How To Plan Homework Helper


en españolLos diez mejores consejos sobre los deberes escolares

Kids are more successful in school when parents take an active interest in their homework — it shows kids that what they do is important.

Of course, helping with homework shouldn't mean spending hours hunched over a desk. Parents can be supportive by demonstrating study and organization skills, explaining a tricky problem, or just encouraging kids to take a break. And who knows? Parents might even learn a thing or two!

Here are some tips to guide the way:

  1. Know the teachersand what they're looking for. Attend school events, such as parent-teacher conferences, to meet your child's teachers. Ask about their homework policies and how you should be involved.
  2. Set up a homework-friendly area. Make sure kids have a well-lit place to complete homework. Keep supplies — paper, pencils, glue, scissors — within reach.
  3. Schedule a regular study time. Some kids work best in the afternoon, following a snack and play period; others may prefer to wait until after dinner.
  4. Help them make a plan. On heavy homework nights or when there's an especially hefty assignment to tackle, encourage your child break up the work into manageable chunks. Create a work schedule for the night if necessary — and take time for a 15-minute break every hour, if possible.
  5. Keep distractions to a minimum. This means no TV, loud music, or phone calls. (Occasionally, though, a phone call to a classmate about an assignment can be helpful.)
  6. Make sure kids do their own work. They won't learn if they don't think for themselves and make their own mistakes. Parents can make suggestions and help with directions. But it's a kid's job to do the learning.
  7. Be a motivator and monitor. Ask about assignments, quizzes, and tests. Give encouragement, check completed homework, and make yourself available for questions and concerns.
  8. Set a good example. Do your kids ever see you diligently balancing your budget or reading a book? Kids are more likely to follow their parents' examples than their advice.
  9. Praise their work and efforts. Post an aced test or art project on the refrigerator. Mention academic achievements to relatives.
  10. If there are continuing problems with homework, get help. Talk about it with your child's teacher. Some kids have trouble seeing the board and may need glasses; others might need an evaluation for a learning problem or attention disorder.

We’ve all been there. A mountain of homework sits in front of your child. He’s feeling overwhelmed. You’re feeling anxious. It seems like he’s barely into the first row of problems on that math worksheet when he asserts his urgent desire to take a break. Before you know it, homework time stretches into dinner time and family time and bedtime. And nobody is having a good time. You're looking for homework help, now.

As academic coaches, we often see difficulties with our students’ ability to stick with tasks until they’re done (our fancy term is Goal-directed Persistence). We find it’s useful to make a distinction between helpful pauses and momentum-slamming delay tactics. In other words, what’s the difference between breaks and brakes?

(cue the screeching tire sound) 

3 Homework Help Tips for Managing Study Breaks


1: A Break is time-limited

It is a short, 5-15 minute period that has a clear beginning and end. Here are some examples from students we’ve worked with:

  • Play one song on the violin or listen to one song on headphones

  • Shoot 20 free-throws

  • Do 10 minutes of yoga, stretching or other excercise

  • Skype with friend for 10 minutes

A Brake, on the other hand, is fuzzy. It has vague parameters to indicate it’s over.

  • Walk the dog

  • Play video games for a while

  • Practice the tuba

  • Watch some funny videos

Any of these activities, begun without a clear sense of how long it should take and when you should stop, spells trouble for starting back up with homework.


2: A Break is part of the overall homework plan

It doesn’t just erupt out of nowhere. Study breaks are strategic and used to energize and refocus a distracted student.

Here’s what an effective student’s homework plan may look like:

Here’s what an ineffective homework plan looks like:


See the difference (beyond the obvious)? The first one planned for start and end times of each task (the When), as well as specific study breaks. At any given moment, a parent providing homework help could ask “How’s the plan going?” and the answer is pretty straightforward. Either it’s an “on time arrival” or “I need to skip study break #2 because I’m behind schedule.”

3: Breaks include a springboard to get back to work 

Study breaks are most effective when a student has a clear sense of what she will do once she gets back to work, and does some quick preparation before taking a pause in her work. In the first example above, before she runs to the basement to play drums, she would open up Quizlet on her laptop and get her science textbook and notes out of the backpack and on her desk. This one minute prep can really help students who have a hard time starting work after a break (our fancy term: Task Initiation).

Of course, there can be plenty of other reasons why students take excessive homework breaks and can’t complete their work efficiently. Sometimes they feel too anxious about the work itself and seek to escape it. Or they can’t sustain their attention for the full duration of an assignment. Or they get distracted by texts they “have to” answer. Or they get stuck and cannot figure out how to solve their problem. Any of these reasons can put the brakes on productivity. And while solutions for these particular difficulties go beyond the scope of this article, we teach Executive Functioning strategies for each of these challenges, as well.

Bottom line: When providing homework help, plan the work, plan the breaks. Take the “fuzziness” out of breaks so they don’t put the brakes on productivity. 

Do you have a child who needs help with managing and planning nightly homework? Download our detailed worksheet and guide to planning effective study breaks below.


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