For most students, returning to school for the fall semester involves not only a new morning routine, but a new evening routine as well -- one that includes making time for homework. However, parents should keep in mind that the assignments are meant for their children and they should be interested in the work while not actually doing it themselves.
"I think parents should provide guidance, as needed, to their children," says long-time fourth-grade teacher Julie Ketchum. "Each child is different. Young children need to learn good homework habits and that starts at home. Each evening, parents should ask the simple question, 'Do you have any homework?' This question could open up many discussions about the ease and difficulty of the child's homework."
As a mother of four and a licensed teacher who now stays at home with her children, Heidi Tschacher says she isn't totally against helping her children with homework, but she doesn't like to make a habit of it. "In my experience, my kids won't ask for help unless they absolutely need it. That might be because the teacher in me makes them try on their own before they give up and ask for help," she says. "I think parents should help with homework before their children get too frustrated, but not before the children have tried their best to finish it on their own."
Tschacher says that if the situation gets too tense, it might be acceptable to put homework aside for the evening. "There are times when I think it's OK to call it a night," she says. "If everyone is frustrated, then nothing worthwhile will get accomplished. We have done this and resumed it in the morning and things usually go much more smoothly after a good night's sleep."
Sometimes, especially when the child is a little older, he or she will benefit from simply asking the teacher for more help. "Sometimes my oldest boys have had to go in early before school to talk to their teacher if they need extra help," Tschacher says. "I encourage them to do this instead of getting me involved. This has been great for their communication skills -- and their teachers like knowing that they care enough about their grades to talk to them themselves."
Of course, parents do need to step in when things get too tough for a child, no matter what the student's age. "If a child if struggling with a particular concept at home, let the teacher know," says Ketchum, who is the parent of two college students and one in high school. "The teacher is probably already aware of the problem. However, this may open up communication between home and school and some strategies may be put in place to help the child."
Ketchum says there are some warning signs that parents need to watch for. "Parents should talk to the teacher when they notice a significant slide in the child's grade, if they notice the child is doing less than the normal amount of homework, or if the assigned homework is taking longer than it should," Ketchum says.
A good rule of thumb that most schools use is that a child should have roughly 10 to 15 minutes of homework per night multiplied by the school grade of the student. "For example, a fourth-grader may have 40 to 60 minutes of homework per night," Ketchum says.
If you are helping too much, you aren't helping anyone. "Students may need to learn a concept with supports in place, but essentially the goal is for the student to complete the task without support," says Ketchum. "If the parent is doing too much for the student, the teacher will know based on the how the student is doing at school."
Teachers understand that not every student -- and not every parent -- will handle homework the same way. "Just as every child is different, so are parents," Ketchum says. "Some parents are very good about homework and modeling good routines. Other parents struggle with homework routines."
No matter what, however, parents should stay in communication with teachers to ensure their child has a solid support system.