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Curing Homework Headaches

Nix the kitchen-table battles with a 'Family Study Time' schedule

For many families, after-school time has become a battlefield, filled with tension and tears as children struggle to complete assignments and parents struggle to maintain a peaceful family life.

But that homework has important merits, from reinforcing classroom lessons to finding appropriate resources, collecting needed materials, budgeting time and meeting deadlines – in other words, becoming an independent learner.

Our family's cure was the "Family Study Time." Could it work for you?

What is it?

For starters, there's a set schedule. The overwhelming majority of families I talked to had one suggestion: Do homework right after school. One mother's schedule is: 1. Come home from school, 2. Have a snack, 3. Do your homework, 4. Play. There is absolutely no deviation – except for something special, like a doctor's appointment.

Family Study Time occurs in an environment where the child can work comfortably and without distractions. "Most children do best when they can work in an area set aside for homework and study," say John Beaulieu and Alex Granzin, authors of Working Parents Can Raise Smart Kids.

"A designated study area gives your children a place to keep their learning tools in the same place. Being in this area evokes a sense of purpose within your children, and helps them focus on the tasks at hand." Many parents choose a central area of the house, so that they can be nearby to help as needed.

Family Study Time doesn't mean that parents take over homework. You're there to offer support, provide a quiet comfortable study area and answer questions as necessary. "Your role is to support, not lead," say Beaulieu and Granzin.

Handling hot spots

Arguing is off-limits during Family Study Time. "Avoid heated exchanges over homework," says Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book: 4,278 of Mom Central's Tips. "If your child lashes out at you, simply say, 'I'm not the person who should be helping you with this. It's too frustrating for both of us. Let's figure out a different solution so it isn't this hard on either of us.'"

Many parents suggest calling classmates, homework help lines or waiting to ask the teacher the next morning. "Suggest that your child mark the problem or assignment for discussion with her teacher, and move on to the next assignment," say Beaulieu and Granzin. "Learning to ask for help when you are confused or don't understand is an important skill."

Instituting it

Armed with these suggestions, I decided to give it a try. On a Monday afternoon, my 8-year-old son entered the house and did his familiar "fling the backpack on the ground, I'm outta here" routine.

I stopped him and told him that he, his 11-year-old sister and I were going to have Family Study Time. I had already prepared the space by making sure the TV and my beloved radio were turned off. The table was cleared of toys; the pencils were sharpened. When he argued that this was "no fair," I stayed calm, and told him that we were all going to participate.

With that, I pulled out my bills and pulled up a chair. He declared, "I have no homework!" I was prepared for this too, and had multiplication facts ready for him to work on; something his teacher had mentioned he needed to learn. I told him I was there to help; he could ask questions if needed.

After he had worked for a while, I asked if I could check a few problems to be sure he was on the right track. He was, so I let him finish the work without my help. His sister, meanwhile, started her Greek project, something that she'd been putting off. We all finished our work. Then, they both ran outside for the trampoline. And I got my bills paid.

The verdict

Homework is no longer cause for dread in my family. My children know that they're coming home to a place that's quiet, loving and free of distractions and arguments.

Assignments are now just another routine – one that provides a positive opportunity for my kids to learn, and a chance for our family to have good, fun, quality time together.

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