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Creating a Homework Environment

Eight simple ways to help your kids manage assignments at home – without the tears and struggles

Most parents have tales to tell about helping their kids with homework. Sometimes, the experience can be a great learning, bonding moment. And others? Going through just one math problem or reading assignment can reduce your child (and you!) to tears.

Give your child's homework habits a boost with these hints on making this after-school tasks a bit more bearable – and maybe even fun – for both of you.

1. Break it down. Who says your child needs to do all her homework at once? After sitting at school for seven hours, it's no wonder kids battle back when immediately required to sit for one more. Instead, choose one subject at a time to work on. Ask her about her day and then tackle assignments that she enjoys first. Then, give her a break until after dinner for the rest of her work. Also, organizing big assignments, like essays or science projects, into smaller parts helps kids feel like the work is more doable.

2. Dig deeper. Do you know what your child is learning in social studies? What about English? Chances are homework will give you some idea, but you should also talk to your child about what he's studying. By making discussion about school a normal part of your everyday routine, homework will come more naturally. Take your child to the library, too, and check out books and DVDs that reinforce the lessons.

3. Find 'the place.' Avoiding distractions isn't easy when it comes to finding somewhere in your home for your kids to study, undisturbed. Try an approach some tutors use: Instead of having all your kids sit around the kitchen table, have them work in different places. Or at least try to make ensure they're all working on similar topics at once. Ideally, you should have a devoted "homework" desk.

4. Make it a competition. While some homework doesn't seem to lend itself to timing, with a little creativity, you might find a clock can make the task faster – and easier. For a math assignment, for instance, try: "Let's see if we can get this page done in under three minutes. Then you can time how long it takes me to check your work." While this may get tedious if you do it too often, try the stopwatch when you really need to get your child motivated.

5. Reward them. Find out what your kids enjoy doing after school – and use that as a motivator. This may be TV time, play dates or even a board game with mom or dad. Just be forewarned: Once you figure out that magic activity, your child will likely be on to something else. In other words, as with all things in parenting, flexibility is key.

6. Switch roles. Instead of playing the role of teacher and your child as student, let your child show you what he knows. In the process, he might figure out that the question he'd been struggling with, he knows the answer to. Putting your child in the role of teacher can also help if you have several kids. Older siblings might enjoy a chance to show off their skills by helping little brothers or sisters understand concepts they've already mastered.

7. Remember your goals. Minding the point of the assignment will help you help your child – without getting you both frustrated and irritated. Think of it as a balance. In other words, if flipping through multiplication flash cards is making your child edgy and unhappy every time you try to work on it with him, maybe it's time to ditch the cards for another method.

8. Know when to quit. Some parents can be more patient going through assignments than others; some kids are more receptive than others. Honestly consider the personalities at play. Be aware and adjust when your approach isn't working: Consider checking an online resource (check out our homework help websites), calling someone else in the class, or taking a break and coming back later. You also can take advantage of free tutors both online and at local libraries if helping your child just isn't working out.

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