Certain key practices will make life easier for everyone in the family when it comes to study time and study organization. However, some of them may require an adjustment for other members of the family.
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Turn off the TV set. Make a house rule, depending on the location of the set, that when it is study time, it is “no TV” time. A television set that is on will draw youngsters like bees to honey.
What about the radio or other audio devices? Should it be on or off? Contrary to what many specialists say, some youngsters do seem to function all right with the radio turned on to a favorite music station. (Depending on the layout of your house or apartment, maybe an investment in earphones would be worthy of consideration.)
Certain rules should be set about the family phone during study hours. The more people in the household, the more restrictions on long and unnecessary phone calls are needed. A timer, placed next to the phone, can help to control the length of calls so that the telephone will be available if it becomes necessary to call a schoolmate to confirm an assignment or discuss particularly difficult homework.
Designate specific areas for homework and studying. Possibilities include the child’s room or the kitchen or dining room table. Eliminate as much distraction as possible. Since many young people will study in their own rooms, function becomes more important than beauty. Most desks for young people really don’t have sufficient space to spread out materials. A table that allows for all necessary supplies such as pencils, pens, paper, books, and other essentials works extremely well. Consider placing a bulletin board in your child’s room. Your local hardware store sells wallboard that might not look too pretty and isn’t framed, but a 4 x 3’section is inexpensive and perfect on which to post pertinent school items. You might want to paint or cover it with burlap to improve its appearance or let your child take on this project. Encourage the use of a small book or pad for writing down assignments so that there is no confusion about when certain assignments must be turned in to the teacher. Keeping general supplies on hand is important. Check with your child about his needs. In fact, make it his responsibility to be well supplied with paper, pencils, note pads, notebook paper, et cetera.
Regularity is a key factor in academic success. Try to organize the household so that supper is served at a standard time, and once it and family discussions are over, it’s time to crack the books. If the student doesn’t have other commitments and gets home reasonably early from school, some homework can be done before supper.
Consider you child’s developmental level when setting the amount of time for homework. While high school students can focus for over an hour, first-graders are unlikely to last more than 15 minutes on a single task. Allow your child to take breaks, perhaps as a reward for finishing a section of the work.
Organize study and homework projects. Get a large calendar, one that allows space for jotting down things in the daily boxes. Rip it apart so that you (and the child) can sequentially mount the school months for the current semester. For example, you can tear off September, October, November, December, and January and mount them from left to right across one wall. Have the child use a bold color writing instrument (felt tip pen) to mark exam dates in one color, reports that are coming due in a different color, et cetera. This will serve as a reminder so that things aren’t set aside until the last dangerous moment.
Teach your child that studying is more than just doing homework assignments. One of the most misunderstood aspects of schoolwork is the difference between studying and doing homework assignments. Encourage your child to do things like:
- take notes as he’s reading a chapter
- learn to skim material
- learn to study tables and charts
- learn to summarize what he has read in his own words
- learn to make his own flashcards for quick review of dates, formulas, spelling words, et cetera
Note-taking is a critical skill and should be developed. Many students don’t know how to take notes in those classes that require them. Some feel they have to write down every word the teacher says. Others have wisely realized the value of an outline form of note-taking. Well prepared teachers present their material in a format that lends itself to outline form note taking.
Should notes ever be rewritten? In some cases, they should be, particularly if a lot of material was covered, and the youngster had to write quickly but lacks speed and organization. Rewriting notes takes time, but it can be an excellent review of the subject matter. However, rewriting notes isn’t worth the time unless they are used for review and recall of important information.
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A home dictionary is essential, but if it is kept on a shelf to gather dust, it won’t do anyone any good. Keep it in an accessible place and let your child see you refer to it from time to time. If the family dictionary is kept in the living room and the child studies in his room, get him an inexpensive dictionary for his exclusive use. Good dictionary, encyclopedia and organizational skills depend on the ability to alphabetize. See if your child’s teacher practices alphabetizing in class. Try alphabetizing spelling words, family members’ names or a few favorite toys at home as a way of practicing.
Help your child to feel confident for tests. Taking tests can be a traumatic experience for some students. Explain to your child that burning the midnight oil (cramming) the night before a test is not productive. Better to get a good night’s sleep. Students also need reminding that when taking a test, they should thoroughly and carefully read the directions before they haphazardly start to mark their test papers. They should be advised to skip over questions for which they don’t know the answers. They can always return to those if there’s time. Good advice for any student before taking a test: take a deep breath, relax, and dive in. Always bring an extra pencil just in case.
During a homework session, watch for signs of frustration. No learning can take place and little can be accomplished if the child is angry or upset over an assignment that is too long or too difficult. At such times the parent may have to step in and simply halt the homework for that night, offering to write a note to the teacher explaining the situation and perhaps requesting a conference to discuss the quality and length of homework assignments.
