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Homework help: Let kids do most of the thinking

FILE ILLUSTRATION BY HECTOR CASANOVA

Parents often wrestle with how much homework help to give children.

Kristy LeCoque of Lee’s Summit checks her daughter’s homework every night and points out mistakes, but the 9-year-old is responsible for correcting them. “What I struggle with the most are the large projects,” LeCoque says. When she was having difficulty with a book report, for example, “I would help her go back through some of the chapters and guide her to the answers.”

Michele Brewster of Parkville has never regretted giving occasional help to her five sons, ages 19 to 5. Often it’s just a matter of getting them to do the homework, she says, instead of procrastinating.

She would prefer they ask for more help, instead of just heading to Google for the answers. “I want them to learn how to solve the math problem, for example, and understand how they did it, instead of just getting the answer off the Internet.”

A little help becomes too much, Brewster believes, when the parent does the work and writes answers on a paper for the child to copy.

Ashleigh Dick of Peculiar has helped all 10 of her children, ages 19 to 7. “I make them read directions and try on their own first,” she says. “If they have questions, I talk them through the answer.”

Dick, who is a teacher, questions if sending kids home with work reinforces learning. “It is best for most students to learn a lesson at school and have time to work on it where the teacher can be there for questions,” she says. “This way teachers know that the students are doing the work and not the parents.”

Adult involvement in homework varies from level to level and class to class, says Sue Denny, the executive director of school administration for Blue Valley Schools in Johnson County.

“While family support is generally encouraged, it is important that students complete the homework themselves,” Denny says. Students learn from practicing new learning, making mistakes and correcting those errors. If parents over help, students sometimes miss the learning opportunity, she says.

The most important role that families can play, Denny believes, is providing a time, a setting and a regular homework routine. If routines and expectations are set at home during the elementary years, those habits will continue throughout middle and high school.

Heather DelaCruz of Grandview tells her 10-year-old daughter that homework is her job, just as her parents have their jobs.

Some nights two hours can be swallowed up working on assignments, she says. “I have been tempted to give her the answers so we can get on with our evening, but that doesn’t teach her anything.”

Children aren’t just learning math, science and social studies, DelaCruz explains. They are learning time management and coping with adversity. “Childhood is practice for adulthood. As a parent, it is my job to prepare my daughter to work hard, be an independent person and have an arsenal of good life skills,” she says.

“Ultimately, the students are the ones that need to demonstrate they have mastered the curriculum, but so much of the process is discovery,” explains Assistant Principal Joshua Peters of Winnetonka High School in North Kansas City. Parents can help guide their children through this process and sometimes even learn alongside them. This type of involvement helps them to better understand what their children are learning.

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