Help for Homework Hassles

keep calmNow that the holiday season is officially underway, homework is probably the last thing on any kid’s mind!   But with  the first quarter of the school year over and report cards distributed, this might be a good time to check in with your child and review how he or she is handling the workload.  Are they feeling overwhelmed?  How are they doing prioritizing tasks and juggling projects?  And the homework – do they need help in organizing assignments or just getting down to work?  The task of completing homework can sometimes be a battleground that affects both a child’s self-esteem and your relationship with your child.  Here are some tips from a piece I wrote for FamilyCorner.com about developing a homework routine for your child that can help take the hassle out of homework:

Expectations:  Examine the school’s homework expectations and guidelines, then discuss them and your own expectations with your child regarding  how long to spend on homework each evening and/or any goals for the upcoming semester.  Make sure the two of you are on the same page regarding these expectations.

Set up a calendar:   A visual aide like this can help with long-term planning and setting priorities.  Make note of assignment and project due dates as well as test dates.  Advise your child to get the phone numbers of his ‘homework buddies’ – two other students in his classes whom he can call in case of missed assignments or notes – and write these numbers on the calendar.

Concentration takes energy:  No one works well on an empty stomach.  Offer a healthy snack before they sit down to begin homework.

Set up a time and space for homework to happen:  For some kids, that means starting homework right after school; others may need a little time to unwind.  Agree on a start time and stick to it.  Set up a space that’s conducive for work, be it the desk in his room or the kitchen or dining room table.  This space should be away from distractions like the television or computer (unless it’s necessary to complete homework).  Stock the space with the necessary supplies (paper, pencils, pens, rulers, etc.) to complete homework with minimal interruptions.

Be the fly on the wall:  You don’t want to do their homework for them, but let them know you’re there if they need help (or a little encouragement!).

Packing up:  At the end of the homework session have your child neatly put away all papers, binders/folders and supplies into their backpack.  It’s better to do this the night before than the following morning when it’s more likely that something might be forgotten.

If they need extra help:  There is often a ‘homework help’ period available after school with a teacher or a peer tutor.  Check if this is available at your school or if something can be arranged if your child is having trouble managing the homework load.

Will your child be writing a book report over the school break?  Check out Tips to Help Your Child Write A Successful Book Report for some ideas to organize the process.

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Plugging in when your middle-schooler wants to cut the cord

I’m always looking for opportunities to stay involved in my son’s educational experience, which has gotten a little trickier since he moved up to middle school.  In elementary school, there were more ways for me to feel plugged in to his experience, as well as to engage with teachers and staff.   Now there are no more apple picking trips, family dance nights or in-class birthday/ Halloween/ Valentine’s Day/Thanksgiving  celebrations (that I’m allowed to attend, anyway).  The elementary school felt like an extension of home – my son would run up to me and give me a hug if he saw me in the hallway while dropping off books for the book fair or volunteering in the cafeteria on pizza Fridays.  Although I have a wonderful relationship with his teacher and staff at the middle school, sometimes I feel like an  interloper; kids I’ve known since they were in kindergarten look at me like an alien life form if they see me anywhere in the vicinity of the middle school.  I feel as though they think that the anti-bacterial dispensers stationed in the hallways should contain parent repellent instead of Purell.  And (sniffle) I’ve seen my son do a double-take if I show up unexpectedly in the hallway, like “uh, what’s she doing here?”

I found some great suggestions for staying actively involved in your child’s school while he or she is trying mightily to pretend that you don’t exist in  10 Tips for Middle School Parents via SchoolFamily.com:

