs a regular place to do his homework. Important factors in creating a successful homework area include good lighting and a complete set of school supplies.

It’s All About Routine – Set aside a specific time for studying every night. Make sure to include time to go over homework with your child.

Create High Expectations – Your input and feedback profoundly impacts your child’s self-confidence. Be encouraging, and praise your child for the amount of effort that he puts into a project. Reiterate the point that doing his best is what’s most important.

Reading Can Be Contagious – Instill a love of reading by making it a habit in your home. Read to your child (or have your child read) each night before bed for at least 20 minutes. If the child is learning to read, ask him to read to you. For older children, set 30 minutes aside each night for family reading time when everyone reads together silently. Keep plenty of reading materials available – books, magazines and newspapers. If your children see you reading, they’re more likely to embrace it.

Be Prepared for Your Next Parent-Teacher Conference – Find out from your child beforehand what he thinks his academic strengths and weaknesses are. Make a list of questions to go over with the teacher. Inquire about your child’s progress, and discuss anything your unsure of or unhappy with. Figure out ways with the teacher that you can help your child excel in school.

Schools + Communities = Success – Ways to show your support of your child’s school is to volunteer in the classroom, attend special events and join the PTA.

Source: National Education Association

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