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Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: We all want our kids to succeed at school, and helping them with their homework is one way to achieve that. But finding that perfect balance between helping them out and letting them learn on their own is no easy feat. However, it is possible -- and ultimately crucial to learning.

mom helping son with homework

"It's important to remember that homework is the child's work," says Ann Dolin, author of "Homework Made Simple" and founder of Educational Connections, a tutoring and test-prep company. "If your child is answering the majority of questions correctly, leave it as is and let her turn it in the way it is."

Step 1: Know When to Help

Kids in kindergarten and first grade are too young to work independently, so you'll have to help them with any homework assignments they have. But by second grade, most kids should be working on their own for at least part of the time. "It's such a turning point," says Dolin. "At that point, they really can do it alone."

Step 2: Know When to Walk Away

Sit with your child while she completes the first item in the assignment, so you know that she understands it and can complete it accurately and independently. Then, despite your inclinations to stay and help, walk away. This is her work, not yours. If she has trouble working independently or is anxious about going it alone, set the timer for five to 15 minutes so she knows you'll be back to lend a hand. Sometimes, just getting focused is the hardest part -- and giving your child a limited time frame helps her get over that hurdle.

Step 3: Skim

When your child is finished with his assignment, skim it to make sure that it has been completed and that your child followed the directions. Don't check every question to make sure your child answered them correctly -- that's the teacher's job! Your job is just to make sure that the work is done. If eighty percent of the work is correct, allow your child to turn it in as is. After all, homework is meant to be a way for the teacher to assess a student's progress; if nothing is ever wrong, the teacher won't know where your child needs help.

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25 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous October 4, 2010, 7:43 AM

As a teacher, I couldn’t agree more with this article, especially the final point.

I had a child recently, (I teach esl here in China) turn in a piece of journal writing that involved a weather report. There was a lot of technical language in it that prompted me to ask if she’d used a dictionary, the internet, or if her parents had helped. Her parents had helped because she hadn’t known how to get started, but they helped too much and did end up telling her to write something they found on the internet. When she wrote it again by herself, there was nothing wrong with it. Spelling and grammar yes, but the ideas she used were absolutely sound and this time I knew it was coming from her.

As for the mistakes, the mistakes are important. If parents correct the work first, the teacher can’t see where the child’s weak points are - are there words that are consistently being misspelt; is the child constantly mixing up ‘b’ and ‘d’; Are all the students in the class making similar mistakes, if so, how do I, the teacher, address that?

PhotoJoe October 12, 2010, 12:48 PM

Do not correct their work? One point of homework is to have perfect practice.

Tests are for assessments, homework is to hone the skills gained in the classroom. If I let my kids do everything wrong, not that they do that, much, what they are reinforcing is the wrong way to get the assignment done.

Parents should be providing feedback to teachers so they know where a student needs extra help, instead of waiting for the next test. (Just last week I had to send a note back to school w/ my oldest to ask if extra instruction was available for a particular bit of his language arts coursework. How to define and identify prepositions and helper verbs were two things that just destroyed him one evening.)His teacher responded by providing some extra material for us to work on together and after a few evenings practice he can ID them anywhere in any sentence he’s looked at since.

That said, I’m in full agreement with the first two major points regarding independent working and making sure they know you’re still there to supervise and/or help if they need it.

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