There’s no escaping homework! How to help and motivate your child
When a child starts elementary school, they have to adjust to a new way of learning and to doing homework. Homework is an opportunity for them to learn how to pay attention and get organized. It’s how they learn responsibility and get used to the idea that to achieve their goals, they need to put in a certain amount of effort.
How to help your child with their homework
Academic success and homework are a shared responsibility between teachers, parents, and students. Maintaining a good working relationship with your child’s teachers throughout their academic career will help you support your child’s efforts.
How much time should homework take?
The amount of time needed for homework will vary, but at the start of elementary school, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes every evening, 4 times a week. The amount of homework your child is assigned will gradually increase from one year to the next. If you think your child is taking too long to finish their homework, discuss it with their teacher.
At the beginning of elementary school, your child will need constant support with their homework and lessons. Their autonomy will increase over time, but they will always need to feel that you are there to help them if needed.
Here are a few suggestions to help you support your child during homework time:
- Remind your child to double-check that they’ve packed their school bag with everything they need to do their homework (e.g., books, notebooks) before leaving the classroom at the end of the day.
- Help them get organized. Establish a routine with them that includes homework time. Show them how to do it step by step.
- Make sure they have an appropriate environment in which to work with sufficient lighting. Some children like a little ambient noise to help them concentrate, while others prefer silence. Try different things until you figure out what works best for your child.
- Avoid distractions while doing homework (e.g., screens, phone calls from friends, loud music).
- Stay close to your child while they do their homework so that you can support them until they’re able to read and understand instructions on their own.
- Even if you feel that your child is becoming more autonomous, keep supervising their homework and making sure they’ve done a good job. This shows your child that you’re interested in what they’re doing and that you’re there for them if they need you. As things progress, as long as they aren’t dealing with any particular difficulties and have developed good work habits, they’ll need you less and less.
- If your child finds it difficult to stay seated at the table to do homework, suggest other places for them to work (e.g., on the living room floor or in a little nook under the stairs). Whatever environment they choose, it should help them concentrate and learn.
- Have realistic expectations. Let your child learn at their own pace. They may find some subjects harder than others. The most important thing is for them to do their best.
- Be patient, but firm. Set clear rules and make sure your child follows them. For example, no television or visiting friends if they haven’t finished their homework.
How to motivate your child to do their homework
Your child may not like doing homework, but it’s not something they can avoid. Here’s how to keep them motivated and help them persevere.
If your child is still struggling despite your help, talk to their teacher to find out if they’re having the same issues in class. If you suspect they might have a learning disorder, consult a specialist to diagnose the problem and find helpful solutions.
- Praise your child’s efforts and celebrate their successes. Pointing out their achievements and positive results is a great way to keep them motivated, to show them how much they’ve learned, and that their efforts are paying off.
- Take an interest in what they do. Pay attention when they tell you about their experiences. Share their excitement when they succeed or decide they like a new subject. You should also listen to them when they’re having trouble. Your child needs to feel that you’re there for them.
- Stay positive. Don’t make them feel bad if they don’t get it right the first time or make mistakes. Failure is a part of learning. Instead, encourage them to take note of their mistakes and try to do better the next time.
- Remind them how much they’ve learned so far (getting dressed without help, counting to 10, etc.). Make sure they know why they are learning what they are learning.
- Stay confident and show your child that you believe in them. Try to find solutions together.
How to deal with homework tantrums
If your child refuses to do their homework and gets upset or throws a tantrum, it could be due to one of the following reasons:
Their day has tired them out.
They’ve been through an emotionally difficult situation.
They can’t figure out an effective way to work.
They don’t understand the homework instructions or can’t remember what they learned in class.
How should you react?
- Tell your child that you understand what they’re going through and name the emotions you think they’re feeling.
- Give them a 5 to 10 minute break to calm down or move around if they need to.
- Give them the choice to either finish their homework now or play for a while and do their homework later.
- Divide the work into smaller steps. This will make the challenge seem less daunting, and your child will experience small successes with each completed step.
