Because education has changed a lot since most parents were schoolchildren themselves, it is useful to know how to support your child to do their homework, while not actually doing their work for them, of course.
Different schools have different homework policies - some set homework for older students but not younger ones, some set homework for all students.
Talk to your child’s teacher to find out their approach to homework. If your child’s school doesn’t get homework at this stage in their learning, that’s OK as they will still be learning what they need to at school.
There’s always plenty of debate about the value of homework, especially for primary school-aged children. According to some studies, homework is not very useful for this age group, or has only a small benefit. However, it’s generally agreed that reading at home is very beneficial and it’s likely that your child will bring home books to read to you.
Some schools may also encourage you to work with your child on basic maths facts or spelling tasks.
If homework is part of the school policy, research suggests this should be short and frequent and closely monitored by the teacher for maximum impact. Your child’s teacher should provide feedback to your child for it to be beneficial.
Studies have also found interactive homework set by teachers and involving parents has a very positive effect, for example, using maths fractions when preparing food.
Teachers set homework for different reasons so it can be helpful to know why so that you can support your at home. You may want to ask them if it is to practice skills like maths and spelling, fix new learning in your child’s memory, check how successful the classroom teaching has been or whether your child needs some help or apply what they have learned to new situations or contexts.
Homework might also be designed to encourage you to get involved in your child’s learning.
If your child does bring work home, here are some ideas for helping them:
Let them have a bit of time to unwind after school as they will have been working all day. They are also likely to be hungry, so give them a snack and a drink - their brains work better with some fuel on board.
Make sure they have a good environment to work in. Let them choose a comfortable space. Clear away any distractions and keep siblings away from them so that they can concentrate. Decide together how long their homework will take and ensure they have everything they need before they start - a set of fun stationery just for homework can be a great motivator.
If they get stuck with their homework you can help your child solve problems by explaining or showing them the steps required to complete a task. Make sure that you let them do the steps though.
One good idea is to make up a similar question or task as an example. Show them how to work through it and then get them to have a go at their homework task. Try giving clues rather than the answer. Keep the clues simple and if necessary remind them of all the other times they have been able to work things out.
Ideally homework will be connected to something they’ve already learned, so encourage them to think back and start from what they can do. Don’t help them too much.
For example you could explain where and how to find information, rather than actually giving it to them.
Now for the big question: What if you don’t understand their homework?
If you’re confused by your child’s homework, the best thing to do is talk to their teacher. You certainly won’t be the first parent to have done this.
It may be that your child is happy to ask for help and then they can explain things to you. They may also be able to find answers by by asking an older sister or brother.