By Alice Velthuizen Originally published in Timothy News, Winter 2012 Edition Overheard at Tim Hortons lately, "My daughter got all 'A's on her latest report card. She loves to do homework. I never have to remind her." I watched as the second mom shrank into her winter coat. "I wish my son would apply himself to school," she mumbled. Do you relate to the second parent? Here are some ideas to encourage your child to keep up with homework and be more engaged in schoolwork. 1Acknowledge your child's gifts. God made each child unique and has given your child passions and talents. Notice your child's strengths. Point them out to her. The world's idea of success is different from God's desire for children to love Him above all and their neighbour as themselves. 2Model a love for reading.Your children want to be like you. If they see you reading, they'll want to read. Express your excitement over the things you read. "Hey, did you see this article in the newspaper? It says chocolate is good for you!"
Dads especially should model reading for sons. Express how thankful you are to be able to read the Bible; how helpful it is to read a manual for car repairs; show your child your Bible study material, trade journals, magazines, novels, great websites or blogs. Encourage reading for fun. "School performance correlates more directly with children's reading scores than any other indicator," writes Dr. Laura Markham, clinical psychologist and parenting expert. 3Read with your child.Make it fun by choosing books that are favourites of yours and above the child's reading level. My adult kids have happy memories of reading The Hobbit together on hot summer afternoons during our daily reading time. Also encourage your child to share her favourite books. When listening to your student read, reduce tension. Support your child and discuss the reading with him by asking questions about his opinions and predictions. When a young reader struggles with tricky words, the old stand by "sound it out" is not always the best as about 40 to 50 percent of English words do not follow basic English rules. Think of 'night', 'have', and 'said'). Ask instead, "What tools can you use to figure out that word? What would make sense?" Don't belabour decoding; rather remember that reading should be enjoyable.
4Talk with your children. Discuss issues like world news, politics, history, municipal decisions, the environment, your interests and passions. In hearing you talk and participating in the discussion, your children are learning valuable language that they may later read or use in a discussion. Reading is easier when the topic is familiar. 5Set goals with your child. Ana Homayoun in her valuable book, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week, suggests working toward better homework habits by beginning with a conversation about your child's personal goals. "By taking this step, you are actively helping your child become engaged and invested in his own personal success... You are encouraging him to look beyond the narrow, short term goals of turning in homework and acing quizzes, and allowing him to explore the bigger picture of his dreams and inspirations." (p. 57). Homayoun encourages students to set three academic and three personal goals every semester. The academic goals would include short-term habits (e.g., regularly using an agenda, completing homework without distractions). Personal goals are as unique as the student (e.g., making the volleyball team). Homayoun defines short term goals are those that can be accomplished during a semester. 6Maintain a consistent homework time.Experts suggest that homework be done at the same time everyday. In subjects where students are struggling parents should not accept comments like, "I have no homework." Instead require 10-15 minutes of daily practice in that subject, redoing questions or reviewing class notes. Some experts recommend a family quiet time where everyone reads or studies, so children know homework time is not optional. Seeing parents spend time reading or studying reinforces the importance of this time. Be available to encourage, answer questions, and praise. For students who find it difficult to focus for a length of time, allow for activity breaks. Be a coach, help students break larger projects into smaller more manageable chunks, help uncritically. Communicating with your child's teacher via the agenda, a short conversation after or before school, or a phone call encourages working toward the same goals at home and school. Organizational skills such as time management, planning projects, organizing space, binders and backpacks need much practice over months and years as well as consistent positive support.
7Use positive, win-win approaches. Ana Homayoun begins homework discussions by asking the student for ideas on why the struggle happens, followed by a brainstorming session listing ways to combat the difficulty. She stresses that bribery and negotiation are not helpful because these suggest that grades are more highly valued than learning. As both you and your child recognize that homework is a difficult but worthwhile discipline, hopefully daily homework sessions will improve. I encourage you to celebrate successes even when they are small steps. Maybe a trip to Tim Hortons to crow with your child about well done homework would be in order. (Buy certificates from the office first.) Alice Velthuizen is in her 7th year as resource teacher here at TCS. She supports the grade teachers with her expertise and ideas, and works one on one with students who have individualized programs.