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October calls for a fresh approach to homework

By Betsy Flagler
John Rosemond
Betsy Flagler, who lives in Davidson, writes the nationally syndicated Parent to Parent column.

How much time is your child spending on homework? Probably too much.

Dilly-dallying, petting the dog, looking for supplies and eating chips don’t count toward homework time. That’s how a 30-minute assignment gets stretched into two or three hours.

It’s October, and time for a fresh start with a new attitude.

“With homework, every day is a brand-new day,” says Victoria Naumann of Brain Balance (brainbalancecenters.com), an organization that helps children overcome obstacles. She adds that there’s no reason to bring up any previous tantrums or shortcomings.

One New Jersey mom is among the parents ready for a new attitude: Her fifth-grade son says he hates homework and drags it out for hours. Just when she decided to back away from his struggles, she got a call from his teacher saying she needed to be more involved. The mom, herself a former teacher, cuts off homework time after three hours of math, reading, writing and project work every night, she says.

To deal with a situation like theirs, Naumann says to communicate with your child’s teacher about how long he or she expects each assignment to take. This provides a start and finish time, instead of homework seeming to go on and on. At a recent parent workshop presented in Cornelius, Naumann shared additional homework tips from Brain Balance, including:

• Once you find out from the teacher how long homework assignments should take, help your child set up a timetable with 10-minute breaks. Or set a timer for, say, 90 minutes, then offer a reward such as screen time once the work is done.

• At a parent-teacher conference, discuss the option of having your child do fewer problems for each task.

• Give your child a 20-minute break between school and homework. But during that break, your child needs to get into homework mode, which doesn’t happen by slouching on the couch and eating junk food. Instead, he needs to eat a protein-filled snack and get the blood pumping to his brain with some exercise.

• Have a designated study station. Your child needs to be sitting up to keep his brain awake.

Like it or not, homework is our children’s job: They need to give their best effort, show you their work when they are done and turn it in the next day, says M.L. Nichols, author of the new book “The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5” (Ten Speed Press, 2013). Nichols says a general rule for homework time, backed by the National Education Association, is about 10 minutes per day multiplied by the grade, with daily reading as an extra. So second-graders would have 20 minutes of homework, plus reading time.

If your child is spending significantly more than the suggested time for her grade, talk to her teacher and become more involved in her homework, Nichols suggests.

Tips from her book also include:

• Establish a set time and place for schoolwork, then stick with it. Kids thrive on routine.

• Make screen time an after-homework privilege.

• Help your child break the assignments down into manageable sections. Encourage your child to start with the hardest work first.

• If your child does not understand a concept, play school and have him teach it to you. Ask questions that encourage your child to think.

• Help your child set up a timeline on a calendar to manage and organize large projects and papers, instead of leaving them until the night before.

Email Betsy Flagler at p2ptips@attn.net.

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