A Handout for Parents
by Virginia Smith Harvey,
University of Massachusetts-Boston
Many capable children at all grade levels
experience frustration and failure in school, not because they
lack ability, but because they do not have adequate study
skills. Good study habits are important for success in school,
to foster feelings of competence, to develop positive attitudes,
and to help children realize they can control how well they
do in school and in life. Good study habits lay the groundwork
for successful work habits as an adult.
For children to learn good study skills,
teachers and parents must work together. It is most important
to help children build good habits, to develop a system that
works for an individual child, and to use the system effectively
and consistently. Preferred learning styles vary from child
to child. Children need to discover how they learn and then
work out a study system that fits best. Parents of elementary
aged children usually help their children more than parents
of adolescents. However, adolescents also need parental support
and encouragement throughout high school.
Four Basic Principles to Enhance Study
1. Make homework completion a positive experience:
associate it with love and affection, freedom, fun and control.
2. Make homework completion a high priority.
3. Use homework completion to teach organization
skills and improve learning skills. Remember that the primary
purpose of homework is to improve learning and foster work habits.
4. Provide and enforce logical and meaningful
Make Homework Completion a Positive
Associate it with love and affection, freedom,
fun, and control. Possible ways to do this are to:
· Provide support and praise for homework
· Be available to provide non-critical
· Give children choice in when, where,
and how they complete homework assignments.
· Encourage your children to complete
homework well enough that they have a sense of control over
their own learning and levels of competence.
· Maintain a positive and helpful attitude:
avoid criticism and anger.
· Help children understand what types
of homework they enjoy and encourage them to choose assignments
accordingly. Some prefer written reports, others prefer hands-on
· Use homework preferences in developing
a homework schedule. Some children prefer to get disliked homework
done first, while others prefer to do their easier work first.
· When a child dislikes subject, find
ways to make it less frustrating. For example, set a goal of
doing five math problems and then taking a stretch.
· Encourage your children to participate
in study groups with friends. Research shows that children who
form study groups achieve at a much higher level than children
who always study alone.
· Encourage your child to have fun
such as eating a snack, calling friends, starting an activity,
or watching a favorite show when homework is finished.
· Never use homework as a punishment.
· Be a good listener, and encourage
your child to ask questions about things that are hard to understand.
· Set aside time for your children
to share with you the skills and information they are acquiring.
· Help children study for tests by
quizzing them on the material in a friendly manner.
· Have your children imagine themselves
as excellent students. Then brainstorm what needs to be done
to make that a reality.
Make Homework Completion a High Priority
· Make clear that you expect your children
to complete homework well.
· Establish a study routine: children
should be in the habit of studying at the same time and in the
same place each day. Children and parents should decide, together,
upon the study routine by taking into account scheduled activities,
family commitments, and favorite TV shows. Also, consider the
child's ability to concentrate at different times of the day.
Many elementary school children are too tired after dinner,
and show this by having trouble concentrating, being easily
frustrated, and being slow to complete tasks. Ideally, the family
agrees upon a study hour, the television and stereo are off,
phone calls are not taken, and the entire family studies, reads,
or completes paperwork.
· Establish a place to study with good
lighting and a table or desk. Some children prefer to study
in their own room. Others do better if they are studying at
the kitchen table or other location near parental help. Some
children are able to study with a little background noise such
as music. Few can study effectively in front of the TV and most
need uninterrupted quiet. Other children may prefer to work
at the library, and will need transportation.
· Have supplies on hand including binders,
notebooks, paper, pencils, pens, assignment books, erasers,
dictionaries, a calculator, ruler, hole punch, tape, glue, reference
books and/or programs.
· Demonstrate, and enforce, that homework
completion is a higher priority than other activities. A child
should not watch TV and talk with friends before completing
homework, unless time later in the day has been set aside upon
for homework completion.
· Reduce activities if a child has
so many commitments that there is insufficient time for homework.
· Have help available for every subject.
This might be a parent, neighbor, friend, teacher hot line,
an on-line homework service, or a tutor. The helper needs to
be someone who is knowledgeable about the subject and who can
help the child without becoming frustrated or angry.
· Establish a family expectation that
studying for exams is expected and takes priority over other
Use Homework Completion to Teach Organization
Skills and Improve Learning
Keep in mind that the primary purpose of
homework is to improve learning and foster work habits Possible
ways to do this are to:
· Encourage your child to use an assignment
book, write all assignments into the book daily, and check them
off when completed. Your child should also break down long term
assignments, such as projects, into smaller parts and write
each part into the assignment book. Many children also find
it helpful to put other commitments into the assignment book
as well, including music lessons, sports, and jobs.
· Encourage your children to estimate
how long it will take to complete each assignment and plan their
· Help your children set goals regarding
how well they want to do on an assignment and how much effort
it will take to do that well. This will help them learn to divide
study time effectively.
