When parents are faced with the prospect of homework for the first time, it can be a little daunting. And it’s not always that obvious how you can help your kids, without overly interfering. TV host Mark Leishman shares his 13 tips to help kids with their homework.

I remember thinking when I left Journalism School in Wellington in the ’70s and started my first real job at the Timaru Herald, “Great! I won’t have to sit another exam in my life.”

And I haven’t. Although I must say there are many tests in life that are not exams strictly speaking, but they feel like it. You sit in a room for 3 hours and try and make sense of an issue and you either succeed or fail. Even normal everyday events like balancing cheque books, filling out GST Returns or selling an idea to a prospective client are exams in a way.

We’ve just gone through the exam process with our son and when I say we, I mean Mum, Dad and 13 year old. It’s amazing how involved you get in the process and you feel the success and the failure just as keenly as your child. It’s like we all sit the exam.

And of course alongside exams go the study and revision beforehand and the homework.

Do children actually need homework?

The homework debate is an interesting one. Do children actually need homework? Some schools in Australia are doing away with it altogether, saying kids should learn in school and use the out of school time for sport, leisure, music and other enriching activities.

Today’s children do have incredibly busy and heavily scheduled lives, with their after school freedom severely restricted.

In my day I remember biking home from school with my mates. Ambling along, chatting about stuff , playing outside and doing a bit of homework, with the radio blaring out. It all seemed very easy and I still managed some elocution (speech and drama) lessons, piano lessons and rugby practice.

One of those school mates went on to become a Chief Justice, so it can’t have been too bad.

Today it is very different. After school there are plenty of activities, and by time the kids get home it’s pretty well dinner time. After dinner they have to sit down and do the homework.

So a day that starts at about 6:45 ends at around 9:30. It’s a big day in anyone’s book.

A lot of teachers feel homework is not a particularly necessary exercise, but whenever it’s suggested that a school should do away with homework the parents react negatively.

So homework is here to stay, but the big question is how much of it do you do as a parent.

I’ve heard of teachers in the staff room commenting on parents input into their child’s homework.

“Mrs Jones did a very good geography assignment this week,” or “I had to mark Mr Smith’s maths down …he just can’t do those fractions.”

Homework can teach children to work independently, encourage self-discipline and responsibility and assignments do provide some kids with their first chance to manage time and get it into the teacher on time. It can even encourage a love of learning.

Apparently children who spend more time on homework do better academically than children who don’t, and the benefits of homework increase as the kids get older.

So how about some tips for parents to help your kids with their homework. This comes from the experts.

13 tips to help kids with their homework

Let them unwind a bit after school.

1. Decide together how long the homework will take.

2. Give them a snack and a drink before they start .

3. Choose a space where your child can do their homework – some children work better with music or background noise, but turn off the TV.

4. Get them to make sure they have everything they need before starting, such as pens, colour pencils, paper, glue stick, small containers for science experiments or other projects, coloured card, cardboard. A set of ‘fun’ stationery just for homework can be a great motivator.

5. Let your child show you their work and give positive and constructive feedback.

6. Help them find out what they’re good at and what they might need help with.

7. Help your child “problem-solve” by explaining or showing them the steps to complete a task. Let them do the steps though.

If they get stuck:

8. Make up a similar question or task as an example. Show them how to work through it and then get them to have a go at their homework task.

9. Try giving clues rather than the answer, but be aware of frustration levels – theirs and yours! Keep the clues simple.

10. Remind them of all the other times they have been able to work things out.

11. Homework should be connected to something they have already learnt, so encourage them to “backtrack” and start from what they can do.

13. Explain where and how to find information, rather than simply giving the information to them.

The big thing is to help but no so much that you end up doing their homework for them!

Schools are keen that parents become fully involved in their children’s education but it isn’t good to correct homework and then get your child TO copy it out. Schools need to know how much your child understands and how much they can do on their own.

I have to say however that there’s nothing more humiliating, as a parent, than finding your 13 year old’s homework is too hard, for you!

Apparently it is okay if you don’t know the answers, because you can make finding out how to do something part of the learning process.

There’s always the library, the ubiquitous Google, the kids can ask another adult or older child or talk to a neighbour or their teacher.

If your child has a big assignment, show her how she can break it down into smaller tasks – say, one per night – so she doesn’t get overwhelmed and leave it all until the last night.

Of course the biggest difference from our dark days of doing homework are the number of websites that can help find the answers. You do need to keep an eye on kids surfing the Net as it does pose obvious risks.

Resources for helping kids with their homework

In our family genes we struggle with Maths and have found a website called www.mathsisfun.com which we’ve found to be excellent. It offers maths games that are fun to ‘play’ and prove to be good practice, particularly when it comes to the times table.

Try here if you’re looking for printables, worksheets and other great homework resources that you can download and print off. These printables make great home resources, and make the planning part of homework time a lot easier too.

If you’re looking for free resources there’s some really useful info on the Ministry of Education’s Supporting Parents and Whanau Resources page, or you can find some free printables and worksheets here or here.

There’s a service for Kiwi kids to contact librarians who will help them. The Online Librarian enables students to call an online librarian to help them find and use Internet sources for homework.

Homework is meant to be a positive experience and parents who get involved can learn stuff too. You get to know your child’s particular strengths and difficulties and find out what they are studying at school.

Apparently the most useful attitude parents can take is to be somewhat, but not overly involved in homework. Parents need to help children do their homework themselves – but not do it for them.

Having said that, I hope you get good marks in your next assignment, Mum.

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Mark Leishman is the devoted dad to three children- Paddy, Molly and Rosie. His children span 10 years in age so he has plenty of experience in everything from sleepless nights to teenagers.

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Upset Mum

Help! My Year 11 son hates homework and I’m not very good at helping him with it, as it’s NCEA for him this year I’m not sure who can help me best, the teachers say he should do revision but how can I check he is actually revising? I am considering getting a tutor.

Rochelle Gribble

Hi Upset Mum – yes – it’s hard for parents, eh?? There are a few options: Most teens don’t really know how to study or revise so it’s important that someone helps him develop some techniques so he can understand what to do. A tutor should be able to help him with this; or a tutoring centre. There are many of these around and a quick Google search will help you find one in your area. Otherwise, there are also many subject-specific revision books available and your son’s teacher may be able to recommend some. Good luck!

Sally @ Kiwi Families

Hi Upset Mum, a couple of our Facebook friends offered some suggestions: https://www.facebook.com/kiwifamilies/posts/820472704678026
Best wishes, Sally

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