Organization and the formation of habits are key to academic success.
1Set a schedule
Whether it’s right after school, after a snack, or after dinner—depending on your schedule—set a time for homework that is fixed, and stick to it every day. This is a way to establish a ritual, which helps our children form a habit. It’s easier to form a homework habit when it’s tied to a regular and necessary daily activity than if the homework time is random. For the weekends, try to work out in advance with your children if they will do their homework on Friday evening or on Saturday, to avoid having to face cold sweats on Sunday evenings.
2Determine a place
Children need benchmarks. Decide which place is most convenient for you and the quietest for them: their bedroom, a home office, or the kitchen … and don’t change it! According to their age and needs, you can decide how nearby you need to be—not necessarily next to them, but close enough to be available. In first grade, children aren’t autonomous; they may not even be able to read the instructions yet. On the other hand, by 6th grade, many children can do much of their homework entirely on their own.
For writing assignments, children should have a draft notebook that stays at home rather than loose sheets. This way, you’ll be able to check their work for mistakes and help them go over their own work. If you have younger children who don’t have homework yet, explain to them that you need to be available for the older ones, and give them a task they can do independently. If you have several children who have homework, try to accompany each of them as needed, having them do their homework at the same time. This will help them be more focused; one may have trouble concentrating if the other is playing in the room next door. Ideally, they shouldn’t be sitting side by side.
4Teach them good habits of orderliness and autonomy
Doing as much as they can on their own, checking their own work when it’s done, emptying their pencil sharpener when it’s full, asking for a tube of glue when it’s empty, storing their backpack … These are among the many habits children are quite capable of acquiring, and which will help them gain autonomy. Don’t do things for them that they can do themselves.
5Discover your child’s strengths and weaknesses
Homework is the moment when you discover what your children are like as students. It will help us gradually become familiar with another aspect of their personality: the subjects they love, and their way of working, managing failures, handling frustration. We will surely find many things to appreciate about them, too: their abilities, their progress, their memory skills, their curiosity, their insightful questions … Being there for our children and asking them about their homework can be a way of bonding with them and understanding them in a different way than we do by playing with them or doing general family activities.
6Start with a prayer
Why not start homework time with a small prayer—even just a single sentence—to entrust this moment to the Lord? First, this allows children to calm down and turn their focus inwards after the hustle and bustle of the bus or car ride home, or of other afternoon activities. Having a thought for God at that time can be a great help. You can simply ask Him to awaken your child’s intelligence, ask for help to keep calm, focused, and patient, and thank God when all is well. St. John Bosco, a great teacher who worked with young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods of Turin in the 19th century, says in a letter to his colleagues, “It’s always easier to be angry than to wait, or to threaten a child than to persuade him!” And later, he said, “Since they are our children, let us avoid all anger when we must correct their failings—or at least moderate our anger so that it seems totally hidden. We must allow no agitation in our heart, no contempt in our looks, and no insults on our lips.” This is a law of love that can be particularly useful in these moments.
7Set an example
We can hardly expect our children to be diligent and organized in doing their homework if they see that we leave things until the last moment and don’t try to keep some semblance of order in our own things and activities. If they see that we make an effort to be responsible and at least minimally orderly, as well as open-minded and interested in learning new things, it will be much easier for us to inculcate those same virtues in them.
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