Monday, September 17, 2012

Winning the Homework Battle

Welcome to my new readers from this morning's segment on Fox 23 Tulsa!

Here is the video clip from this morning's program on Daybreak.

This post is for both families and educators, as we discuss the subject of homework.  Many parents need help when it comes to this subject, and sometimes teachers need to regroup and refocus our efforts to make sure the homework we are assigning is meaningful, relevant, and applicable to what we are teaching in the classroom.  Quite honestly, homework is a team effort on the part of the student, family, and teacher.  It takes all 3 for it to be successful.

How many of you (families and teachers included) need more than 24 hours in a day to finish all that needs to be done? I know I do! Most families today are very busy with varying schedules due to many outside factors.  Some are holding down 2 jobs, continuing their education, or just keeping up with the demands of life.  And if you have more than one child, then juggling your children's schedules becomes a fine art.  As the mother of 3 children, I know this subject of "Fitting it All In" very well.  I remember the days when all 3 children had homework, dinner needed to be fixed, clothes needed to be washed, and all 3 had different chauffeuring schedules from sports and extra-curricular activities.  The last thing that I wanted to do was be involved in a power struggle over homework.  I wanted my time with my children to be pleasant and meaningful. I wanted to curl up on the couch with them and read favorite stories and talk about our day. Since I wasn't an educator at that time, I fumbled my way through the frustrations of working with my children.  All 3 of my children had different learning styles and strengths and weaknesses. So here are some suggestions and ideas for parents to think about when you feel the wave of homework stress rush over you. And teachers, let's remember to make our homework respectful of our families time and make sure it is meaningful.

Reading Homework:  The research supports that children should read for at least 20 minutes each day.  The more they read, the better readers they will become.  But what do you do when your child is a beginning or struggling reader? Those 20 minutes can go crawling by and can seem like punishment for both parent and child. Did you know there are several ways for a child to read a book?  Here are some strategies for helping your child on the road to success as a reader and hopefully ease the "reading challenge."

Echo Reading - Parent reads one line of text, then child repeats.  This helps support your child with the language and rhythm of the story.

I Point You Read - Sometimes children want the struggle off of them, especially if it is hard for them.  Try to play this game.  Have your child point to the words as you read them.  It will either be choppy reading or speed reading.  This is a great way to model what good readers do.  Good readers read at the appropriate pace, so reading makes sense.

Choral Reading - Parent and child reads the text together.  Sometimes this reading is slower, as the parent might be just a second ahead of the child to support the reading.

Repeated Reading - Many parents say, "But my child wants to read the same thing over and over again."  That is great!  We all have our favorite books, favorite social media, quotes, information or news that we as adults enjoy.  Children do too.  And when a child reads a book over and over again, he is building his reading fluency and building his stamina at the same time.  Being a great reader takes practice.  Just make sure to tell your child that reading is only happening when you look at the words.  I have my students track the print they are reading with their finger or a special pointer.

Share the Reading - Do you have your own favorite stories?  You can help build your child's stamina and minutes reading by reading to her first.  Talk about the vocabulary or words in the story that she may not know.  Stop in between the story and ask her what she thinks will happen next?  Ask her why do you think the character (name the person) felt that way?  How would you feel if that happened to you?

Put it to a Beat or a Song -  Singing helps build fluency which is the pace and flow of the reading.  Try typing or writing out the words to a favorite song and have your child read/sing the song.  If they can sing it, they can be supported in reading it.  Go to the website and print out your favorite songs from when you were a child.  Look for sight words (words children need to recognize instantly) and practice the strategies above.

Fluency Fun Have you seen the app Voices?  It's a fun way to record your child reading.  They read into the iPhone.  When they are finished, they can choose which voice they want to hear.  It's a fun way to have them read a story and listen to how it sounds in different pitches, tones, and rhythms.  And of course it is fun for parents and teachers too :)

Spelling Homework:

Here is another question.  My child struggles with remembering his spelling words.  How can I help him remember?  This one depends on each child's learning style.  Here are some activities to try with your child.

If your child likes to move, play sports, and is active, add some movement to the spelling activities.  Write the spelling words on index cards, post-it-notes, or large enough on paper for her to see. Let your child bounce a ball while spelling the words.  Or use grabbers to add some fun and fine motor activities with the words.  Have your child hop, jump rope, or do other movement activities while spelling.

If your child likes music, put the words to a song. 

2 letter words, use the song "If You're Happy and You Know It"
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y
It's as easy as can be when you sing along with me.
If you want to spell my, say m - y, m - y.

3 letter words, use the song "Three Blind Mice"
s - e - e, s - e - e
That spells see
That spells see
s - e - e spells see
s - e - e spells see
s - e - e, s - e - e

4 letter words, use the song "Boogaloo"
Can you spell the word what?
What's that you say?
Can you spell the word what?
What's that you say?
w-h-a-t, w-h-a-t, w-h-a-t
One more time!

5 letter words, use the song "Bingo"
There are 5 letters in this word and this is how you spell it.
h - a - p - p - y, h - a - p - p - y, h - a - p - p - y,
And that's how you spell happy!

6 letter words, use the song "London Bridges"
s - h - o - w - e - r
s - h - o - w - e - r
s - h - o - w - e - r
That spells shower.

7 letter words, use the song "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow"
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
f - a - l - l - i - n - g
That spells falling.

8 letter words, use the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"
b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
That spells blizzard.
b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
Singing this song is easy for me.
For its b - l - i - z - z - a - r - d
That spells blizzard
b  l  i - z  z  a  r  d
Spells blizzard!

If your child likes to draw, have her rainbow write.
Write the word in one color, then trace over the word with another color. Continue using her favorite colors.

The Perfect Place for Homework - Where ?

I love the book The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom.  It is a story about a little boy who tries to find the best place to read in his house.  He tries many different places until he finds the perfect place to read.  And it also goes through all of the scenarios for why each place is "not right."

So where is the best place for your child to do homework?  Know your child's learning preferences.  Does he like to sit in a chair when reading?  How about on a comfortable chair or couch?  Does she like to lay on her bed and read?  Think about where you read the best and allow your child to pick his own special reading place.  The only requirement is to make sure that there is adequate lighting and a quiet noise level.  I've built reading tents out of sheets or turned nap maps up to make privacy tents.  Children like the comfort of having their own special place.

If the homework requires writing, help your child choose the best place to write.  Talk about the need for a flat space to help support his arms and hands.  If your child needs help making choices, then choose 2 places you feel are appropriate and have her pick.

So should it be quiet or can the television and cell phones be left on?   I know that our children today live in a world of technology and many parents say their children have great focus when they are playing video games.  Playing video games uses a different part of the brain and keeps children's attention with all of the multi-tasking and constant feedback of sound and movement.  The same goes for television.  Make homework a priority and help them understand that they are separate activities. Set a specific time for your child to be watching television or playing video games.    Depending on your child's age, let him help plan the best time.  Sign a homework agreement plan or make a chart showing the schedule for the evening or week.  Celebrate their successes in finishing their homework by doing things together such as playing a game, going for a walk, or visiting the park.  Make sure your children know that homework is an important part of their day and that you are there to support them through it.

The Perfect Time for Homework - When ?

This one is a tough one for parents because we have to find the best time that fits into our schedule.  But here is something to keep in mind.  If your child is young, he needs time to unwind and play after school. It takes a lot of endurance and concentration to complete a full day of school activities.  Allowing your child to get in some physical movement and get rid of that burst of energy, will make "doing homework" much easier.  And eating a healthy snack before you begin can help too.  Most children go several hours from when they eat lunch until dinner time.  Providing a light snack can give the brain a jump start on attention and learning.   Waiting until bedtime can create children who are tired, cranky, and not ready to learn.

The Perfect Amount of Help - How Much?

Another question that I am asked frequently is, "How much should I help my child with her homework?"  Homework should reinforce what is being taught at school.  Think of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears.  It shouldn't be too easy, too hard, but "just right."  Your child should be able to do the work independently, but with your guidance.  And remember the suggestions above for increasing your child's stamina for reading.  Start with small goals of 5 minutes at a time.  If your child needs a break, do some jumping jacks, hop on one foot, or stand while doing the homework.

We Are Still Struggling  - When to Call the Teacher?

If your child is still struggling with completing the tasks assigned, contact your child's teacher to let them know about it.   The work may be too difficult.  Your child may have missed a lot of school due to illness.  There are many reasons that could be affecting your child's inability to finish or start the task.  Most importantly, keep the communication lines open with the teacher and ask how you can best support your child.

And remember, it takes all 3 to make homework successful:  the student, the family, and the teacher.

Thanks for stopping by.


  1. Hi, Kathy!
    Have you ever thought of creating a presentation for parents on this topic? Jim Grant told me that he has presentations for parents on file with SDE. Sometimes they send him to districts to do them in after he has done a conference during the day, and he gets a nice little sum of money added on to his daily rate.
    It's something to think about!

  2. Wow! I am so impressed, Kathy. Congrats on your TV appearance. You did a great job.
    Adventures In Teaching

  3. Congratulations, Kathy!!! I am so happy to have found you and to be your newest follower!
    Growing Firsties

  4. Fantastic Post!!! You really should create a presentation for parents on this topic like Heidi said.
    There is a LOT of good information here that parents need to know!

    Deb at Fabulously First

  5. What an informative post!! Thanks for taking the time to write it and share it with us. Congratualtions on your tv appearance. You did a great job!!!
    Connnie Anderson :)