Homework Headaches

For many families, the hustle and bustle of the after-school time can be stressful for both parents and children. Kids come home, want a snack, and need to get the wiggles and giggles out while we as parents are trying to accomplish those last minute things that need to be done for the day. Homework is just another stressor that all too often gets thrown into the mix and can cause anxiety and frustration for everyone involved. Homework can be useful for many purposes; however, spending great lengths of time working on homework and increasing feelings of frustration are negatives that far outweigh the benefits.

If your child struggles with completing homework assignments and managing anxiety or frustration due to homework or school in general, here are a few strategies that you can use to make the after school hours at home more enjoyable for everyone in the family:

Take time to decompress! When children or parents arrive home from school or work, it is important for everyone to have some decompression time. When the kids get off the bus, let them have a snack and do some activities that they enjoy like playing outside or going for a nature walk. As parents, it is important for us to do the same. When you get home, sit down in your favorite chair for even a few minutes and relax after your day. This decompression time allows all of us to relax after our busy day, and helps to reduce built up anxiety or stress that may have occurred during the day so that we can recharge our batteries for the rest of the day.

Check out what is in your child’s backpack. It is sometimes difficult to know just how much homework our children have when they arrive home from school. Checking out their backpacks can give us a quick indication of what will need to be accomplished before bedtime rolls around. By doing this, you can also decide how you want to structure the evening for your child. If he or she has quite a bit of homework, then starting homework time earlier and building in breaks throughout the evening will be helpful, and will make the homework seem more manageable.

If it’s overwhelming, then reduce it altogether! I have heard concerns from many families about the amounts of homework their children bring home each night. The homework may be overwhelming to a neurotypical child; but for kids with neurodevelopmental disorders, it can be unbearable. If you think your child’s homework assignments are too much, then reduce them yourself. Instead of having your child do 20 math problems, have him or her do only 5. If your child needs to write 5 paragraphs, have him or her write only 3. By reducing assignments, you can make week day evenings more manageable for everyone. Be sure to contact your child’s teacher as well when you reduce assignments at home; and let them know why you made the reduction, and see if you can come up with a more manageable homework plan.

Build in breaks. Everyone needs break times when they are focusing hard on any homework or work related assignments. When our children are sitting at the table doing homework, it is important to build in breaks for them as well. By doing this, they will not only be more productive during their work time, but may also feel less anxious or overwhelmed about the amount of work that needs to be done. Short 10-15 minute breaks can be very powerful tools during homework. Taking a quick walk around the house or going out to get the mail can be very helpful during homework time.

Homework can make life stressful for everyone, parents and children alike; but it doesn’t have to be that way. By incorporating a few of the strategies listed above, you can make homework time more enjoyable and more effective for everyone involved. Keep in mind that children also need time to be children at home, and to enjoy the company of the family.

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“A good way to think about homework is the way you think about medications,” says Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper. “If you take too little, they’ll have no effect. If you take too much, they can kill you. If you take the right amount, you’ll get better.”

Professor Cooper’s comment sums up what many experts in the field have been debating for decades.

The homework debate was reignited recently, when a Texas elementary school teacher sent a note home to parents announcing she would not assign any homework to her students this year. The note was posted on Facebook and went viral, receiving tens of thousands of shares on social media.

Similar no-homework policies have also been instituted in Arizona, Massachusetts, Vermont and here in the Pacific Northwest. Elementary schools in Portland, Chiloquin in Southern Oregon, Homedale, Idaho, and Seattle have all reported that they are doing away with formal homework assignments.

Many teachers and administrators at these schools questioned the effectiveness of homework on academic performance, and noticed that their students were coming to school tired and stressed. Instead of homework, teachers are encouraging students and parents to spend their evenings doing other things that can enhance a student’s educational experience—extracurricular activities, reading together, playing board games, and getting to bed early.

The vast majority of schools still have some kind of homework, but each teacher handles this differently. A general rule of thumb, called the 10-minute rule, is used by the US Department of Education, the National PTA, the National Education Association, and others. This rule recommends a homework limit of 10 minutes per grade level per night. For instance, first graders should have 10 minutes of homework, while 6th graders should have no more than 60 minutes (all subjects combined).

