Help for homework hassles

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

There are no two ways about it--homework is a fact of life. With the increasing demands on students to perform at higher levels in lower grade levels, parents know their children will be coming home from school with heavier book bags than ever before.

And while the amount of homework students are expected to complete can seem daunting, there are a few things experts agree parents can do to help minimize homework hassles.

Certainly, establishing a distraction-free environment is important to making homework effective. And having a parent on hand, especially for younger children, will help keep students on task. But, Tutoring In Your Home director David Sturtz said, those things really play second fiddle to the most important factor in ensuring homework success.

"Physical environment is a second-tier issue," Sturtz said. "If a child is really motivated, they will seek out the environment themselves."

So how does a parent motivate a student to continue his or her studies after a long day at school? "Make homework fun," he said. "That's basic, classical conditioning. You can teach kids that learning has rewards." In his work as a home-based tutor, Sturtz creates and uses game boards that allow students to see their progress as they master a topic. He suggests creating MadLibs-type sheets to make vocabulary and grammar lessons engaging or letting the student pretend he or she is the teacher for a while. "Then they don't necessarily think they are doing homework," he said. "It's easy to teach a child that homework is punishment. It's just as easy to teach them that it's not. It just depends on how you approach it."

Richard Stitt, owner of Tutoring Club in Gahanna, said the key is to start early. He advises parents who are concerned about their students' performance to stress the basics--early literacy and fundamental math. Fights over homework, he said, could be an indicator that a student is falling short on basic skills. "If you see that kids aren't enjoying school or may be acting out in school and not doing their homework consistently, or aren't willing to sit down with Mom and Dad to do it, those could all be indicators of skill deficiencies," Stitt said. "A lot of times we see kids who don't want to read for fun and that is simply a symptom of being behind. If a child is good at reading, chances are they are going to like it a whole lot more than someone who is struggling."

Stitt said it is vital for parents to maintain strong communications with their children's teachers. His recommendations include taking advantage of conference opportunities and Internet sites set up by schools to post homework assignments. Many central Ohio schools now have Internet "parent portals" where adults can not only find out what the assignments are, but see if their child has been turning in their work and what their grades are currently, he said.

And, Stitt and Sturtz agree, parents shouldn't be shy about getting help when they need it. While parents are certainly a child's first teachers, they don't always make the best teachers, especially as students get older. It's time to get outside help, Sturtz said, when a parent's anxiety over a subject begins to show. "I have elementary teachers calling me up to come tutor their elementary-age kids because they can't do it--and this is what they do for a living," Sturtz said. "The parents really want their kids to succeed and for the subject to come naturally. When it doesn't they can become frustrated and I think sometimes the kids read the frustration as disappointment." Sturtz continued, "Even if a parent does not go for having outside help come in, just for a parent to really check their own emotions and be as calm as possible with their kids is important. Yes, kids need correction and constructive criticism. But be aware they want you to be their coach and their cheerleader," Sturtz said.

The following resources for homework help were suggested by Mary Kelly, manager of Columbus Metropolitan Library's Gahanna branch, and Matt Kraft, the Gahanna branch's homework help center coordinator.

Homework Heroes for Grades K-2; Homework Heroes for Grades 3-5; Homework Heroes for Grades 6-8, by Drew and Cynthia Johnson. Kaplan Books; Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Everything You Need to Know About Math Homework, by Anne Zeman and Kate Kelly. Scholastic, 2005. Volumes also are available on American history, world history, geography, English and many more topics.

Thinking Organized for Parents and Children: Helping Kids Get Organized for Home, School and Play, by Rhona M Gordon. Thinking Organized Press, 2007.

Annie's Plan: Taking Charge of Schoolwork & Homework, by Jeanne Kraus and Charles Beyl. Magination Press, 2007.

Miriam L. Segaloff lives in Gahanna with her husband and daughter. She has more than 17 years experience in writing, editing and communications.

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