Your third-grader never seems to have any homework. The 12-year-old intends to do his ''later,'' after a very important TV show. And if you check the high-school sophomore, you'll discover she's solving those algebra problems while listening to rock music or talking on the telephone.
Should parents get involved in homework? If so, to what extent?
Homework is essentially a matter between teacher and child, a means by which the students develop self-reliance, learning to work on their own and to take responsibility for their work. Although parents can certainly give a bit of help on special assignments, they defeat this purpose if they regularly insert themselves into the learning process, sitting alongside children every evening, checking each paper or doing research.
Instead, their obligation is to organize homes in a way that will make it easier for youngsters to do their work. By providing the proper atmosphere and structure, parents can at least get their children started. Much of the rest is up to them.
Here are a few tips that may help:
* Each day, set aside a definite time period for homework. Children feel secure with routine and are less likely to balk at study time if it is as predictable as meals or baths. Although some childen don't mind doing their homework right after school, most seem to need some physical activity and socializing at these hours, accepting study time more happily if it is scheduled after dinner. Whatever time is chosen, make sure it becomes a priority.
If a student never seems to have any homework or says it's completed in class each day, better check with the teacher. If students are, in fact, caught up on assignments (or if they are in a primary grade where homework is not given on a daily basis), establish the study habit anyway. Encourage them to read a library book, practice printing, or work on stamp collections - any intellectual pursuit that will help develop a pattern.
* Have a definite place for homework, preferably isolated from other family activities. Ideally, children should be able to study in their own bedrooms, equipped with desk, supplies, and a good reading lamp. In larger families or smaller living quarters, there are other options.
Dining-room or kitchen tables make good work spaces with large surfaces for papers and books. Roommates can share a long piece of fiberboard mounted on two cubes, where supplies can be stored.
Wherever the work space, have the child use it all the time. Not only can materials be nearby, thus cutting down on time spent gathering everything together, but sitting down at a familiar spot will eventually trigger a ''now it's time to study'' reaction. By contrast, a youngster who wanders aimlessly each evening, looking for a place to do a math assignment, wastes a lot of energy.
* Keep distractions to a minimum. A home cannot be completely silent, but even the most avid scholar will become discouraged if surrounded by noise and conversation.
TV and telephone calls should be off-limits during study time. If this means temporarily removing the upstairs extension phone, do it.
If teen-agers insist they study better with the radio on, be sure they keep the volume low.