Sunday, January 14, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Family Matters
Homework environment needs cultivation

By Lynne Wikoff
Special to The Advertiser

Walking the narrow path between being too involved in children’s homework and not being involved enough can be a real challenge for parents: Too much help can make children dependent or foster frustration and rebellion, while too little can mask a child’s academic difficulties or lack of responsibility.

Tell us about it

What have you done to curtail your children’s television watching?

Please share your tips and stories to help other parents. Write: Family Matters, Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail or fax 535-8170.

The fact is, most children need parental support to do the assignments they bring home from school, especially in the early years.

A parent’s first task is to create a "homework friendly" environment, beginning with a predictable routine. Decide together on the best time to complete school assignments — for example right after school, or perhaps after dinner.

If your children do their homework at an after-school program, you might instead set aside a specific time in the evening when you look it over to get familiar with the work they are doing.

At home, designate a comfortable, well-lit homework spot. Keep in mind that while some kids can tune out background noise, others need a quiet place to concentrate. If a child is easily distracted, plan short work periods — 15 or 20 minutes each — followed by a five-minute break.

When children reach the stage when they get assignments due the next week or month, provide a calendar so they can note each step to meet the deadline.

And then there’s television. Simply put, research shows that the less TV kids watch, the better they do in school. Ann Kennedy, a veteran Punahou School sixth-grade math and science teacher, agrees.

"Year after year, the best students have been those who watch little or no television," she says. "They not only spend more time on their homework, they use their free time to read or do other things that enhance their learning."

Parents may find that a "no TV until the homework is done" rule backfires by encouraging kids to rush through their assignments to get to the tube. Television-as-battleground can be eliminated, though, either by banning it on school nights or having children plan their viewing at the beginning of each week, selecting no more than one hour of parent-approved programs each night.

With the homework "stage" set, many parents get involved with the content of the homework. This can be trickier, as Honolulu mom Liz Sutter found out when she got in the habit of checking her fifth-grade twin daughters’ homework every night. "It caused so much strife, I stopped," she says.

Since Liz stepped back, the girls have taken more responsibility for their day-to-day work (although she still assists with big projects, if needed).

As a teacher of ninth and tenth grade biology at Sacred Hearts Academy, Liz knows that learning to do homework effectively is as important a skill for her girls to master as the actual content of the work.

"High school courses cover so much material that students must be able do some work on their own," she explains. Moreover, "Today’s high school-level work is so advanced, few parents are equipped to help their kids with it; all they can do is check that their kids’ homework is done."

If children seem to be struggling excessively — making too many errors, experiencing difficulty understanding homework or requiring more time than seems reasonable — talk to the teacher about what adjustments or interventions are needed.

For Internet-connected kids, there’s help with the content of homework through two Web sites. Each provides links (with descriptions) in a variety of subject areas at all school levels. Check out B.J. Pinchbeck’s Homework Helper.

Or, try to find Schoolwork Ugh!

Two Hawaii parents, Lynne Wikoff and Kaohua Lucas, take turns writing the Family Matters column.

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