Getting children to do homework takes patience and encouragement

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am


My son's homework has increased dramatically now he is in Year Six and he refuses to sit down and do it. Each night is a battle, and there have been tears and quite a bit of stress all round.

Homework is one of the simplest and oldest elements of formal education but, ironically, is most often subject to the most complex practical difficulties and differing opinions. The issue can be further complicated in a place like Hong Kong, where everybody is busy and it is not unusual for students to attend a range of social and extra-curricular activities that can eat significantly into their valuable leisure time.

However, homework has many positive advantages. Exercises and practice activities can be used to reinforce what has been learned during the school day. Completing these successfully can boost students' confidence, making them ready for the next day in a kind of virtuous circle. As students progress through the school, more creative and open-ended activities enhance thinking skills and promote more effective problem solving. Controlled access to the internet using authorised sites can be particularly powerful in this regard.

Regular homework develops a healthy work habit that is not only good in itself, but also helps prepare students for the transition to secondary school, especially as they reach Year Six. You do not say if your son has a comfortable work space free of distractions. Although this can be difficult to provide in Hong Kong, it is as essential for children as it is for adults.

Teachers work hard to set appropriate, productive homework. However, unless they have only a few students it can be virtually impossible to tailor it so that is a perfect match for each child. This is where you can make the most valuable input. Schools generally have a homework policy that sets out objectives and often gives clear guidelines about expectations. These guidelines should include the types of homework to be set and an approximate idea of how much time it should take. Finding out exactly what these details look like at your son's school will be a good start.

Talk to your son about the value of homework. Offer to help him but don't do it for him. He needs to be independent and take more responsibility for not just his own learning, but also his time management as he gets older. Good habits last for a lifetime. Share your concerns with his class teacher. It may be possible for the teacher to adapt some elements of the homework and give extra encouragement, at least in the short term until things get back onto an even keel.

Households vary and specific circumstances can have an enormous impact. You do not say who is at home when your son arrives back from school, for example. Nor do you say what your own attitude is regarding the right balance of his homework and recreational activities.

Every child is different and their needs vary depending on how much energy they have left when they arrive home and their inherent levels of commitment and concentration. Some prefer to get homework over and done with while others need some down time to recover from a busy day.

You should be positive and persevere. Gentle encouragement and patience may be necessary in the short term. Getting homework right is important, but developing the right attitude is vital. In the end, homework works best when it is a positive experience. By working with your son and his school, you can play a pivotal role and set him on the path to academic success.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school