Should parents help with homework? Yes-if it is clearly productive to do so, such as calling out spelling words or checking a math problem that won’t prove. No-if it is something the child can clearly handle himself and learn from the process. And help and support should always be calmly and cheerfully given. Grudging help is worse than no help at all! Read directions, or check over math problems after your child has completed the work. Remember to make positive comments – you don’t want your child to associate homework with fights at home. Model research skills by involving your child in planning a family trip. Help your child locate your destination on a map or atlas. Use traditional encyclopedia or a CD-ROM to find information about the place you will visit; try the Internet or books in the library.
How best to handle report cards? To save shocks and upsets, gently discuss from time to time “how things are going at school- with your child. Something casual, such as “How did the math test go?” “How did you do on the history report?” “How’s your science project coming along? Need any help?” are questions that aren’t “third degree” but indicate interest. Find out if it is a policy at your child’s school to send out “warning notices” when work isn’t going well. Generally, such notices require the parent’s signature to verify that the parent has, indeed, been alerted. This is the time to contact the teacher of the course, along with your child, to learn what the difficulty may be. If such notices aren’t sent, then grades on projects and reports and from tests may be the sole source of information short of what your child wishes to share. Be tuned in to statements such as “He’s an awful teacher,” “She goes too fast,” etc. This may be the child’s way of indicating frustration in understanding content or lack of study time with the subject. However, be cautious in contacting teachers without your child’s approval or interest. It may disrupt good feelings between you and make you seem to be interfering and spying.
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For lots of helpful FREE internet tools for research and mastering subjects check out these sites:
I hate homework day.
Five minutes into my daughter starting it, she’s asked 4 irrelevant questions and walked across the room twice – for no reason.
She had a break when she first got in from school, and had a snack. Then we agreed to a little outside time before starting homework.
She’s got the book open and a pencil in her hand, but that’s the sum total of her achievement so far.
Her mind doesn’t seem to want to sit still – preferring to bounce all around the place. It’s like her mind is a magnet, and when it’s put near homework, it repels away from it.
When she was 5 I thought she would grow out of it, but at 8 years old I was beginning to worry.
As someone who likes to get in and get things done, it drives me nuts.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter dearly. But the way she gets distracted every 5 minutes during homework time is enough to make anyone go crazy.
She’s highly intelligent, has loads of positive energy and is warm and engaging. She can focus long and hard on anything she is interested in. But getting her to focus on homework she isn’t keen on? Damn near impossible.
I just couldn’t sustain parenting positively unless I got this under control. I wanted to take some action.
At one point when her distraction was driving me nuts, I had started to wonder if I should get her tested for attention deficit disorder (ADD). My research on this topic led me to discover some behavioral techniques used with ADD kids, that are also applicable to any child having difficulty focusing.
I decided to try them for teaching my daughter how to focus on homework. Some worked better than others but overall it has been a great success. Here are the ones that worked for us –
#1 Keep It Short
When it came to doing homework, we kept it short and broke it down. Generally, that meant one ten-minute stint a day, instead of one 30-40 minute block each week.
Each time she wandered off task (mentally or physically), I would gently guide her back to the homework.
I kept the focus light and pointed out the fun parts of her work. And I bit down hard on my tongue every time I felt like screaming “If you just stuck to the task and focused you could be done already!”
#2 Use A Timer
We looked for fun and novel ways to get homework done and one was to race the timer. The trick to this was to set her up for success.
So, if I estimated a task could be completed in about 2 minutes, I’d set the timer for 5 minutes. Each time she started chatting about something, I’d say something like “I hope you beat the timer!” or “Don’t forget – you want to beat the timer!”
#3 Wear Them Out
My daughter has loads of physical energy, so I made sure she got lots of exercise. Even now she needs to do lots of running around, or physical activity to wear her out a bit.
I’m not talking about making her run a marathon every day. Just encouraging and supporting her to move her body.
I worked with her natural rhythms as much as possible. I realized she had more energy in the afternoon, so we often went on outings in the morning.
If she’d been to school for the day and we were going to spend a few minutes on homework, I’d encourage her to go and jump her jiggles out on the trampoline before we sat down to focus.
#4 Kept It Positive
I focused on her positive outcomes as much as possible. Whenever she breezed through an activity I would give her positive feedback.
“Look how quickly you finished writing out your words! You stayed focused and you finished that in no time. Well done!”
We’d always start homework early and allow extra time to get things done, so I had to be organized and plan ahead. This meant I could sometimes say, “Wow! You finished your homework the day before it’s due. Great effort!”
