Homework - Getting Started
The face says it all – and that’s just the adults!
Homework is hard and draining on family life sometimes. However, if parents pause to consider the process rather than just the outcome, we can help adjust attitudes, pace and progress….Read on, this is the first part of a three part series about coaching kids through homework in the primary years.
The basis of this three-part blog series is to change the format from pushing a kid towards work they do not want to do or pulling them away from activities they do want to do. Instead, I would like you to consider co-planning with your child- bringing in all the factors that might increase willingness, and acknowledging all the obstacles that might increase resistance.
Visually seeing the time allocation….
Children always inflate the amount of time they believe homework will take….
Sit down with your child sometime when things are relaxed and talk about homework timing. It can be really helpful to draw up a schedule and use three colours to define the things they do in a day…..one colour denotes ‘work’ and is a ‘have to’, another is ‘play’ and ‘want to’ and the third is ‘life’ and there is no escaping that! In the first category comes school, homework and chores, in the second comes all the free time the child can enjoy, and the third is things like shower, dinner time, school bus journeying…. Thus they see clearly that they do have free time, and that that free time is impacted by the delaying and detouring within the ‘work’ zone. For younger children it is necessary to reduce this to ….’we have xxx amount of time for our homework (and ooooo for play) , but if you take xxxxxxx then you will only have oo for play. Drawing this out is useful.
Getting a defined start time…….
Agreeing a defined start time is helpful – using the schedule so they see this is not based on parent pressure but on figuring out good start times together. Then be sure to extend this into a plan for HOW to get to the homework area…..give choices…..
Will I yell you into it, carry you, tickle you there, race you, walk calmly, blow a whistle, etc. Make it clear that homework will start well if the plan is followed and badly if more avoidant choices are made.
It helps to motivate towards a good ‘start time’ if there is a positive start point. Having something that acknowledges that the child got to the start point voluntarily with good grace – such as a joke, a quick game of snap, a moment talking about holidays, a shared memory of something positive, a quick tic-tac-toe game…. All set a tone of well-being.
Alternatively if children really hate homework then allow this…. Start with a war dance, banging a drum and shouting ‘I hate homework’, a pillow fight to let off steam
Getting commitment to care….
Talking with children, even for a moment, about these things really counts in terms of their willingness to engage with the effort required.
1 – Guess-timating duration or effort
Helping children to get an accurate idea of how long homework will take and how hard it is requires that they be able to guess and check in later to see if they were correct. Use a scale (long time/quite quick/super quick) or numbers 3 = 20-20 mins, 2 = 10-20 mins, 1 = up to 10 mins, or just words ‘ages/not too long/short time’. Ask children to consider their experience of similar homework and suggest possible duration, then at the end check back – you will see how often they inflate the sense of how long it will take, and you can talk about WHY it was quick or slow and see the balance of concentration and commitment against detour and distraction. Do the same thing with effort – anticipate and review so they learn that caring counts more than trying to wriggle away.
2 – Consider the inner qualities required
Talking with a child about the obstacles the get in the way and the inner strengths that might balance them is very essential so that when those internal resistances come up, there are already pathways to generate more commitment.
- Worry about doing it wrong (allow error as part of learning)
- Scared of messing up (be brave!)
- Annoyed about doing it (add patience)
- Concerned about building frustration (take breaks)
- Feeling that ‘don’t know’ feeling (remember past learning)
- I might get mad (have a plan for when anger arises)
- Feel like giving up (add some ‘silly’ breaks to enliven the spirit)
3 – Monitor the mental attitude along the way
Use some kind of visual – a pathway, a racetrack, a garden, a voyage into space, a favourite electronic game – all can be used as metaphors for the language of struggle. (moving a car long the track as you work is a great motivator) Just consider the feel- good factor in completion, and the difficulties along the way, and the methods of managing them, and throughout the homework keep checking in on what progress is being made, or what stumbling blocks are in the way– in this way children learn to see their own ability to push through problems, use choices to manage difficulty and create a sense of completion with their own courage and care when things get done.
Adults who need to be continually present… get something to do so that you are looking busy and showing your children that your own work counts too…and that you can prove the same qualities of commitment to task.
Adults who need to be ‘around’… come and go, check in with love and support and create a feeling of optimism that your child will be able to manage and specific mechanisms whereby they call for your help or report their progress.
Adults who can’t be or don’t need to be there… enjoy it! After all this is HOMEwork that means that the ultimate responsibility for whether it is right/useful/done is your child’s and the over-riding contract is with the teacher, not the parent.
Don’t be afraid to create plans for who will report back to the teacher on the odd night when nothing gets done. Encourage your children to write a note or talk to the teacher. So many parents take responsibility for this….and set up the idea, within the child, that they are ‘holding’ the work. So once in a while, especially if the ‘start’ plan falls apart, or homework gets simply too fraught, just stop, pack it in, and leave the child with the belief that ALL of us are allowed to fail, funk up, and lose in the frustration battle, and yet live to fight another day!
I’ll be talking about the HOW TO of getting homework done, rather than the HOW WELL it can be completed.