Back-to-School Homework Routine

Need a little homework help? Get back into the swing of things with these 6 simple steps.

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 06, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Summer vacation's over, and your child probably feels just like you do -- not quite ready for all that schoolwork yet! You can both ease back into the homework routine with these tips from Deborah Linebarger, PhD, associate professor of education at the University of Iowa.

Kick it off. Even if you don't have your official school supply-list yet, go pick out staples such as pencils, erasers, and folders. Take this opportunity to talk with your child about organization: "How many folders do you think you'll need? Where will you keep your homework assignments?"

Ease back in. Your kids have probably been going to bed a bit later during the summer. Don't wait until the night before school starts to get back to a structured bedtime routine. About a week before the big day, start moving bedtime back toward its normal school-year schedule.

Give them space. Organize a dedicated homework space with plenty of supplies, whether it's the dining room table, a child-sized table in the kitchen, or a desk in your child's room. Let your kid help you plan, and set up her area so it feels like she owns it. Whatever the space, make it well-lit and free of distractions like TV and toys.

Set a schedule. You child should do her homework at the same time every day. Many kids need a break after school for a snack and a little running around first. It's best to get homework done as early as possible -- when it drags on past dinner and toward bedtime, the work is likely to take longer and be sloppier.

Break it down. Younger kids might get a week's worth of homework on Monday to turn in by Friday. Older children may have big responsibilities like term papers and science projects. Help them break large projects into smaller steps, and make sure they start early.

Encourage "peer collaboration" -- to a point. It may be helpful for siblings close in age to do homework together. The older one may be proud and happy to offer help to the younger one. But if they bicker more than they cooperate, it's time for neutral corners.

Focus Points

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, she'll have extra challenges with homework. She'll need even more supervision and guidance, Linebarger says.

"Start by breaking up homework into really bite-sized amounts," she says. "For a younger child, that may be only about 10-minute increments. Expand them slowly as they show they're able to handle it." And expect that your child will need you to watch her homework efforts closely to make sure she stays on task.

When she gets distracted -- and she will -- encourage her to do something physical to get back on track. "Let her jump up and run around for 5 minutes, or have him do 10 push-ups or 30 jumping jacks," Linebarger says. "Research shows that acute physical activity right before a challenging mental task helps to control behavior."

And be sure to catch them being good. "Kids with ADHD often hear lots of criticism. When they manage to sit still for that 10 minutes of homework, or come home with their homework folder in order, give them lots of praise for making a great choice," Linebarger says.

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Deborah Linebarger, PhD, associate professor of education, University of Iowa, Iowa City.

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