The minute your kid walks through the door after a long day at school, they’re only thinking one thing: freedom. But also, snacks. Freedom and snacks. And with all those thoughts of freedom and snacks rolling around in their heads, they aren’t exactly holding any space for visions of… homework. It has to get done, though, and you know what that means — convincing your kid to do their homework becomes your homework every night.
Really, it’s hard to blame kids for not wanting to go back to the academic grind once they’re home. It’s even harder still to explain to them why they need to do homework anyway. Since kids today have countless distractions (hello, TikTok), motivating them to crack a book isn’t exactly an easy sell. But take heart! It can be done.
The following practical tips should help you establish an after-school routine that makes homework less work for your favorite student.
Have Supplies Handy
Picture this: Your child sits down to do their homework, gets into a steady groove, and then they realize they need a protractor — but it’s nowhere to be found. They naturally come to you for help, so you both stop what you’re doing and go on the great protractor hunt. Fifteen minutes later, crisis averted, they return to their homework. It takes a few minutes for them to find their focus again and, just when they do, they realize they need something else that they don’t have.
Every time they stop, they’re breaking their concentration. And we probably don’t have to tell you that concentration is hard to come by when it comes to kids and homework. So, you don’t want to disturb it if at all possible. You can minimize that possibility by making sure your star studier has all the supplies they might need before they sit down.
Create a Conducive Environment
Much like making sure your child has supplies, creating a distraction-free homework zone will enhance their focus. There should be adequate lighting so that they don’t have to strain to see. You want to make sure there aren’t too many people milling about in the same area. In fact, you want to try to ensure your child has the quietest environment possible. At home, a desk in a low-noise nook is ideal.
It’s also a good idea to try to switch up the homework area if your child gets into a rut. Studies have shown that a change in environment can kick the brain into hyperdrive.
If you and your child are dealing with remote learning during the pandemic, having a clean work environment for their technology and paper work will be conducive to less distraction. If your child is so young that they need your help during study time, this is also important for you. Plus, if a space is large enough and you’re forced to work at the same time, having room for your stuff is an added bonus.
Have a Game Plan
Before your child dives in, have them jot down a quick list of their assignments for the night. Have them prioritize assignments that carry more weight, are more difficult, or have closer due dates. Also, make sure they understand the assignment before they start. If they don’t, you need to adjust your game plan so that theirs includes making time for you to give a brief explanation of what you’re doing.
We all know that kids need a certain amount of sleep at night for optimal health, and that number depends on your child’s age. Whatever that number is, though, it’ll be easier for your kids to hit if they don’t have to burn the midnight oil trying to finish their homework. Have them start their homework as early in the day as possible, and check in occasionally to make sure they’re staying on track.
This also works with weekends. Don’t leave homework to Sunday evenings when the previous week’s work is no longer fresh on their minds. Encourage your kids to do their homework as soon as they get home from school on Friday. After all, that gives them two full days of play and rest and they don’t have to dread the Sunday night shuffle of homework and preparing projects due that week.
If Friday night is a no go, then a few hours Saturday morning before the day truly gets started will get the job done. You can also book the family or the kids for a super fun activity Sunday afternoon and evening, thus forcing them to get homework done way ahead of schedule.
Set a Timer
Since there is a finite number of hours between your child getting home from school and their bedtime, and at least one meal has to be squeezed in there somewhere, budgeting time is a big deal. Here’s where the Pomodoro technique comes in handy. This time management method uses a timer to break down work into bite-sized intervals.
So, start by setting a timer for 25 minutes and designating this as focused homework time. No distractions, no snacks, just homework. When that timer goes off, your child gets a five-minute break. This cycle is called a “pomodoro.” You can keep repeating pomodoros until all the homework is finished.
“Eat the Frog”
Don’t worry; you aren’t going to advise your child to eat an amphibian. Rather, this is a fun way to teach them how to tackle the toughest task first. Although turned into a time management technique by Brian Tracy, the expression (and general idea) came from Mark Twain. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning,” said the author. “And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
With that in mind, encourage your child to start with their hardest homework assignment first. They’ll have the most energy and focus at that point, and they’ll feel less rushed. Alternately, they could start with the subject they dread most. The concept is the same: Knock out the most challenging task first while they’re still fresh.
Make Yourself Available for Questions
Unless your child is very young, you don’t have to hang around the entire time they’re working on their homework. But no matter what age they are, you should make yourself available for help if they need it. Remember, minimizing distractions and preserving their focus will help them get through homework more efficiently. If they run into a problem and feel as though they can’t come to you with questions, they may get bogged down for too long or, worse, give up altogether.
Always make sure they know you’re nearby in case they get stuck. Having said that, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of doing too much. Your child still needs to be the one to do the actual work. And while you’re at it, offer up plenty of encouragement so your child knows there’s nothing wrong with not knowing all of the answers right away. Or, if possible…
Work With Them
No. This doesn’t mean do their homework for them. It means setting a good example with your own work schedule. Whether you work from home or an office, these days “office hours” often bleed into home life. If you’re constantly checking emails at dinner or during your evening time to unwind, try to set an at-home routine for your work, as well. Settle into a chair near their homework nook and use that time to finish some work yourself. Send the emails. Make a to-do list for tomorrow. If you don’t work or don’t have carryover work, use the time to do other “grown-up tasks” like budget and pay bills. Or simply read up on what they’re learning. (Or read for pleasure. You’ve earned it!) You don’t need to make yourself available for their entire homework “shift,” but if you start the time together it’s a big help. Plus, if they’re “eating the frog” you’ll be there for the hard stuff and can go about your day once they move on to stuff they don’t need help with.
Per the CDC, behaviors are more likely to happen again when followed by a positive consequence like a reward. So, don’t feel bad about dangling a little carrot at the end of your kid’s homework. Maybe it’s 15 minutes of their favorite video game. Or one episode of a new show they wanted to watch. Rewards make great motivators so, as long as you don’t get carried away, they can be a vital part of your homework toolbox.