Homework doesn't have to be a hassle

NIGHTLY homework can sometimes be a hassle for the whole family, not just the doer, with moans and groans resounding throughout the house. But this need not be.

Start early in your child's school life to treat homework as routinely as picking up toys, doing dishes, and feeding the dog. It's something that has to be done. Period.

There's a value behind homework; it's not just busy work a teacher inflicts on his charges. It teaches youngsters to learn independently and to take responsibility for their own work. It's also a link between school and home, letting parents see what takes place in the classroom. Homework can also open up new avenues of conversation between you and your child, provided you're tuned in to what she's working on.

Parents often wonder just how deeply involved they should be. Should they sit alongside their child every evening, overseeing her work, helping her with research, correcting spelling, and the like? Or should they pay no attention at all, letting her shoulder the total responsibility?

A middle ground is probably best. Homework is essentially a matter between teacher and child, but all youngsters work better if they know their parents are interested in what they're doing. While adults needn't get directly involved in studying or do a child's assignments for her, they can provide a helpful atmosphere at home, one that will encourage a young student to do her best. Here's how:

Make study time a daily priority, as predictable as meals or baths. Cut distractions to a minimum -- don't let youngsters watch TV or accept phone calls during this period. If your child has no homework, encourage him to read a library book or practice with flash cards instead. Children thrive on routine, and if regular study time is a part of their day, they're less likely to argue about it.

Set up a study area and make sure that it includes a comfortable chair, good lighting, and enough surface space for materials. Ideally, a child should study in his own room, but dining-room or kitchen tables can work just as well (provided younger siblings are kept out of the way). Having a regular study area saves time and eventually fosters a ``now it's time to work'' response in the child.

Be available. Let your child know that although you will not give answers or do assignments for her, you'll assist in other ways. Help her find magazines or newspapers needed to complete her work. Be willing to listen to her recite memorized material or drill her in spelling words. If she's stumped on a project idea, suggest a few, and if she needs to visit the library, see that she gets there. An interested attitude provides support, while keeping the primary responsibility for homework w here it belongs -- with the child.

Be positive about school. Keep your outlook helpful but lowkey; pressuring a child to get good grades or make the honor roll can often create tension that interferes with the learning process. Instead, give her a pat on the back for her efforts, display her paper on the refrigerator or family bulletin board, attend school functions, and help her see how wonderful learning can be.

Watch for signals. If your child moves her lips while reading, writes illegibly, or can't put a straight sentence on paper, she may need some extra help. See that she gets it -- either from you, the teacher, a tutor, or a special class at school. If she never seems to have homework or always has too much to complete, look into the situation, too. Don't wait for scheduled school conferences; you can make a special appointment with the teacher.

Good study habits, learned early, can be a valuable resource throughout your child's life. Offer help when necessary; let her know you believe in her -- and she'll do the rest.

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