Setting a Nightly Homework Routine that Works for Any Child
My favorite of the questions we pose to applicants during their admissions interview is: What do you want to know about Dawson? I’ve heard some pretty great answers throughout the years, such as, “How would you describe the teachers here?” Others’ answers have made me laugh: “How did they get the bear to leave those footprints on the sidewalk?” And one, from a child who had spent the previous weekend house-shopping with his parents, stumped me entirely: “How many square feet is the Dining Hall?” But after meeting dozens of applicants, by far the most popular question is: “How much homework will I have to do?”
The Purpose of Homework at Dawson
Since I’m lucky enough to work at a Challenge Success school, I never tire of answering this question because I know our homework philosophy is what’s best for kids. At Dawson, we believe that excessive homework negatively affects the student’s work-life balance and impedes a love of learning. The homework students receive will be related to an enduring understanding that was already introduced in class. It will be meaningful work that extends knowledge of a topic or allows the student to achieve mastery. Often, the homework will leave room for student voice and will allow him or her to choose from a variety of formats, tasks, or topics.
Ideally, a parent’s role in this process is that of homework supporter rather than homework policer. Because most of us grew up in an environment where the purpose of homework was to complete the work to earn a grade, many parents feel an underlying pressure to make sure their child’s homework is complete each night, completed correctly, and done without help from the child’s classroom teacher. This pressure can lead to a nightly power struggle at the sacrifice of family time. The correct homework routine can mitigate most, if not all, of this strain.
Setting a Nightly Homework Routine
The type of homework routine that will work best for your child depends upon his or her unique needs. What works for one child might not work for another, and whatever system worked for you when you were in school might be completely different than what your child needs. Considering each of these factors will set up the best routine:
Time: When will your child begin homework? Some students are most productive directly after the end of the school day, but many students need a break first. For accountability, I suggest setting a designated start time for homework, whether it’s after dinner or 30-minutes after they walk through the door. Kids who have sports practice or longer commitments in the evening might work best in the morning before school. Just make sure they set aside enough time so they aren’t rushed, while also ensuring they have adequate time for sleep each night.
Interval: Another factor to consider is the amount of time the child can reasonably be expected to sustain attention. Some children will need frequent stretch breaks--every 10 to 30 minutes--while others prefer to hyperfocus on a task to completion. If your child prefers periodic breaks, use an hourglass or timer app to ensure that the break doesn’t turn into an hour of procrastination.
Environment: Providing a designated workspace is also important. Some children will need a quiet area away from distractions, such as a desk in their bedroom or in an office. Just make sure these locations don’t include common distractors such as TV or cell phone access. Other students work better with some ambient noise and might like to sit at the kitchen counter while you cook dinner or listen to instrumental music on headphones.
Planning and Prioritizing: Creating a homework plan is a great way for your child to practice executive functioning skills. Most children will need help deciding what tasks to prioritize in the beginning, but after a while, you should be able to release this responsibility to the student. Begin by asking questions such as: “What assignment will take you the most time to complete?” “Which assignment has the earliest due date?” “What are you most looking forward to finishing?” Often it’s helpful to make a written plan on a large erasable calendar or on a task-management app, such as Todoist.
Since the purpose of homework at Dawson is to extend and enrich concepts taught during the day, students shouldn’t need a parent to “teach” the content of the homework. If your children bring home work that they don’t understand after a few small hints or are spending a significant amount of time on an assignment, email your child’s teacher or write a note on the top of the page asking them to review the work with the student during the school day. Encourage middle schoolers to email the teacher themselves or to talk to the teacher during advisory or between classes to make an appointment for extra help. Another strategy for older students is for them to text or call a friend for help. Just make sure your child doesn’t get sidetracked on the phone after getting the information they need.
A second common homework difficulty is when students don’t have the executive functioning or time management skills to independently and efficiently complete their work. Sometimes I talk with parents who think their child is spending two or three hours doing homework, only to find upon investigation that most of that time is being spent toggling between homework and video games or watching Youtube videos. If you have nightly homework routines or procedures in place and still find yourself having to sit next to your child to ensure homework gets done, there may be a physiological reason your child is struggling. This is the time to set up a meeting with your child’s teacher to see if other adults see the same behaviors during school and to access additional resources to help.
The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.