As a former elementary school teacher, JoAnn Crohn knows what it’s like to assign homework and have it come back undone. As a Chandler mom of two, she also knows what it’s like getting kids to tackle nightly homework with few tantrums and little hand holding.
It’s not easy — at first. Crohn recently wrote “Drama Free Homework,” which offers tips she’s learned (some from mistakes) as a teacher and a parent. She also talks to parenting groups about best practices for making homework less frustrating for kids and parents alike. Ultimately, the goal is helping kids create effective habits.
“With a solid homework routine, your kid should be done with homework in less than 30 minutes for third grade and younger, and a little more than 30 minutes for fourth grade and up,” writes Crohn, who is also the founder of noguiltmom.com.
Get a timer ready, and a box dedicated to homework supplies. Here’s what Crohn shared on why homework is important, and how to shift the responsibility to your kids early on, so they learn better study habits and life skills.
You mention homework in early elementary grades doesn’t necessarily improve academic (and test) performance, but it can create good study habits? Our main goal in the elementary grades is to keep kids excited about learning and to show them that learning takes place at home as well as school. When kids work on homework, they’re mastering the skills of: Focus — staying with a project for an increasing amount of time; Persistence — pushing through when a question stumps them; Time management — Prioritizing what to get done now and what can be pushed to later or not done at all; and Responsibility — finishing an assignment and bringing it back to school.
I admit, I’m that parent who thinks my daughter has been working for hours and deserves a break after school (OK, I’m usually tired, too), so it’s hard to put my foot down and make her start homework immediately. But if it’s not done right away, it’s so hard to come back to it. I believe that kids absolutely need a break after school. But, it’s best to leave it up to them when to do homework. Sit down and ask them what time they would like to do homework each day, and then stick to the time they set. Every child is different. My daughter prefers to do her homework immediately, while my son wants a break and will usually do homework around 5 p.m. or even in the morning before school.
What’s a homework box, and why do you suggest it? If you have ever spent 20 minutes looking for a pencil, a homework box is a lifesaver! It’s an ordinary pencil box filled with supplies usually used for homework like a pencil and pencil sharpener, an eraser, colored pencils, scissors and a glue stick. It has one twist, though: Taped to the lid is a checklist of supplies in the box. Your child is responsible for all those supplies being returned to the box at the end of each homework session. This keeps all the supplies you need for homework always available.
You say kids can take ownership of the homework routine by choosing when, how and where to work. Are there any restrictions on this? Every family is different. Setting the when, how and where should be a compromise between the parent and child. If the child isn’t choosing appropriate places, such as, “I want to do my homework while watching TV,” the parent will need to step in to explain why the television is not the best place to stay focused on work. But say the child wants to do homework on the living room floor instead of the kitchen table. That’s a reasonable request that should be given a shot.
You’re OK with rewards for completing homework — at least to start? Mini rewards to start a task can be a powerful tool. Something small like a sticker, extra minutes of screen time or a packet of fruit snacks can motivate a reluctant child to complete homework. Then, once the child experiences the success of completing an assignment, the rewards can be weaned away.
You advocate kids should be able to do their homework independently, which is great. But isn’t homework in part communicating to parents what kids are learning so parents are a little more engaged? Yes and no. A student should do homework independently; the parent shouldn’t need to watch over and police the homework’s completion. Parents can see what kids are learning through kids questions about a homework assignment or by glancing over the child’s shoulder. Ultimately, it should be the child’s responsibility to complete the homework and not the parent’s. Parents feel so much stress that they need to reteach their child each night what was learned in school, and that doesn’t need to happen.
When parents look over their kids’ homework, should they point out wrong answers? Yes, definitely. I do this by pointing to a question and saying, “You might want to check this answer again.” Feedback is always a good thing. However, if it becomes a battle of wills between you and your child, I’d suggest getting the teacher involved. For some reason — and I’ve experienced this as a parent, too — kids tend to argue with their parents about an incorrect answer but believe their teachers. If you’ve ever heard, “That’s not how Mr. Phillips said to do it,” you know what I mean. Obviously, questioning the teacher on every single question would be exhausting, but if you’re noticing a trend, teachers can usually step in for you and make your life much easier.
You talk about the importance of a growth mindset. How do you explain that concept to a kid? No one is born a genius. There’s no such thing as a smart kid and a dumb kid. Instead, the mind is like a muscle. When you practice running, or soccer, or jump rope, it’s hard at first. But the more you practice, the easier it gets, because your body learns what to do. The same goes for the brain. When you learn something new at school, it’s hard. But the more you practice it, your brain gets stronger, and the subject becomes easier.
In your book, you mention the problem with perfectionism. I worry that kids don’t learn the value of making mistakes or learning from mistakes in school when it’s all about stellar test scores. First, I need to say that as a whole, most elementary school teachers detest standardized testing. They feel it’s wrecking education and putting the focus on the wrong skills. I completely agree with this. [Teachers are] trapped, though, because their districts typically judge their performance based on their students’ test scores — which is not the measure of a good teacher.
That said, we as parents need to start speaking up about our children’s anxieties. Teachers and schools aren’t aware of what’s happening at home when we see our kids fretting about a score or test that we know is meaningless in the long run, but that the kids place so much importance on. Kids present a different version of themselves to their teachers, whereas we see the whole version at home. Teachers can’t fix a problem if they don’t know one exists. By emailing and approaching our work as a collaboration, we can help our kids break this perfectionism mindset.
What would you like to add? Homework can be a really great thing to build a student’s skills. However, for that to happen, kids need to be in control of it; it needs to be appropriate for the child, and it should encourage skills already learned in the classroom.