By now our children are well entrenched into their new school year. Having coped with the anxiety of the first few days, the tiredness of the first few weeks as they change from Holiday Time to Term Time. Having wrapped our own heads around their school activities and after-school activities, it’s reasonable for us to pause, pat ourselves on the back and say ‘We’ve got the show on the road.’ Now that timetables and routines are established, is their anything we can do for helping our children learn?

Form a relationship with the school

Make it your business to get to know your child’s classroom teacher and to become familiar with the school your child is attending. At around the six-week-into-the-term mark, many schools offer a parent-teacher evening. Make sure that you are there. The fact that you go, shows your children that their schooling is important to you. (Remember to go cheerfully and willingly. Save the grumbles about the inconvenient time and having to get a babysitter for when your child is out of earshot.) It also may give you an opportunity to meet some of your children’s friends’ parents.

The fact that you show up shows your children’s teacher that you care about your child’s schooling. Use the first meeting to thank the teachers for their efforts. Teachers usually only have a very limited time to spend with individual parents. Don’t monopolize the teacher. If is seems that there are issues to discuss, use the time to set up a time when you can meet privately.

But I’m the non-custodial parent

Whether you live with your children or whether you see them every second weekend, you are entitled to all the notices and reports that the school sends out. At the beginning of the school year, phone the school office and find out how you can get all the notices. If they tell you that one notice goes home and that it is up to you to get access to it, don’t believe them. If you feel it is the only way, show up to the teacher or the office with ten stamped and self-addressed envelopes and ask – very nicely – for all notices to come home to you once a week for that term. If there is any chance that you can persuade the teacher to send you copies of the homework sheets, it gives you a wonderful way of knowing what goes on in your child’s educational life.

If you have a good parenting relationship with your ex you may be able to go together to any appointment with the teacher. If your parenting relationship is strained and a shared appointment would be uncomfortable for you or for the teacher, feel free to make separate appointments at “Meet-the-teacher” evening. You are entitled to a meeting each.

Sports Days, Open Days and Parent Help Days

Any chance that you get to go to events at the school, grab it. If you enjoy being there, it is a bonus. However, even if it is not your favourite activity, it will give you lots of information and increase your ability to talk with your child. I found that every time I had been to a school activity, I had lots more information and could get much more easily beyond the “What happened at school today?” “Nothing much” barrier.

Homework? Good or Bad?

Some of us think homework is a good thing, some of us think homework shouldn’t be necessary. The best thing that we can do for our child is match their classroom teacher’s expectation. That way there is no conflict for our child between home and school.

If we have a teacher who sets homework regularly, who marks it promptly and who encourages effort and progress, we are indeed fortunate. It means that our children get to practice and embed the skills they have acquired during the school day, that they are part of a positive feedback loop, and that we have daily access to what they are doing and learning.

If you have a teacher who is slack about homework, who sets it sporadically and often doesn’t follow-up with marking, or who gives children homework tasks that they can do “if they feel like it”, we have a dilemma. It is partly a relief because we don’t need to bother with homework battles and partly a worry because we wonder if our children need the consolidation of daily lessons that well-set homework provides.

Some parents survive the year by setting their own homework or by insisting that sloppy work is rewritten. I don’t recommend this. While this may have some positive effect on your child’s learning, what we usually get is a whole lot of resistance and resentment. In other words, the gain in learning is often negatively counterbalanced with deterioration in our relationship with our child and after-school time becoming a hostile battle ground.

If the lack of homework really bothers you, arrange to meet with the teacher and discuss your concerns.

Occasionally, you will come across teachers who have standards that are too high for your child to meet. There might be too much homework or it may be too hard. It is time to be your child’s advocate. Set up an appointment and discuss it with your child’s teacher. Let her know that you do your level best to ensure that your child meets the homework requirements, but there are times that it may not be possible. The simplest is to arrange that you will write in the homework notebook when your child has been unable to meet the homework requirement – and expect the teacher not to give him a hard time.

Homework settings

Some children like to go off to their room to do homework; others prefer to do it on the kitchen or dining-room table. It is largely a matter of style as to whether a child works better in silence or better in company.

Most importantly, make sure that the TV is off. TV is a seductive medium and is too attractive to resist. Try to avoid saying “Let’s get your homework done now so you are free to watch whatever is the favourite programme beginning in fifteen minutes.” This just results in an unwilling child racing through work untidily and sloppily in the last few minutes before the programme starts. You are better off recording the favourite programme so that it is available to enjoy when the homework has been properly completed and checked.

Whose responsibility is it?

It is our responsibility to set up the time, the place and the support for homework to be done. It is our child’s job to take responsibility for doing the homework. At least once or twice every term, you are going to need to let your child go to school with homework undone, so that they can experience what happens…and, of course, we all hope that – when we get to that point – something slightly negative will happen.

When your child has stopped working and moved into resistance, dawdling or getting abusive when you apply your best efforts – it is time to call for a break. Say “This isn’t working” (it is hard for your child to argue with that). Suggest a ten-minute go-outside-and-play break. At the end of that time, go and check if your child is ready or not to resume work.

If your child is still resistant, let him know what is happening next. Try really hard not to cajole, plead, threaten or warn. Just tell it like it is. “I am worried that there is only about twenty more minutes available for homework. If it isn’t done, I am going to have to write that in your Homework Notebook.” Or “If it isn’t done I am not going to be able to sign it off in your Homework Notebook.”

What example are you setting?

I hate to make us all feel uncomfortable (me included!), but right now is a good time to reflect on how we are doing as role models.

I am feeling really guilty about even writing this one. There was a time when the rule in our family was’ “You can only take out of the library as many books as you can carry to the car in one trip” and the same rules applied to our children and to us. Our children saw us reading and they read voraciously.

Our youngest child grew up in a far more TV-oriented household and witnessed exhausted parents flopped down in front of a TV set, too exhausted to move – rather than curled up with a book.

As with most parenting experiences, the saying “Children learn what they live” often has relevance. Our children see and learn from what is happening in front of them.

What are you doing that shows your child that you respect the time and effort that they put into their homework?



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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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