  1. Get to know the teachers. It’s a good idea to meet each of your child’s teachers.  Ask about their expectations. Find out how much time your child should spend on homework each night. Find out whether there will be regularly scheduled tests and if so, when. Ask about the best way to get in touch if you have questions. If the teachers use email, be sure to get their addresses.
  2. Find a niche for yourself at your child’s school. Unlike in the lower grades, middle school classrooms don’t need extra adults on hand. But you can volunteer in other ways.  Serve as an adviser for an extracurricular activity such as the school paper, chess club, or science fair. Help out in the computer lab. Being in the school is a great way to get a feel for what goes on there.
  3. Do behind-the-scenes work. If you can’t be in school during the day, ask teachers and other school personnel to pass along some work that you can do on your own. Photocopy homework assignments; collect recyclables for a science or art project; serve on a parent-school advisory council; join your middle school PTO or PTA.
  4. Volunteer to chaperone school dances and drive kids to school sports competitions. You’ll meet other parents, school staff, and your child’s classmates.
  5. Go to school meetings and events. Attending concerts, plays, assemblies, meetings, and other activities is a good way to become familiar with your child’s school community.
  6. Find out about homework assignments and school tests. If your school has a website where teachers list homework assignments, get in the habit of checking it regularly. If not, contact your child’s teachers and ask them to alert you when there’s an important project or test coming up.
  7. Talk to your child about school. Ask specific questions to draw out your child. Ask “How do you think you did on the math test?” “Did Mr. Phipps say anything funny today?” “What games did you play in PE?”
  8. Give your child a quiet place to study and do homework. Find an area in your home that is free of distraction where your middle schooler can concentrate on homework. Be available to help if your child has a question.
  9. Check your child’s homework, but don’t do it for her. Offer to check math problems, proofread written papers, and look over spelling words. If you find a mistake, point it out to your child and help her figure out the correct answer.
  10. Post a family calendar in a central place. Write down important school dates, including parent meetings, due dates for projects, and tests. Encourage your middle schooler to add to the calendar and to check it daily. 
Middle school can be a confusing time for everyone, so  I’m all in favor of anything that keeps me in the loop in the most unobtrusive way possible.  I know it’s healthy and inevitable for our middle-schoolers to start asserting some independence but, whether they realize it or not, they need us now more than ever, right?  Someone validate me, please (I don’t think my middle-schooler is going to)!

plug in!

How do you check in with your middle-schooler and stay involved in the school scene?  All suggestions are welcome!

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Photo courtesy of Mom Meets Blog

Tips to Help Your Child Write a Successful Book Report

Having a child who entered middle school this past September, I’ve found that completing those first middle school book reports can be a daunting task for any student, and if your child has an attention deficit as mine does, it can be even more challenging.  Reading through the book, keeping the sequence of events in order, identifying the main ideas and conflicts, even formulating opinions about the story can be very difficult tasks.  After some trial and error and, reflecting back to my own difficulties in this area, I found that employing the following strategies were essential to my child writing a successful book report.  Perhaps these tips can be helpful even if your child doesn’t have an attention deficit.

 

Select a properly leveled book to read

Make sure the book is at the proper reading level for your child.  A good rule of thumb that my son’s teacher follows is the “five finger rule” – if there are more than five words on the page that your reader is unfamiliar with, perhaps the material is too difficult and another book should be chosen.  Ask the teacher for guidance if you are unsure.

Read the book twice

If time allows, have your child read the book through twice.  I know, your child may balk at this idea (mine certainly did) but if the material is interesting enough, perhaps this won’t be a problem.

Take notes

Encourage your child to take notes on the material he’s just read.  Have him or her write down whatever captured their interest during their reading session and discuss it with them.

Keep a dictionary handy

If your child does happen to come across a word he or she is unfamiliar with during reading, encourage them to look it up.  It could help reinforce what they’ve just read, plus they learn a new vocabulary word.

Read the book along with your child

I know this can be tough, but if time permits, read the book yourself also.  This way, you can discuss with and help your child make connections and also get a sense of how much content your child is absorbing.

Rough drafting and editing

When it comes time to start writing, have your child do a rough draft first.  This helps them organize their thoughts and review for those pesky grammar gremlins, like punctuation and sentence fragments, who love to steal precious points from reports.  Reviewing and revising a rough draft also provides an opportunity to ensure that the questions being answered are the ones the teacher has asked.

I will admit that my child was less than thrilled using these techniques at first.  To him, it just seemed like a lot of extra work.  But when the grade on his second book report increased by a full twenty points, he was beaming and so proud of himself!  He now uses the rough draft technique to answer even homework questions – not a bad return for a little extra effort.

What tips or strategies have you employed to help your child with book reports or homework?  What has worked for you?  I’d love to hear about it!