Last year at the school science fair you noticed that a number of projects looked slick and professional. Your child’s handmade presentation on photosynthesis appeared rather paltry in comparison. You had insisted that your daughter do all the work on her own project. It was obvious that a number of parents had not only helped, but had actually constructed the exhibits. It’s time for this year’s science fair. You want your daughter to be able to hold her own, academically. What do you do?

Kids today often carry a back-breaking load of books and work home from school. We want to be good parents. We want our children to succeed. We want to help them with their school assignments. In giving that help, we may be tempted to solve their problems and even do their work for them. One word of advice: don’t.

You can, and should, encourage them in their work. Here are some ideas to help you provide that constructive support:

  • When your children come home after school or go to their after-school child care, make sure they have a healthy snack. School lunches are often scheduled for late morning. By the school day’s end, many kids are hungry and their bodies need fuel for energy to study.
  • If possible, you, or your child care provider, should give your children an opportunity to run and play for a half an hour or so after school, preferably outdoors. Because of increased testing, many schools are reducing or eliminating recess and/or physical education. Kids who have been sitting in desks all day need free time to play without direct adult intervention. Then they can exercise their imaginations.

Create an atmosphere in your home that encourages study:

  • Make sure your children have a space to study with a table and chair away from the television. Never allow your children to do homework in front of the TV.
  • Make sure you have pencils, pens, erasers, and paper at home.
  • Always have a good dictionary and thesaurus on hand and show your child how to use them.
  • Younger children should do their homework in a communal place, like the kitchen table, where they feel connected to family members or their child care provider. It will reassure them and give them a message of support. Older kids may like to work in their own rooms. Make sure to check on them to find out what their assignments are and if they have completed their assignments. Be available for questions and encouragement. Teens often need as much support as younger kids.
  • Many mistakes are made by kids because they fail to read and follow directions on assignments. It is important to get your child in the habit of reading through directions before beginning homework. Have your child read the directions out loud then explain to you or a child care provider what those directions mean.
  • Many homework and long-range assignments must be researched. Your children need to know how to search the Internet for legitimate information sources, and they need to know how to search for information in your local public library. Make sure your children have library cards and feel comfortable visiting and studying at the library. If you do not have Internet access at home, public libraries can provide that access. Librarians can teach you and your children how to search the Net and how to search the stacks of books for information.
  • Be your children’s editor. If they have a written assignment, read their work out loud to them exactly as they have written it. They will then be able to hear most of their grammar and content mistakes without you having to point them out. Don’t be afraid to tell them to rewrite any assignments to make corrections. Make your children double check their math solutions. Never write something for them or do their math.
  • Do not hesitate to ask for help from your children’s teachers. If your child is having trouble completing homework within a reasonable time or does not understand assignments, write a note to the teacher explaining the situation and ask for help.

And last, if your child asks you for help, teach him or her how to problem solve rather than solving the problems yourself. Let your child know that making mistakes is part of the learning process. Encourage him or her to do all aspects of a project and applaud his or her efforts. By taking a big step back, your kids will not only become knowledgeable problem solvers, they will acquire self-confidence knowing that they can figure things out by themselves.

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance