Help With Common Homework Problems
I Don’t Know How Much Assistance to Give My Child
While it’s tempting to step in to help him build the Best Toothpick Taj Mahal Ever, remember the central yet often overlooked purpose of homework: “It teaches children to function independently in school and eventually at work,” says Harris Cooper, the chair of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and the author of The Battle Over Homework ($16, amazon.com). So it’s crucial to provide guidance, not the answer key. “Don’t do the work for them—but don’t let them flounder, either,” says Peg Dawson, a school psychologist in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and a past president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Here’s how to find the right balance.
- Discuss your role with your child’s teacher. Bring up the subject of homework at the earliest opportunity. Ask: Does the teacher assume the child will get at least some help from his parents? Will the teacher ever send home assignments that require your assistance? If so, will she alert you beforehand? How much time does she expect students to spend on homework every night?
- Ask your child leading questions. If your kid is hitting the skids with his vocabulary homework, feel free to prompt him, Dawson says. You might ask, “Where have we heard that word before?” Or if he blanks on a writing assignment, ask, “What do you find most interesting about this topic?”
- If you get more involved, fess up. When your kid is really stumped, it’s fine to get hands-on—to complete a math problem or two—as long as you tell the teacher so that she can assess your child’s progress, says Valentine Burr, the director of the middle-childhood general- and special-education program at New York’s Bank Street College of Education. The same holds for correcting errors. Can’t help pointing out that George Washington wasn’t president during the Civil War? Let the teacher know your child’s original answer (on a Post-it, say), but take care to use this tactic sparingly. Remember: “Homework doesn’t have to be perfect,” says Burr. But if a child always seems to have a hard time, something might be amiss (see When More Help Is Required).