Homework Solution #2: Place

Father helping daughter to finish homework

Another common homework battle is over place. The goal is a well stocked, well lit space with a good table or desk and a comfortable something for reading.

Well stocked means having everything your child might need for homework for the year. In elementary school this might be pencils, erasers, wide lined paper, markers, crayons, colored pencils, pencil sharpener, construction paper, tape, glue and a ruler. By fourth grade add a protractor, poster board, a dictionary and thesaurus. By middle school a compass, highlighters, index cards, college lined paper and pens. At some point, depending on your child’s school this should also include access to the internet. At any grade, it may be helpful to have a list pad. Children can list their homework and check off tasks as they finish.

It may be helpful to have a table or desk that is a comfortable height for your child and provides enough table top space to spread out their work. It’s nice to also have a good beanbag or comfy reading chair nearby. For all of this, also helpful to have bright enough work lights.

It’s best to plan all of this in a space that is relatively calm and quiet. The kitchen table may not be the best place if it’s during dinner prep and a TV is often on in the room.

If they can give each other quiet and space, it can be fine for siblings to work in the same room. If not, separate rooms are also fine. My girls shared the kitchen table in grade school and often put up a science fair board as a boundary between them.

It can be helpful to also provide a place for their backpack. In our house this was a painter’s tape X in the foyer. Homework was not done until it was in the bag and on the X.

Homework Solution 1: Time

Homework Solution 3: Organization



Homework Solution #1: Time


The most common homework concerns are related to time, space and organization. I am linking three blog posts with the aim to answer each.

There isn’t a best time to do homework, just several options. The idea is to find what fits your family best for now. There are some children who just want it done. These kids might start homework during the ride home and finish the rest before doing other things. I wish these were my kids. Others need a break after school. They need to eat snack and move their bodies before tackling homework. For some families after dinner is the time. I think this is also fine as long as there is truly enough time to get it done and it’s not making bedtime later. Some families fit homework time in the morning. This seems the riskiest. Maybe if my child was an early riser, they could put their 20 minutes of reading in the morning. The drive to school might be a good time to review spelling words each day.

Whatever your decision, good to include the children in the conversation. Ask what time they think is best and why. With schedules being as busy as they are, it might not be the same time each day. A child might have different activities at different times each day. Get a calendar, add the activities, discuss the homework times and add them. The aim is to have all their activities and homework times for the week on the calendar by Sunday. This lets your child know that homework is a priority and hopefully lessens the debate about when to get started each day.

Another consideration is the amount of time homework takes each day. The trick is to first consider how much time it typically takes, or should typically take. If your child is focused and working, what’s the average? When my older child was in second grade it took about 20 minutes so we set the minimum at 25. This meant Monday through Thursday there was a 25 minute stretch marked on the calendar for homework or homework type tasks. If she finished early, she was welcome to study her spelling words, play academic computer games or practice recorder to finish the time. I’m easy on this one, over the years I allowed word finds, crosswords, piano practice, sudoku and the occasional MadLibs. Having a minimum amount of time to finish discourages them from rushing through. If the nights they only have a few minutes of homework, they wrap it up and go play, the push may be to rush everynight.

The 25 minutes is also a sort of maximum. If they are off task lots or arguing about homework during the 25 minutes, when the time is up homework is done. Talk to them about how it could have gone better, maybe write a note to teacher about why things aren’t finished for the night. The goal is to encourage them to focus and really work to get things done during the time. By all means, if they are working the whole time and need more, give them more.

It’s also good to consider how much time homework takes in general. I still lean on the 10 minutes per grade. Twenty minutes for a second grader and forty for a fourth grader seems to be plenty. This may vary once they hit middle and high school based on the classes they are taking. If it’s taking significantly more, maybe good to check in with your child, other parents and the teacher. It is helpful to know if your child is on task or not, if it’s just your child taking longer or others and what the teacher’s expectations for time are to begin with. Also helpful to look for patterns, are they taking longer for writing or math assignments, are they taking longer if they start later in the evening?

It may be helpful to teach your child to organize their homework time each night. This means making a checklist of tasks, including study time and pieces of longer projects. It may be helpful to start with the hard tasks first to get through them while they are fresh.

