When kids arrive home from school, is it wisest to make them sit down and dive right into their homework before playtime begins, or should they be allowed to play first and work later? As a parent, it's important for you to weigh both options and then decide what works best for your children.
"Generally speaking, homework should be delayed until there has been some respite time after school to allow the brain a 'vacation' before beginning homework," says Jennifer Little, Ph.D., founder of ParentsTeachKids.com. Just like you need to decompress after a long workday before you're motivated to undertake household cleaning and tasks, students often need a breather before the next to-dos must be done. Plus, according to Dr. Maureen Taylor, who has master's degrees in secondary and special education and has been a teacher for almost 40 years, "Playing after homework can drive a child to work faster at the risk of their work."
Allowing children a set amount of playtime before homework is what "educators used to call 'shaking out the cobwebs,'" says Taylor. "Today we call it 'giving the child time to breathe and to process his day.'" Children, after all, have bad days, too. They may be stressed over an impending test or still feeling the sting of a negative comment from one of their peers. Quality free time lets them enter the "safe zone" of home and relax and unwind. "Students' brains require a shift from the pressures of school to the relative calmness of home," says Taylor.
Taylor also brings up a valid point affecting your children's energy levels and abilities to focus on homework: "Keep in mind that in larger schools, some children eat lunch at 10:30 and end their day at 3." Kids may be low on energy simply because they haven't had a nutritious meal or snack in more than four hours. They couldn't possibly focus well on homework while low on fuel. So a healthy snack upon their return home is a must, no matter what your homework/play arrangement is.
*Each Child's Homework Responsibilities
"Elementary children usually do not have much homework, so doing it as dinner is prepared usually suffices," says Little. "Middle- and high-school students will have more homework, and thus will need more hours to complete it. So before and after dinner should be allocated (for homework) before any other computer-based activities (Facebook, games, TV) occur. At some point, the child will become self-regulating with homework and decide when is best for him/her."
Another factor is your child's personality type. Some children cannot unwind unless their homework -- about which they feel pressure -- is completed, and some children would do anything to avoid their homework. If you have multiple children, you need to create a plan that meets each child's preferences. That may find you sitting down one child who needs to get homework out of the way, while the other child plays, and then summoning your other child to begin his or her homework after the allotted playtime.
Jen Lilienstein, founder of the educational site Kidzmet.com, says that children with different personality types approach homework differently, such as a student who prefers to get closure on assignments before play, a student who thrives on tight deadlines, or a student who likes to work on three projects at once. (Visit http://www.kidzmet.com to assess your children's personality types related to tasks.)
There is no rule saying all children must sit down together as a group to do homework. You may even find that they distract one another when they're all at the kitchen table at the same time, working in their different ways. It may be your personal system to have kids do their homework in set shifts that work best for all.
*Setting the Rules
If you're experiencing homework/play chaos with no set plan, now is the time to enforce rules in your home and decide how, when and where kids will do homework. A quiet environment with no television is ideal. Cellphones are to be left outside of the homework room to eliminate distractions.
Decide beforehand how children's homework sessions will be scheduled, and inform kids that they are to complete all homework before their set bedtime. You will, in several weeks, review their grades and talk with them about their homework schedule, and you may decide to make changes to their schedule.
Older kids with extracurricular activities that affect their post-school schedules may need to switch their homework times to earlier in the evening due to fatigue from their busy schedules. You'll decide that at your review session.
As you observe children in their homework modes, pay special attention to their frustration levels as they're working. Little says, "Homework avoidance is often a sign of problems" that may exist in their school days, such as bullying. Be very observant of what kids are telling you through their attitudes toward homework.
If you have questions about your child's homework levels, make an appointment to speak in person with his or her teachers.