In my children’s school district, kids get their first homework assignment in first grade. Though it’s a small, quick assignment, the amount of homework steadily increases to a reported two hours per night by the time they reach high school. Our school district emphasizes that homework must be purposeful and meaningful, and teachers are committed to giving reasonable amounts of homework, but parents and their children still struggle with the time commitment.
I taught middle school English for five years, and a cornerstone of my instruction was teaching my eighth grade students how to manage their time, so they could complete their work—and do it well—before it was due and effectively study for tests. In later years, I taught my students simpleyoga poses and breathing exercises to help them center themselves on stressful days and prepare to focus in class. Now that I have my own children, I expect these skills to be paramount to my life and theirs. Here are my tips for helping kids handle the stress of school.
Time Management Skills for Kids
Write everything down. Using a homework sheet or an online schedule, write down the due dates for assignments (homework, tests) and other responsibilities (feeding the pets, soccer practice, babysitting). After writing down the due dates, write “essay due 12/10” down on every day prior to the due date, unless there is a day they know they won’t have time for homework. This will allow each item to be completed in increments, which can help kids feel more in control of their time and responsibilities, lessening stress.
Plan to complete assignments in increments. Most kids don’t have a sense of how long a typical homework assignment (math homework, reading a book, writing an essay) really takes, so it can be hard to imagine how to break it down into chunks. This can often result in procrastination, incomplete assignments, or low test scores. Completing assignments in increments empowers children and reduces stress.
For example, when writing an essay, rather than trying to write an entire rough draft in one night, I always encouraged my students to write just the thesis statement the first night. The next night, they would write the intro paragraph. The third night, they would write the first body paragraph, and so on. Most of my students reported that they were able to complete the first drafts of their essays within a week very comfortably—and nobody had to pull an all-nighter writing a draft.
Parents and children can work together to choose a reasonable amount of time for kids to spend on homework each day and then decide how to break that time down to spend some time on each assignment.
For example, let’s say Joe is in seventh grade. He has an hour available on each weekday afternoon to do homework, and he has a book report due in two weeks and a math assignment due in one week. Joe could plan to read a chapter of his book each afternoon and do two math problems each day, in order to get both assignments done by their due dates.
Remember to schedule the fun stuff. Have kids add after-school sports, dinner, and even leisure time to their schedules, so they feel like they’re prioritizing fun.
Be realistic. I taught an eighth grade boy who was a dedicated water polo player. He failed a vocabulary test one week because he had so many water polo commitments that he couldn’t find time to complete his vocabulary homework or study for the test. Once I confirmed with him and his parents that water polo was something he truly loved, in which his parents supported him, I worked with him to identify the days when he simply wouldn’t have time to do any homework. On the days when he had time to sneak in some work, he committed to spending just 15 minutes doing vocabulary and had enough time in the week to complete the next assignment and pass the test. He had to accept that water polo was probably eating into his work and study time enough that it might mean he wouldn’t do as well as he wanted to academically; but for him and for his parents, that was an acceptable trade-off. None of us can do everything perfectly. It’s OK for families to prioritize some things over others.
Schedule your life each week. It takes most people about fifteen minutes a week to schedule their time, a worthwhile time expenditure if it lessens stress later in the week. Once parents and children have worked together to plan how to get the work done, it’s time to follow through.
Getting the work done
Choose the right setting. I always did my homework at a comfortable desk in my bedroom, but my husband liked doing his at the family dining table. Talk with your child about how and where he or she works best—in a quiet place, or someplace with some hustle and bustle? At a desk or a table? With music, or without? Help your child set up a comfortable homework spot.
Fuel up beforehand. Well-fed kids have more energy and find it easier to focus. Make sure your child has a healthy snack before starting homework.
Take breaks. Taking short breaks every half hour, especially for older kids, can make it easier to focus. Yoga, meditation, or even a short spurt of exercise outside gets the blood flowing and brings oxygen to the brain, making it easier to get back to work.
Supervise homework and studying. It can be challenging to walk the line between micromanaging homework and not helping at all, and this is especially tricky for parents who work full-time. Checking in with your child to see how things are going or having a sibling or babysitter check in if you aren’t home can help you monitor the work without taking over. I recommend doing a nightly check-in, especially with elementary and middle school kids, to see what the child had planned to complete and what actually got done. This can help you avoid surprises closer to assignment due dates.
With high school students, you’ll still want to check in regularly to see how effectively your child is using his or her studying and homework time. Is the setting helping or hindering the process? Are study groups helpful? Do you need to look into tutoring? Keep the lines of communication with your child open, so you can troubleshoot areas of concern sooner, rather than later.
As a freelance writer, I employ most of these techniques in my own work life, and I look forward to seeing how they work with my kids. Let us know how these work for your family, and good luck!