It’s beneficial for this to be a quiet, working time for the whole family. Older siblings might do their homework at the same time, younger siblings might look at books or work on puzzles. Parents might read or work.

Homework Solution 2: Place

Homework Solution 3: Organization

How to Encourage Kids to be Independent Problem Solvers

mother helping in homework to her son

Whether you have a four-year-old working on a new puzzle, or an 11-year-old working on difficult math problems, there are effective ways to support the problem solving process. Your tone, words, intensity and approach are all important. Overall, the goal should be the child becoming a more independent problem solver.

Here are several tips to get you started.

  • A warm and positive exchange – If helping your child with homework becomes a shouting match, take that as your cue to stop. Supportive problem solving is meant to be just that, it requires that you keep your calm. Frustration and upset tends to close down problem solving.
  • Ask how they want to be helped –  If a two-year-old asks you for help, just help. If an older child asks for help, pause and ask how they would like to be helped. Then listen and do your best to follow their lead. The goal here is for your child to feel in charge of the problem solving process and to take as much ownership of the process as possible.
  • Best to tie new knowledge to what is previously known – If a child is moving up from 25 piece to 60 piece puzzles, remind them how to look for edge pieces or to group by color. If your child is learning multiplication, start by reviewing repeat addition.
  • Give hints and suggestions not answers – When a second grader asks how to spell ‘elephant’, the last thing you do is spell ‘elephant’. Look through a zoo book together to find it, sound it out slowly and have them write the letters they hear, or type “ele” in the Google search box and help him choose from the words that pop up. If you just spell it, you are doing all the problem solving. Get them started in one of these ways, and they are learning to problem solve.
  • Focus on giving minimal help – The goal is to give the child just enough to be able to move forward.
  • Corrections shouldn’t feel like corrections – This is an easier guideline when children are young. When a two-year-old says ‘ram-baid’ for ‘band-aid,’ hopefully you don’t come down on them in a heavy way. You might say, “oh, you need a band-aid. Let’s go get you a band-aid.” Clearly modeling a correction, but the child doesn’t walk away feeling corrected. This can be much harder as your child gets older. Let’s say you just helped your 11-year-old work through three difficult math problems, each with several errors. Your child confidently says he’s got it and moves on to the next problem to immediately make the same errors. You feel frustrated and say, “no! That’s not how you do it. You are doing it wrong again.” That correction feels like a correction. At this point, your child doesn’t want to sit next to you let alone do math with you. A better thing to say would be, “hmm, that one looks tough too. Let’s look at the one just above,” or, “look at the problem we just did together. Can you find how we solved that one differently?” Clearly a correction, but it doesn’t feel so heavy.
  • Allow your child to struggle – It’s not good to let your child struggle to the point of tapping out, but it is good to let them grapple some. Jump in at the first sign of frustration, and you may be stopping the independent problem solving process.
  • Be flexible in your support – The idea is to give more help when they struggle and less help as they succeed. Listen to their words and watch their body language to know when they are moving forward.
  • Ask open ended questions – Open ended questions are better than choice, and choice questions are better than yes/no. Open ended questions allow the child to think about the possibilities and consider options. While choice questions at least allow the child to make a decision. These are more flexible for problem solving than yes/no questions which just require agreement.
  • Talk through your own problem solving – If you are working next to your child on a puzzle, talk about how you are matching colors or looking for certain shapes. When working through a math problem, talk about each step in detail. Hopefully your language will become their language in independent problem solving.
  • Process is more important than product – If you want your child to take ownership of outcomes, they need to have ownership of the process. This means letting them make decisions and letting the work be theirs. In second grade, Alicen had to make a time line of her life. She picked the pictures, wrote the captions, organized, drew arrows and glued. I thought it looked great. She didn’t think people would be able to follow it. I pointed out the arrows and she said the arrows weren’t enough; that it needed numbers. She proceeded to write a big, purple, Magic Marker number covering every picture. That would not have been my decision, but, in the end, she was thrilled with the outcome and took full ownership of her time line.
  • Remain available – If you are unavailable when kids get stuck, they tend to give up.
%d bloggers like this: