Teachers’ tricks for helping with homework
As parents, we’re all familiar with homework struggles. Even the most conscientious child will have moments where they’re stuck on their home learning or just don’t want to do it, and it can be hard to know how to offer the best sort of help that will let them succeed.
We asked nine experienced teachers how they help their own children with homework, so you can steal their insider tips.
1. Get it done early
I always ensure that my children get their homework out of the way with at the beginning of the night, before doing any fun activities. It means that they can have a chilled evening afterwards, rather than dreading the work that is coming up. I also make sure that the homework that they find most difficult or least entertaining is done first, again, so the worst part is out of the way and a weight is taken off their shoulders.
Emma Kenyon, mum of three children aged seven, eight and 10, and teacher at Clifton College
2. Encourage independence
We make time to hear our children read every day and go through spellings, but they do any other homework or projects on their own, so they can take pride in what they have done. We may give pointers, but we try to avoid giving them ideas as we want them to think for themselves and have their own ideas.
Chris Dale, dad to Emma, 12, and James, six
3. Reward a good attitude
I use a star chart and reward my children for settling down to do their homework without a fuss and working well. The stars they gain add up to them choosing a reward such as a small chocolate bar, a trip to the park or choosing a DVD to watch.
Sally Elliott, mum to Joshua, eight, and Will, six
4. Make it bitesize
We break homework down into smaller sections so my children don’t feel overwhelmed by having to do everything at once. We also use different ways of learning things like times tables and spellings: for example, we use songs and puzzles to make it fun.
Ellie Becker-Willett, mum to Jack, 14, George, 10, and Henry, eight
5. Plan, then proceed
When my daughter has homework to tackle, we spend a few minutes thinking, discussing, brainstorming and planning in rough first. Wordsmyth for Kids is great for literacy tasks such as finding definitions, synonyms and antonyms and example sentences. If she’s struggling with a particular maths concept, we do lots of practice questions on whiteboards together.
Emma Espley, mum to a 10-year-old daughter
6. Use a homework diary
Encourage your child to keep a homework diary – which can be done digitally – and keep an eye on it yourself. It helps us keep track of when homework is set and when it’s due in. It helps us know in which order to complete the homework and to plan the week’s workload.
Shola Alabi, mum to a 13-year-old son, and author of Parents Understand Your Child
7. Stick to a routine
I had my children do their homework at the same time every day, as far as possible. This made it predictable and easy for everyone to remember. I also made sure that homework time was scheduled for early in the evening so that they could finish before they got tired.
Noel Janis-Norton, director of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting and Teaching
8. Pile on the praise
Praise the effort, not the result. Children need to know that you are proud of them for trying, otherwise they will be reticent to have a go when they find it difficult. They must not be left believing that you only value them when they get things right. Effort will always bring rewards anyway, and a fear of failure is counterproductive.
Paul Dunstan, leadership group member at Aldenham School and father of three children, aged 15, 12 and eight
9. Don't dwell on tricky areas
If one of my children gets stuck, we don’t spend too long on that specific question and we move on to the next one. We come back at it at the end, and usually they’re able to answer the questions as they’ve taken some time away from it.
10. Be a positive role model
We avoid negative language around schoolwork. My wife, for example, would say that maths isn’t her strong point, but never in front of the children. I hear many parents saying things like this, and their child will just follow suit and say they’re no good at it either.
11. Take problems to the teacher
If my children run into problems I make sure the concerns are raised with their teacher: it’s important for them to be informed if a child doesn’t understand something.
12. Get out and about
13. Focus on methodology
If my child is stuck on something that involves maths equations and they can’t give me the answer straight away, I ask them to talk me through the method first; this usually helps them remember and they eventually get to the answer.
14. Be on hand to supervise
When they were in primary school, my children had to do their homework and revision in a public area where I could supervise them. I didn’t let them work in their bedrooms until they had developed strong study habits. I made time to be in the same room with them, sitting and doing my own work – this set a good example and meant I could supervise, praise and gently steer them back on track if they got distracted.
15. Stick to your child's methods
When your child comes home with a task which involves a method you have never seen, don’t attempt to teach them a different way. If you can’t work it out quickly yourself, and your child can’t remember, contact the school the next day to ask for a quick explanation. Schools are well aware that methods have changed in everything from mathematics to the teaching of English and grammar.
TheSchoolRun offers free information about every aspect of the primary curriculum, so check our English glossary, maths glossary, science glossary and computing glossary for a step-by-step parents' guide to everything from adverbials to the water cycle.
16. Set a time limit
Don’t let homework drag on all night. We set a time limit on each piece, depending on the type of homework. For example, if it’s a project, it will be planned over a number of days so my son can manage it easily and make it presentable.
17. Don't sweat it
Rather than just saying, ‘do your homework,’ we read the tasks out loud with the boys one piece at a time, making sure they have everything they need. We then reward them with other things, like screen time. But my advice is not to get stressed about homework: my headteacher opinion is that anything other than reading, spelling and times tables is unnecessary for primary school children.
Steph Matthews, mum to Archie, 13, and Jack, 10
Some names have been changed to protect children's privacy.