The homework guide - not only for the parent

I don't know about you, but I believe that good communication between parents and the school, especially between parents and teachers, is very important. We all need to work together for the good of the children. You do your best at home and we do our best at school. But if we want to bring the best out of our children, we have to combine our efforts. By that I mean, you as parents need to find out from the teachers what your child is having problems with and we as teachers need to listen to you and find out what you, as parents, believe your child needs the most help with. As John Wooden said, "If you want to go fast, go alone. if you want to go far, you need a team." I believe we all want our children to go as far as they can. That's why we need to work as a team. According to me, one of the most important things we need to work on together is homework. Since homework is so important and because I often witness and hear a lot of misunderstandings between parents and teachers, I decided to write this homework guide and clarify a few issues so as to improve our work together to build an excellent foundation for our children's future. 

The homework guide for parents

So what really is the purpose of homework? That's a difficult question, which can not be answered in a few sentences. Since I have got time on my hands, I will give it a try. You are free to disagree with me, but hear me through before you do that. In my opinion the purpose of homework is to consolidate topics learnt at school. Homework should not be anything new. Obvious, isn't it? It's the teacher's job to teach and introduce new topics. Parents are there to help consolidate the knowledge, if the child cannot do it on his own. Let me repeat this, just to make sure you understand. It's your child's homework, don't do it for him. Of course, a lot depends on child's abilities. Different children need different approaches. So let's break this down further.            


Homework for the average child

Most homework is targeted at average children who should be able to do it with very little help or no help at all. For this group of children homework should be short and to the point. If you are lucky enough to have a child in this group, all you have to do is make sure your child learns regularly and develops the habit of systematic work that is so important in adult life to achieve goals. Even if your child knows everything,it's still important for him to do his homework. Remember there is more to homework than meets the eye.


Homework for the below average child

The situation is completely different for the child below average, who is not as capable as his peers. If your child is in this group, it's very likely that the topic consolidation theory doesn't work for him. This means most of the time he will not have a clue how to do his homework. Remember, it's not the end of the world. Most topics take practise to master, anyway. So instead of having a nervous breakdown or screaming at the top of your lungs, how dump your child is, you should try to calmly explain to him how to do his homework. It's also important to remember that what you say to your child has a huge impact on their development and their personality even in adult life. If you keep telling your child that he is dump, he will believe it. Instead of trying harder, he will see no need to try because you are telling him he can't do it, he is dump. So why should he try? You get my point? I sure hope so. This is important stuff. It's called the do good, be good theory in psychology. If you praise your child for doing something or at least trying hard to do it, he is likely to continue trying which will eventually enable him to do it. Remember that. If you want to find out more about this idea, you can read the book Redirect, written by professor Thomas Wilson.

There are also cases when both you the parent and your child will have no clue how to do the homework. As I said before, there is no need to behave as if the world is coming to an end. Teachers are human, they will understand. So just use the most convinient means of communication at your disposal to inform the teacher that your child needs additional help with the topic. After all, it's his job to explain. That's what he gets paid for, isn't it? Within reasonable limits of course. There are situations when it's just impossible for a child to understand a topic, no matter how hard a teacher tries. It's not possible to understand or know how to do everything in life. You know that, don't you? So remember not to blame the teacher every time your child has a problem. It's not always the teacher's fault.


Homework for the above average child

If your child is in this group, consider yourself lucky because your child will not be bothering you with his homework. As with average and below average children, your task as a parent is to make sure you instill the habit of systematic work in your child. Don't make the mistake of assuming that because your child is intelligent, he doesn't have to do his homework. There is more to homework than that. You should even consider asking your child's teachers to give your child homework that's more challenging than what the rest of the class is doing. Just remember that you don't have the final say in the decision about your child's homework. The teacher usually knows what's best for your child academic wise. It makes sense to pay attention to what the teacher says. Also remember that, though it might not seem so, teachers are very busy people. What's to be expected when teachers have to prepare for each and every lesson, check class work and homework everyday, etc. Sometimes I think it's a miracle that we, as teachers do not lose our sanity and continue working the way we do without complaining too much. Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that your child's teacher may not be willing to spend more time preparing separate homework material for your child. But it's worth trying if your child is exceptionally talented. If I had my way, as a teacher I would consider not giving homework to such a child in order to give him more time to work on subjects or topics that he has problems with. It might even be more beneficial for your talented child to spend time outdoors playing with other children instead of piling up more and more work on his shoulders just because he is intelligent. After all they say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Resting is also part of the learning process. 


Why parent-teacher communication and mutual respect is important

Considering that you want your child to listen to his teacher, it makes sense that your child should respect his teacher. After all, who listens to someone they have no respect for, right? Of course everybody knows that respect should not be demanded, but earned. That's all good theory, but it doesn't always work. That's why it's important for the parent to show respect to teachers, especially in the presence of their children. If you don't respect your child's teacher and you let the whole world know, including your child, you might have temporary satisfaction that you gave the teacher a piece if your mind. But believe me, that satisfaction will be short-lived. That's all because if you openly don't show respect to your child's teacher, your child is also unlikely to show the teacher the respect that he deserves. Without respect your child is unlikely to pay attention to what the teacher says. Trust me, that's something you don't want. Unless your child is some kind of genius he is not going to learn anything unless he pays attention. So if you care about your child's future, help the poor teacher out by showing him some respect. After all it's your child's life that's at stack. A little respect will go a long way towards improving your child's grades. I know what I am talking about here. So next time you feel like telling your child's teacher how you feel about the lousy job that he is doing, make sure your child is not eavesdropping. You will be greatful you did, when you calm down.