- Review the material related to the assignment or do some research on the topic together.
Having trouble figuring things out?
If your child is having trouble with their homework, here are a few things you can try.
If you’re not comfortable with some of the concepts your child is learning at school, check out the Alloprof
website. Alloprof also offers help by phone. The service is free of charge, and the calls are answered by teachers.
- Go over the homework instructions with your child. Make sure they understand it all and suggest they look up answers in their school books.
- Don’t do the work for your child and don’t give away the answers. Give them hints instead. For example, ask them how they might find the information they need, or if they can remember what their teacher told them. Brainstorm with them to help them find the solution. But let them find it and understand on their own.
If you think they need an example to understand what they need to do, show them how you would solve a similar problem in front of them. By acting as a role model, you can help them develop strategies.
- If your child often has trouble understanding or doing their homework properly, talk to their teacher. They’ll be able to help you find a solution.
- If your child continues to struggle with issues that could affect their academic performance, try enrolling them in a homework or tutoring service or catch-up sessions with their teacher. Check with your school to find out what services are available.
Make lessons and homework more fun
As parents, we often have set ideas on how lessons and homework should be done. But homework doesn’t always need to be done at a table. The important thing is to make learning a positive experience.
Here are some examples of how to liven up homework time and make it go more smoothly for some children.
Pick a different spot to study and do homework. For example, have your child learn addition tables or vocabulary words while sitting on the living room floor.
Roll a ball to your child as you explain the problem to be solved, then have them roll it back to you as they come up with an answer. Many children learn best when they’re actively doing something.
If your child likes being active, let them to run up and down the hall as they spell out their vocabulary words.
Make up funny stories with math problems. For example, you can say: “Mr. Funny has four toes. After eating some chocolate, he suddenly grows 5 more toes. How many toes does he have now?”
Try doing homework using different materials. For example, practise math exercises together by writing on a board or window instead of on paper.
Turn homework into time well spent. Snuggle up together on the couch and read a story or have your child read words and even whole sentences to you.
What’s homework for, anyway?
Some parents and teachers wonder whether doing homework is actually useful. Here are a few arguments in either direction.
Homework gives parents a window onto what their child is learning and an opportunity to get involved in their school life.
It provides parents with a better link to the teacher and makes following their child’s academic progress easier.
It allows children to review or strengthen the concepts they learned in class in a quieter environment.
It helps children develop their autonomy, since it requires learning how to organize their time, work space and materials, and ask for help when they need it.
It teaches children responsibility, since they must learn to write their homework down in their school agenda and then do it.
After they get home, children need to be active and disconnect from school.
Being tired from their day may reduce their readiness to learn, and some children will have a shorter attention span and a reduced capacity for organization.
Parents are often pressed for time in the rush of everyday family life, or don’t feel equipped to give their child the help they need to do their homework.
Children don’t all work at the same pace. Those with learning difficulties may need more time to do homework.
Some teachers believe that the time it takes to check and grade homework would be better spent on teaching, which would make it possible to learn more things in the classroom.
Many teachers have replaced homework with reading time at home, which is easier on both children and parents. Reading requirements can easily become quality family time, where everyone sits together and reads their own book.
Things to keep in mind
It’s normal for a child to face challenges and react negatively while doing homework.
Your presence and support during homework time is necessary in the early years of schooling.
Even if your child gradually develops a certain amount of autonomy, your supervision during homework time will still be important.
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: June 2022
Photos: GettyImages/JohnnyGreig and romrodinka
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Alloprof Parents. Theme: Homework assistance. alloprof.qc.ca
Alloprof. Games. alloprof.qc.ca
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Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur. Gouvernement du Québec. “Homework and studying – Supporting and guiding my child.” 2011. education.gouv.qc.ca
Raising Children Network. “Homework.” 2021. raisingchildren.net.au
Shingler, Benjamin. “Un nouveau projet-pilote supprime les devoirs au primaire.” Le Devoir, September 2, 2014. ledevoir.com