Back to School 2005 - 7 Strategies for Turning Homework into Family Fun

Confession: Before I gave birth to my twin sons, I was a teacher '- not just any teacher, but one who liked to assign projects complete with seven different due dates and two visual aids. This fall, my twin sons will enter the fifth grade, and more than once, when they've taken out their assignment sheets, I've uttered a silent, repentant prayer to the homework gods: "Please, not another project."

Since kids will pick up on your own feelings about homework, it helps to understand its value. According to Sam Goldstein, PhD, and coauthor with Sydney Zentall of Seven Steps to Homework Success, "Homework is an important part of the early school experience, not just because it gives children the chance to practice and rehearse what they have learned, but because it helps them begin the process of becoming independent learners." Homework also links school and home, providing parents with a view of what kids are learning and sending kids the message that learning can take place outside the classroom walls.

Homework, by its very definition, impacts home life, but does it have to mean hours of nagging? The experts say no. Here are some strategies to help kids get off to a good start and make homework a sane and happy experience for your family.

1. A "Learning Station" of One's Own While some kids prefer to work alone in a quiet room, most elementary school students work best when an adult is available to give encouragement and feedback. Goldstein and Zentall suggest building a freestanding, three-sided "Learning Station," using a Peg-Board and hinges (or duct tape), that can be moved to your child's favorite homework spot. Attach a work log, colored folders labeled "assigned" and "completed," and a 12-inch mirror in the center. (Studies have shown that the presence of a mirror improves student accuracy, persistence and independence by increasing the child's self-awareness as she works.) A portable homework supply bin will ensure that every homework session doesn't start with a mad search for a pencil.

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