The parent's role

Helping with homework should not be a full time job. Your child should be responsible for his homework. The earlier they develop the habit of systematic work and taking responsibility of their future the better. Let them know that every small thing that they do every single day is a step towards or away from their goals. The solution to achieving any goal is to take small but continuous steps towards that goal. Bigs steps are welcome, of course, but they are usually painful and difficult to make. That's is why it's so important to encourage systematic work. In my opinion children should always be ready for a test. At least that's what I discovered to be the best approach. Getting ready for any examination becomes terribly easy when your child learns systematically, as it becomes only a matter of polishing up instead of reading everything in the copybook and trying to memorise it over a short period of time. This may sound simple and obvious, but it's surprising how many parents concentrate only on doing current homework and ignore consolidation of past materials. If you fall into this trap, don't be surprised when the time to prepare for a test comes and you have to spend days helping your child to get ready. Next time this happens to you, do not blame your child. It's your responsibility as a parent to help your child develop the habits they will need in adult life. 

There are also those parents who overdo things. I have seen some who even go to the extend of writing in their children's copybooks. This is a no, no if you ask me. I find it difficult to understand what these parents are trying to achieve. If they think they are helping their child, then I have got a surprise for them. This is a direct road to raising a child who doesn't have the strength or willpower to overcome problems. He will grow up to depend on you to solve his problems. So don't be surprised when he keeps coming back to you for assistance, even in adult life. As I always tell my pupils, if you cheat you are only cheating yourself.


Why topics in Maths should be treated like one happy family

As a Maths teacher I just had to tackle the topic of how to learn this subject. Maths is a subject that puzzles a lot of pupils. That is really surprising to me because I believe that Mathematics should be the easiest subject in school. I know that there are many reasons why people have problems with this subject. It could even be that they got the wrong genes from their parents. :-) Of course, as with all subjects, not everyone has to be good at Maths. But according to me, the main reason why children have problems with Maths is the poor methods or lack of methods in learning the subject. This can usually be blamed on the teacher, child or parents. However, I would like to argue that the teacher has to bear most of the blame for this problem. It's the teacher who should lay a good foundation for understanding the subject. 

The main problem that I see with the way children are taught Maths is that they are taught to memorise things or to do calculations without really understanding what they are doing. Take for example, multiplication of decimals with one decimal place by an integer. Children are usually taught that they should do multiplication as if they were multiplying integers and then put the comma in front of the last number. All it takes here is to explain that the decimal number is a result of diving an integer by 10. So if they know how division by 10 works, they will easily understand why the point goes where it goes when doing multiplication of decimals by an integer. So the key to being good at Maths is understanding and not just trying to remember methods. The fact that all topics in Maths are somehow related makes it even more important to try to understand each and every step and topic. Not knowing times tables will cause problems with multiplication of bigger numbers. Not understanding multiplication will cause problems with division, which will cause problems with fractions, decimals and percentages. We could go on like this forever, but that's not the point. You can take my word for it when I saying undersanding is the most important factor that contributes to success or failure in Maths.

Topics in Maths should not be treated as separate entities. Topics in Maths are like one, big happy and well-connected family. Still don't know why I am telling you all this? Well, this has a lot to do with how you help your child with his Maths homework. Instead of just making sure your child mechanically goes through his homework, just blindingly following a given method, try to make sure your child understand the theory behind what he is doing. The return on time invested here will surprise you. If I had my way, Maths homework would be based on doing just a few questions with your child. Just one or two questions, to just make sure that he understands what he is doing. There is no need to do the same thing twenty or even ten times when you understand everything. This wasted time would be better spent learning other topics or subjects that your child is having problems with. But the decision is not mine. The whole homework must be done. They say practice makes perfect, but there is nothing perfect in this world. Neither should your child aim to be perfect. Excellent is good enough, if you take time opportunity cost into consideration. 


So where does all this leave us?

Now that we understand the purpose of homework, how to learn Maths, the parents's responsibility, the teacher's responsibility as well as the child's responsibility, let's sum it all up. The purpose of homework is not to spend hours working, but to consolidate topics learnt at school. Homework is your child's responsibility. Explain if there is anything he doesn't understand, but let him do it. Do not let love for your child take over by doing your child's homework for him or getting someone to do it for him. A little pain or hardwork never hurt anybody. Your child may even cry once in a while because he can't do something. Just keep doing what you have to do as parent. Life is tough and your kid has to know that. Going through rough patches is part of life. So crying and complaining is part of the learning process. Your child will not develop without going outside his comfort zone. You don't believe me? I don't blame you. But research in psychology has shown that pain is part of the process. If you you still don't believe me, you can read the results of the research conducted by Professor Robert Bjork right here. Come back and continue reading when you are ready. I will wait. :-) So go on and help your child make frequent trips outside his comfort zone. That's where all the progress is made. You can thank me later. Help your child to build his future, or someone else will hire him to build theirs. Having problems and overcoming them is part of the game. Like I always say, either you let your child cry and plough through until he overcomes obstacles or you do everything for him and you will cry later. Thanks for reading. All the best with raising those kids you love so much.

Tue, 01 Oct 2013