By Blog Editor Susan Wells

My girls returned to school last week, and although it was nice to return to a regular schedule, I couldn’t help the knot in my stomach. A return to school means homework, frustration, missed assignments, confusion and a few tears. In this fast-paced world with a million distractions, it’s hard to stay on top of after school activities, play dates and homework assignments.

I swear this year will be different. I’m putting a homework plan in place and sticking to it. Here are a few tips on how to keep homework in check and at least dial down the stress.

Tips to Reduce Homework Stress | Steve Spangler Science

1. Keep a family due date calendar in a public area in your house. Write assignments and due dates on it. Get crazy if you want and color code each child or have separate calendars for each one.

2. Designate a place for homework. Give each child a folder and have them keep them together in a shared area. On-going assignments, research and more won’t get lost and you won’t spend time trying to collect everything.

3. Check backpacks every night for teacher notes and assignments. If I had a dollar for every time my kid answers “no” to the “do you have homework” question, I’d be rich. I always take a peek in the backpack and tend to find forgotten assignments or papers stuffed into pockets. Don’t always take them at their word. With older children, give them the responsibility of checking the backpack thoroughly every evening.

4. Schedule a homework time at the same time every day. This isn’t ground breaking or new, but it is important to find a quiet time when you and your child can focus on school work. It’s hard when soccer is on Monday at 5:00 p.m., piano Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., but work to find a time of day where distractions are limited. Obviously, parents should not be doing homework, but offer a resource for proof reading, finding math mistakes or giving guidance. It’s also helpful if you read a book, work on the computer or do something productive during that time. Then everyone is working and focusing at the same time and the television is off. Let your child decide what time and location is best for them.

5. Talk to the teacher if your child has difficulties routinely completing assignments. If your child is consistently getting overly frustrated or requiring continual hand holding to finish homework every night, investigate the why. Ask your child why they are struggling with the assignment – did they not understand the directions? Is the assignment too hard or above their level? Or did they not understand the skill when it was taught in class? Work on finding the basis for the frustration and then talk to the teacher. If a child is completely lost or confused about an assignment, write a note to the teacher explaining the issue and ask that they explain it again and give your child an extension on the due date.

6. Have a friend or teacher resource to double check assignments. Once again, if I had a dollar for every time my kids tell me they can’t remember how many pages they need to work on, or the due date or how many questions to answer…I have both of my girls pair up with a homework buddy. This is a friend, who is just as responsible or more so than my child to call when those questions pop up. Or encourage your child’s teacher to post assignments to a class Twitter account, website, blog or app.

 7. Refuse to get upset about homework and give your child an opportunity to earn free time. It happens in homes everywhere, every night. Screaming matches between parent and child over homework. No one likes to do something they don’t enjoy, but it is best to get the ugly out of the way and then move on to something satisfying. Homework is usually not enjoyed, so don’t expect your child to jump for joy when you tell them to turn off the television and get going on that math worksheet. Has your child ever responded with “thanks mom for yelling at me, I’m really ready now to sit down and focus on my homework.” Instead, calmly set parameters for your child and then step back., “From now on, homework is going to be on you. I’m not going to yell or get upset. You are capable of this work, but I am available to answer questions. If you calmly put in the time needed to complete your assignments, you will earn time on electronics. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to use the electronics in this house. Either way is fine by me.” Allow your child to make the decision about getting homework completed. If they make the decision not to complete homework, a price is paid at school and at home. This may not go over well in the beginning, but standing strong and calmly should turn things around.

8. Determine if your child is receiving excessive homework. The National PTA and the National Education Association endorse a 10-minute rule. The maximum amount of homework should not exceed 10 minutes per grade level per night. That is, a 1st-grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework, a 6th-grader no more than 60 minutes, and a 12th-grader no more than two hours. If your child is taking longer than the recommended guidelines, look at the amount of work and their pace. If it seems excessive, talk to the teacher and let them know how long your child spends each night.

9. Don’t over schedule your kids. If your kids go from school to activities to homework after 9:00 p.m. and then bed somewhere around 10, stop and look at the balance in your lives. We have a tendency to schedule every minute to give our children a wide range of experiences and skills. The kids pay the price when they miss out on having free time to play and imagine and let go. It’s been said before, but strive to find a balance between school, homework, activities and down time.

10. Stay in touch with the teacher. Your child, their teacher and you, their parent form a team in your child’s education. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to the teacher and staying on top of your child’s progress. If the parent and teacher aren’t on the same page, the student will suffer. Share any concerns with the teacher and ask they they keep you in the loop.

Don’t look at this list of 10 and feel like it’s impossible. Pick a few topics and focus on those.  I can’t say I’m perfect in all of these areas. I struggled last year in helping my kids stay on top of their assignments and due dates. I took their word when they said they didn’t have homework. We had several panicked nights of trying to complete an assignment that was supposed to stretch over a few weeks. I also didn’t want to be THAT parent who constantly emailed and called the teacher. I tried to only touch base when things got really stressful. That was usually too late. Our principle encouraged me to stay on top of things this year with my child’s teacher. Don’t wait until it gets really bad – nip it in the bud before it has a chance to blow up.

What do you do to ease the homework stress?

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