Helping Your Child Succeed in Elementary School
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
The foundation for your child’s approach towards schoolwork is laid at home. It is here, guided by your words and actions, that his values and his sense of what is important begin to take shape. With time, he will absorb your views about education and your standards regarding schoolwork. These ideas may prove especially useful to your child when he is having trouble comprehending an assignment or preparing for a difficult test.
The temptation to rescue a frustrated child from a challenging assignment is hard for parents to resist. But parents need to fight off this impulse. If you consistently give your child answers or complete his assignment, he may learn less from the homework than from your response. He will learn that he lacks the ability to complete assignments on his own. He will learn to distrust his own abilities. He will learn to rely on others. Self-confidence will wane and dependency will grow. Overly helpful parents may also give the teacher a false picture of their child’s understanding of the assignment. As a result, the teacher may not provide your child with the appropriate help.
Think of yourself as a consultant or resource person to your child. Be available to help if he asks, but do not impose your help or your way of doing something. You might say the following to your child in explaining your homework policy: “Doing homework is your job. I’m happy to help if you run into a problem or if you need me to check something, but I want you to do as much as you can on your own.”
Helping your child does not always require an understanding of the assignment or the subject. You can assist him by helping him develop a study routine and get organized, by clarifying directions, by reviewing with him for a test, by suggesting where information can be found, by drilling math facts, or by checking completed work. If your child rejects your offer of help, leave him alone. Do not insist, do not badger him, do not bombard him with questions about homework.
There is no magic formula for ensuring your child understands and completes homework and prepares adequately for tests, but you may find some of the following suggestions helpful.
- Tailor your approach to your child’s age. As a general rule, parents should be more involved with homework with younger children. During early elementary grades, you may want to help your child begin the assignment and review the completed work. By fourth grade, however, a little prodding to get going and an occasional offer of assistance may be all that is necessary. If he has difficulty understanding the task, increase your involvement.
- Help if asked but don’t do it for him. Let your child know that homework is his responsibility, but that you are willing to help if asked. Check in with him periodically. When working with him, try to give him clues rather than simply providing him the answers.
- Be positive and success-oriented. In this way, he will be more willing to tackle assignments independently. Begin with relatively easy problems to generate confidence and understanding and gradually move to harder problems. Applaud his efforts and successes and avoid negative or disparaging comments.
- Reinforce homework through family discussion and activities. Showing your child how an academic skill relates to real-life activities (for example, having him use his division skills to help you figure out your car’s miles per gallon) will enhance understanding and retention as well as stimulate interest in classroom learning. Also, consider scheduling trips to places of interest that relate to topics being studied.
- Consider contacting the teacher. If your child is having frequent problems in comprehending homework, is taking much longer than is necessary, or claims he never has any homework, talk with the teacher. As a rough guide, if he is getting more than 25 percent of the problems or items wrong, the assignment may be too hard to be of much educational benefit.
- Work around his learning style. If he is easily distracted, build study breaks into his homework routine. If he struggles to comprehend directions, read them aloud to him or state them in different words. If he frustrates easily, help him take the assignment step by step by breaking it up into smaller, more doable parts.
An important focus of most schools is to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills. To think critically means to look beneath the surface of an issue and to go beyond the information provided. A child who thinks critically does not passively receive information but rather actively evaluates its merits and implications. A child with good critical thinking skills is better able to analyze situations and solve problems.
Parents can foster their children’s thinking and problem-solving skills in the course of their normal interactions with them. How you talk with your child and what you say conveys important concepts. For example, your use of “if —then” statements helps him understand cause and effect and your use of questions helps him learn what is important and relevant.
You can also help him become more intellectually curious and better able to think independently. Toward this end, you want to be respectful of his ideas, opinions, and questions. Rather than telling him that he is too young to understand something, try to explain it at an appropriate level for him. Occasionally ask your child questions designed to make him consider things he may not have thought about. Rather than asking yes or no questions, you might ask questions which begin with “Why do you think . . . ?” At the same time, don’t bombard him with questions or he will feel as if he is being grilled.