Being an educator in an online public school, you may wonder if our students have homework. The concept of traditional homework doesn’t really apply in a virtual learning platform, due to the flexibility in pace of learning and scheduling. Each student operates in a self-paced environment, and can finish their assignments within a timely manner. Many Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) families report their students have more personal time for hobbies, sports, or other activities outside of schoolwork because of this flexibility.

Since virtual public school involves learning from anywhere there is an Internet connection, our parents and staff have several techniques for accomplishing schoolwork in the home. Other parents might find these tips useful, now that the school year is underway:

Location, location, location

Create a clutter-free study nook and make sure it’s equipped with all the materials your student needs to do homework. If your student concentrates better without distractions, avoid a place where they can watch TV; if your student studies better listening to background music, place a radio nearby. Prevent multitasking by removing digital devices such as cell phones, so that your student won’t be interrupted by texts or social media.

Timing is everything

Some children can focus on their lessons right after school, others do better on a full stomach after dinner. Work out an agreed upon time with your student, making sure it’s not just before bedtime and interfering with a good night’s sleep. Set aside enough time to prioritize homework around sports and other extracurricular activities.

Communication is key

Parents are their child’s first teachers in life. While you can offer some assistance and encouragement during homework, it’s important to remind students that homework is their job and not yours. Offering only some help will teach students to work independently and learn time management, among other good study habits. Keep the lines of communication open and discuss a homework routine together, including rewards and consequences.

Positive attitude

Students learn by example, so express an interest in your student’s subjects and ask them to teach you about what they’re studying. Praise and compliment your student for positive work habits such as perseverance and effort. If your child has successfully completed a large homework task, consider celebrating with a special event, like a trip to the park or a pizza night to reinforce the accomplishment.

Struggling for success

Seeing your child struggle over a homework assignment can be hard, but research shows that thinking critically and persisting through tough questions can be a productive struggle. If your student asks for help don’t give away the answer, provide guidance. Too much assistance teaches children that when the going gets tough, someone else will bail them out. Encourage your child to take a break, get a snack, put on some music or shoot a few hoops outside before coming back to the assignment.

Talk to the teacher

Homework can help families keep up with what their students are learning in class and provides an opportunity for parents to increase communication with teachers and the school. If you’re concerned about your child having too much or too little homework, talk to the teacher and let them know how much time your student is spending on assignments. Not only is this valuable feedback for the teacher but it shows your student that you and the school are a team.

Balance the books

Just like adults, children may need more balance in their lives to reduce stress. Many experts believe homework might not be so stressful if kids had more balance in their lives and included more hours outside of school for family, play, and extracurricular activities.[iv] Spending time with family going to the park, eating a healthy dinner, getting a good night’s rest – all that ‘downtime’ is important to recharge the brain for learning the next day.

I hope you’ll try some of these ideas to make the homework process more manageable for you and your student. Who knows, with technology evolving and digital learning becoming more popular, the way we look at homework may someday soon have a whole new meaning. Learning at home, or someplace else outside school walls, may just become the new norm.

More information about Oregon Connections Academy is available at www.OregonConnectionsAcademy.com or by calling (800) 382-6010.

Patrick Gilliland of Albany is an assistant high school principal for Oregon Connections Academy. He can be reached through the school at 503-897-2272, 800-382-6010 or by visiting www.OregonConnectionsAcademy.com.

Canyon Views

Have a topic, issue or viewpoint pertinent to the Santiam Canyon you would like to share? The Stayton Mail welcomes letters to the editor up to 250 words, or submissions to the Canyon Views section, from 600 to 750 words, on topics of broader interest.

Contact Justin Much at 503-769-6338 or jmuch@salem.gannett.com.

Your Turn

Have a topic, issue or viewpoint pertinent to Silverton or the east Willamette Valley you would like to share? The Silverton Appeal Tribune welcomes letters to the editor up to 250 words, or submissions to the Your Turn section, from 600 to 750 words, on topics of broader interest.

Contact Justin Much at 503-769-6338 or jmuch@salem.gannett.com.

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Patrick Gilliland of Albany is an assistant high school principal for Oregon Connections Academy.(Photo: Special to the Stayton Mail)

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