· Help your children learn to plan
for finishing assignments on time. They should start working
on major assignments or reviewing for major tests well ahead.
· Help your children expand their concentration
time. At first they may be able to concentrate for only 10 minutes.
Parents can help their children build up this length of time
gradually, so that homework takes less time. Even high school
students should take a 10 to 15 minute break after studying
for 45 or 50 minutes. Otherwise, they lose the ability to concentrate.
· Encourage your child to circle the
verbs in directions.
· Encourage your child to review class
notes and add details, make corrections, and highlight the most
· Encourage your children to improve
reading skills by having them pre-read non-fiction reading assignments
(reviewing the headings, picture captions, reviewing tables,
charts, and graphs). Children can pre-read fiction by reading
the front cover, back cover, and introduction, and skimming
the first quarter to determine setting, character, and plot.
· Encourage your child to determine
the meaning of unknown words by using the context or by looking
them up in a dictionary and writing them down.
· Help your child learn effective reading
techniques such as SQ3R, where the reader:
Surveys: Looks over
the material before beginning to read to obtain a general orientation.
Questions: Writes down
questions about the material before beginning to read.
Reads through the material
in the normal way.
Recites and Writes:
Writes down or gives the answers to another person.
Reviews: Goes over
the material several times before being tested.
· Encourage your child to outline or
"map" reading material for better understanding. To
"map," a child places the main topic in the middle
of a blank sheet of paper. Then a branch is drawn for each subheading,
and supporting details are placed on smaller branches going
out from the subheadings. This creates a visual aid that increases
organization and comprehension.
· Make sure your children are able
to understand their textbooks. Children should be able to read
9 out of 10 words accurately and answer correctly a least 3
out of 4 questions.
· Help your child predict outcomes,
distinguish fact from opinion, discern emotional appeals, recognize
bias, discern inference as they read.
· Encourage your children to organize
thoughts before beginning a written assignment, and write at
least two drafts.
· Have your child proofread and check
for success or failure in answering the purpose of the assignment,
legibility, neatness, spelling, complete sentences, and punctuation
· Help your child to see tests as an
opportunity to "show off" what they have learned,
rather than something to be feared.
· Help your children predict test questions
as they study for tests.
· Encourage your child to space learning
over several sessions instead of cramming the night before.
Five hours of study spread over a week is better than studying
five hours the night before the test: cramming for tests increases
anxiety and causes lower grades.
· Avoid acting as a tutor for your
child. If a child needs a tutor in a particular subject, call
the local high school and ask for a student tutor through the
Provide and Enforce Logical and Meaningful
· Each week, have your children assess
their own homework completion by reviewing returned papers,
tests and quizzes, and current grades. With your children, note
their progress, improvements, areas of need, and jointly plan
how to solve any problems.
· Display well-done work in a prominent
place, such as on the refrigerator door.
· With their help, graph your children's
grades. Include the grades for each class, the average grade
for all classes, and an agreed upon target line. The target
line should be the grades that you and your children agree are
reasonable and obtainable (if your child is now receiving D's,
a reasonable goal is grades of C: to first set the goal at A's
will lead to frustration). Discuss the graph with your children,
help your children identify any patterns of poor performance,
and jointly develop solution plans.
· Teach your children to bring all
necessary materials home. If your children get in the habit
of "forgetting" homework materials, have them spend
time on reading or working on other academic activities during
the agreed upon study time. Your children could also walk back
to school to pick up forgotten materials, or be charged "gas
money" out of their allowance for being driven back to
school. Or, with the help of a school psychologist or counselor,
set up a system that rewards them for bringing everything home.
· Sometimes children "lose"
completed homework in their books or backpack. Placing all completed
homework in one folder in the backpack can solve this problem.
· If a child does not complete homework,
reduce the freedom the child has until grades improve and the
teacher indicates that the problem is solved. Methods of reducing
freedom might be (a) giving your child less control about where
and when homework is completed, (b) parents checking the quality
of completed homework every evening, (c) parents and teachers
maintaining ongoing communication in the assignment book, or
(d) the child not being able to participate in a planned activity
such as a field trip.
· Reward your child for good grades
and for improving grades. Your child's preferences should be
considered in deciding upon the reward, but the rewards need
not be expensive. Going out together for an ice cream cone,
or telephoning a grandparent to tell them of the child's success,
are examples of inexpensive but effective rewards.
· Provide support and genuine praise
for homework completion and good study habits.
Canter, L. (1993). Homework without tears.
New York: HarperCollins.
Mack, A. (1997). A+ Parents: Help your
child learn and succeed in school. McBooks.
How to help your child achieve in school
(1988). Pueblo, CO: Consumer Information Center (Dept 109M).
Rosemond. J. (1990). Ending the homework
hassle: Understanding, preventing and solving school performance
problems. Andrews & McMeel.
© 1998 National
Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway,
Suite 402, Bethesda MD 20814 301-657-0270.
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