Why and how to set a homework schedule?

Children (and adults) respond well to structure and consistency. We all feel more secure when we know what to expect. (If you need convincing, think back to how you felt on your child’s first day of kindergarten, compared to how you feel now when your child leaves for school.) This sense of security is the main reason for setting a firm schedule for homework sessions. Another good reason is that this eliminates one of the most common battles in the Homework Wars: arguing about when to do it. Finally, setting a schedule ensures that homework will get done by a reasonable hour. Many children are natural procrastinators; if we let them, they’ll put off starting their homework (or any other chore) until the last possible minute – or they won’t do it at all.

You may be blessed with a child who does her homework without prodding or reminding. If so, she should be allowed to set her own schedule, with only occasional monitoring from you. However, it’s far more likely that you will need to get directly involved in this process. In deciding when your child’s homework sessions should be scheduled, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Most kids need some time to unwind after school and before settling in to do their homework – but they shouldn’t wait until it’s so late that they’re too tired to work through it effectively.
  • Children have trouble concentrating when they’re hungry. If homework must be done before dinner, offer a healthy snack. (Please, no sugary snacks or caffeinated soft drinks.)
  • Younger children have a harder time sitting still for extended periods than older children. Fortuately, short study sessions often lead to more learning than longer ones. For example, it’s better to practice flash cards for two 10-minute sessions than one 20-minute marathon.

Most families already have their own schedules – times when people arrive home from school and work, time when they sit down to dinner, times when the kids go to sports or lessons. Although it will almost certainly be a challenge, try to fit homeworks in when it will be least disruptive. On the other hand, homework should be a priority, and it should be taken seriously. There is no one best place to fit in because each family’s situation is different. Rest assured, however, that once you set a schedule and stick to it, it does get easier. And once your child gets used to the idea that homework will be done no matter what, you can afford to be flexible when the need arises.

There is one issue that may need addressing in advance: the problem of the Overprogrammed Child. Parents naturally want their children to have everything. However, the child who has piano lessons on Monday, karate lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and scouts on Wednesdays may be doing too much. Kids need time for homework and chores, and they also need free time for play. If your child is involved in a variety of activities, you may want to reassess the situation – especially if her grades are suffering or there are signs of emerging emotional difficulties. A few signs to watch for include:

  • refusing to go to school or talk about school
  • refusing to do homework
  • physical ailments with no identifiable medical cause

If your child shows any of these signs, or if you have other reasons to believe that your child may be overprogrammed, then drop one or more of these extracurricular activities.

After you have determined a specific time (or times) for homework sessions, you’re ready for the next step: determining how that time should be organized. Here are some parent-tested recommendations:

  1. Encourage your child to start each homework session by looking over everything that needs to be done. Asks, “Which parts can you do on your own? Which parts will you need help with?”
  2. Suggest that your child do the most difficult or distasteful task first, before fatigue sets in. There’s nothing worse than being asked to explain a complicated math problem when both you and your child are ready to call it a day.
  3. When homework involves memorizing information or reviewing for a test, this should be done early in the session, while both you and your child are fresh. Then, at the end of the session, go over the material one more time. If possible, review it again in the morning before school.
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