#5 Give Up
There were times when I just gave up. Now, I’m not usually a quitter (our family motto is “persevere”!) but there are times when it’s clearly not the best course of action.
If we’d been working on a homework task for a long time and she was just getting less and less focused, I’d call a stop to it. When a five-minute task is only half done after 25 minutes, and there’s no momentum, there really isn’t any point continuing.
This is a tricky one, and I didn’t use it often. She’s a bright girl and she knew she hadn’t finished what she set out to do that day. But if we kept trying and getting nowhere, we would both become very frustrated and dejected – no good ever comes out of that.
So I’d suggest we leave it for now, and come back to the task when we were fresher. This way she wasn’t failing, it just wasn’t the right time.
#6 Eat More Fish
Crazy as it might sound, eating more fish or taking fish oil supplements, is apparently helpful.
Now, I’m not a nutritionist and I understand that the fish oil theory is unproven. But there seems to be research to support the fact that fish oil high in EPA (rather than DHA) can help improve focus.
I figured it was something that couldn’t hurt, so I did it. It seemed to me that each time her fish oil consumption dipped, she became less focused.
I’ve no real evidence to support that – it may just be in my head. 😉
#7 Encourage Self-Management
This is something I’ve only just discovered through reading the book Nurture Shock which discusses a preschool program called Tools of the Mind.
The Tools of the Mind program produces brighter children who are classified as gifted more often, but more importantly, it also produces kids with better behavior, greater focus and control.
Classes involve role play and each child creates their own detailed plan of their part. If a child gets off track, the teacher refers them back to their plan.
One of the ways the program helps is through encouraging planning and time management by setting weekly goals. This helps to wire up the part of the brain responsible for maintaining concentration and setting goals.
The Tools of the Mind philosophy is that every child can become a successful learner, with the right support. Children learn by using the skills they currently have – such as drawing and play. They think through their play plan, then draw a detailed record of it, then carry it out.
Using their skills in this way teaches children to set achievable goals, work out how to reach them, and stay on track. They learn they can be responsible for their own outcomes. We’ve been using this to teach my daughter self-management.
#8 Work Together
My daughter is nearly eleven now and has matured a lot over the last year. And I’ve just started using self-management techniques to help her set goals and plan how she’ll achieve them.
Earlier this year she said she really wanted to improve her grades, which I said was a great goal. Then she said she wanted to be involved in band, which means taking some band lessons in class time.
I asked her to plan how she intended to achieve both goals, given she has other extra-curricular activities she wants to keep up.
She created a plan to practice her instrument regularly and do more homework than she has previously. We’re at week 7 of our school year here in Australia, and so far she’s on track.
She dives into homework without being reminded and gets it done early. She’s also completing homework tasks to a higher standard, rather than madly (and messily) rushing through them.
Since starting band she’s been practicing twice a day, every day – without being asked. I know that if she loses momentum, or strays off track, I can direct her back to her own plan.
#9 Understand The Scale
At the end of the day, these traits are all a scale. Many of us can be inattentive and unfocused at times.
We all have different strengths and weaknesses. And attention and focus can vary wildly, particularly in the early years.
It partly depends on the environment, and partly the child.
Try and take the pressure off, and work with your child’s strengths.
Break tasks down and keep them fun.
Aim for a balance between physical and mental focus, and remember it’s OK to give up if the timing isn’t right.
Have realistic expectations, and know that your child’s focus will improve with age.
Don’t be scared to quit when things really are not working. Not doing a perfect job on the homework once in a while is not the end of the world. If it comes to a choice between quitting for the moment or screaming and yelling at your kids through the task, choose love and call it quits.
And finally, hang in there. It’s all going to be OK.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take a moment to consider your child’s behavior.
- How does it compare to other children? Either their siblings or a number of other kids of a similar age? (Try to compare them with a range of other kids – rather than one or two)
- Does your child seem to have age-appropriate behavior and focus? If you’re concerned, do you need to seek help?
- How can you start breaking down big tasks into manageable (snack-sized) sections?
- Is your child able to focus on things they like doing? Can you use that in your favor?
- Are your kids distracted by things that could be controlled?
- What strategies can you put in place to keep your kids focus?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Brainstorm some roles that you can use to elicit certain behavior. If you need your child to be quiet and still for a few minutes, what can they pretend to be? A King or Queen on a throne? A soldier on guard? Good posture during homework is a good idea, but if the only way to get your child to do it without a fuss is to let them pretend to sit on a throne or stand in attention, go for it!
- Think back over the things that your child struggles to focus on. How can you get them to use self-management techniques to improve?
- If it seems impossible to get your child to focus and pay attention ask yourself this: “If it were possible, how would it be achieved?” Make some notes.
- Take a moment to check out why Tools of the Mind works so well and think about how you might use their strategies at home.