There's a joke that first made the rounds way back when they still used abacuses to do arithmetic:
Boy: I hate homework.
Mom: But why?
Boy: Because it's no fun.
Mom: Of course not, dear. That's why they call it work.
Ba-da bum. Okay, we know homework won't ever be the highlight of anybody's evening. But that doesn't mean it has to be strictly a hold-your-nose-and-plow-through activity, either.
That's why we've created a guide to helping your child do well, plus tips on making the nightly must-do a positive experience for everyone -- Mom and Dad most definitely included.
6 Tricks to Happier Homeworking
1. Foster a We're-in-This-Together Vibe
"Do your homework as your child does his," advises Trevor Romain, author of How to Do Homework Without Throwing Up. "If you have checks to write or e-mails to respond to, you're role-modeling by just sitting and doing it." Plus, if he needs help, you'll be there.
2. Divide and Conquer
"I wish I could be the one with the great math skills, but I don't think it's in the cards," says Andrea Tomkins of Ottawa, Ontario. Instead, Tomkins helps her fourth-grader with subjects she is good at (English, French, and social studies), while her husband takes math and science. "It makes the process more pleasant."
3. Let Him Take the Lead
Sometimes, asking your child to explain what he does know about a subject or problem can help him figure it out. When he comes up with something, "remark on it, so that your child feels encouraged," says Joan Rooney, a vice president at Tutor.com, an online tutoring resource.
4. Dangle the Carrot
When your child is this close to the answer but it's just not clicking, say, "I know you don't have the solution yet, but what do you think it might be?" suggests Romain. Or, "Is there a different way we can come up with it?" Ideally, you won't give him the answer, but you'll help him reach for it.
5. Remember Your Goal
It's not only to help but also to let your kid know that you're there for her. So while you generally want her to work things out for herself, Rooney advises parents not to withhold the answer if frustration is making her hate you and hate the subject and hate the world. Your relationship is much more important.
6. Know When to Quit
If either of you is threatening to disown the other, ask your spouse to step in, or limit your involvement. "This doesn't mean you have to walk away from a struggling child," says Rooney; offer to help Google things, be a sounding board, or find someone better equipped to assist her directly.
Get-it-Done Tips... from Moms Like You
"My seven-year-old and I put all his assignments, practices, and after-school activities on a dry-erase board that we fill out together. After that, I'll remind him by asking, 'Is there anything due?' but it's his responsibility to keep track." --Holly Rigsby, Louisville, KY
"Our rule is that homework is done at a certain time and place -- in our case, at the kitchen table. That way, there's no room for 'Awww, Mom!' It's just something that happens. No big deal." --Blue Hill, Prosperity, SC
"I explain to my son that if he does not do his homework, we'll have to tell the teacher. He usually gets on board." --Kristin Fitch, Virginia Beach, VA
"We try to see the positive side of homework. We tell our daughter that it's helping her learn and get ahead." --Andrea Tomkins, Ottawa, Ontario
How to Unstick a Stuck Kid
When some kids hit a block, they're quick to decide that a particular subject is not their thing and stop trying. Your instinct, of course, is to say, "That's not true! If at first you don't succeed..." If your child is beyond a certain level of despair, however, that's not likely to work, says Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., the coauthor of several books, including Raising a Self-Disciplined Child.
"The probability that you're going to change that mind-set in that moment is low," he says. "The script is already all laid out: 'I can't.' 'Yes, you can. Just try.' 'I did try.'" Instead, consider coming at your child with empathy. Say something like this: "It sounds like when you look at this homework, you just feel overwhelmed. Nobody likes that. So what do you want to do?"
Goldstein says that, often, your child just wants to be heard, and she knows she has to do the work. If she proposes not doing it, remind her that's not a valid long-term choice, and tell her she can either give it a go by herself or with your help, since you'd be glad to give her a hand. Seeing that you get how she's feeling, she might involve you further. "Once she's asking you for your input, you can suggest, 'Maybe you can try it this different way,'" says Goldstein. Then, if you both do your best but still can't seem to move forward, jot a note to the teacher explaining that your child needs extra attention, so she is in the loop, too.
Keep It Real
True-to-life examples and goofy games can make a concept come alive. A few ideas we love:
If he's having trouble memorizing a poem, try setting it to the tune of a song he knows.
Hit the kitchen when you're doing math. "Fruits or cakes are good for fractions, hold kids' interest, and make great rewards," says Tutor.com's Joan Rooney.
Make a fool of yourself. "When my son was younger and having difficulty remembering spelling, I would actually stand up and act out letters that he missed as he spelled the word out loud," recalls Rooney. "Seeing a parent pretending to be a 'b' can stay in a child's memory a long time."
When to Call in the Cavalry
You've probably wondered about that educational center that cropped up at the shopping plaza in town. Can it help kids with learning disabilities? Are places like this worth the money? "They each have their own philosophy, and there are pros and cons to each," says Leslie Rapchik-Ruiz, a learning specialist in New York City. Which one, if any, to pick depends on your child's temperament, learning style, and needs, not to mention what you can afford. No matter where you go, advises Rapchik-Ruiz, make sure the instructors are state certified or have a master's degree in teaching -- there is no official certification for tutors, and you don't want to get stuck with someone under-qualified.
Option: Sylvan Learning Centers $50-$55/hr in person, $55/hr online
The Deal: Personalized help with all subjects, test prep, and study skills in groups of no more than three students. Another option: live, online tutoring done from home.
Who Might Benefit: "A child having trouble in a specific subject," says Rapchik-Ruiz. In her opinion, Sylvan is best suited for a child who is no more than a grade level behind and perhaps not super motivated, rather than a kid who is doing quite poorly or one looking to be challenged.
Option: Kaplan Tutoring $60-$75/hr one-on-one; $45-$55/hr groups; $29/mo online
The Deal: One-on-one or small-group tutoring, a reading-intervention program for learning-disabled kids, and an online option.
Who Might Benefit: A motivated kid having a little difficulty learning. "If a child is completely bogged down with services such as occupational or speech therapy already, it may not be a good thing," says Rapchik-Ruiz, because Kaplan can be intense. Ditto for a kid already buried in homework or activities.
Option: Kumon Math & Reading Centers $85-$115/mo per subject
The Deal: Launched in Japan, Kumon is a program in which kids learn and practice math and reading skills, building slowly and incrementally on what they already know.
Who Might Benefit: Kids who get into beating their own records and are not fearful of being timed, says Rapchik-Ruiz. Part of the goal is to make their skills automatic. "First- and second-graders tend to love worksheets, and there are a lot of them," she says. Self-starters will benefit the most.
Option: Private Tutor Rates vary
The Deal: One-on-one meetings at least once a week to tackle trouble spots. Tutors should have references and state teacher certification, or a master's in education.
Who Might Benefit: Almost anyone. "Anytime there's a positive relationship with an adult educator, that's pretty motivating," says Rapchik-Ruiz. This is also a good option if your child has special needs, such as a reading disability. "You can get a lot done in a short amount of time."
Option: Homework Helper From free (some people volunteer) to around $25/hr
The Deal: A high school, college, or graduate student -- perhaps one thinking about an education career-meets with your child to help her out, as often as can be arranged.
Who Might Benefit: A child whose parents are unable to help because they work late or English is not their first language.