Posted: Tuesday November 13, 2012, 2:27 PM
Study Time: Homework How-To's
By Jan Wilson

Homework. The very word can strike fear in the hearts of parents. The worksheets. The five-paragraph essay about a topic that is suddenly unclear when the child walks in the door. The science project that involves "three common household items," none of which is common in your household. And, of course, a history assignment that includes a run to the office supply store for tri-fold board.

As long as there's been homework, there have been teachers and schools urging parents to let children handle it on their own. But no parent wants to see their child struggle or get a failing grade. And now that many schools have online systems that let parents see the assignment and whether the child has turned it in there's even more pressure.

"I definitely feel that when my kids have homework, 'we' have homework," says Kara Reynoso, a mom of 4th and 6th grade boys in Ridgefield. "I sit with my children or am very close by so that I can help them if needed. Unfortunately, they usually need me. I say 'unfortunately' not because I necessarily mind, but because I wish they could be a bit more independent."

Being able to complete homework independently is one issue, but parents also fret about whether their children have too much homework, a concern some teachers say may be displaced. "We are constantly looking at the amount of homework the kids have," says Michele Bower, history chair at The Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood. "We already stagger our tests. If you think that your child has too much homework, look at what is really going on at home. Are they distracted by things other than homework when it's time to get that done?"

Beyond the posting on Facebook, texting and Skyping that may be occurring simultaneously with homework in many households, kids have to fit their homework around many extracurricular activities. Sports and clubs take on increasing importance (and require a large time commitment) in middle and high school. While some parents may believe that these activities should be limited in order to allow more time for studies, Irene Voight, a guidance counselor at Ridgefield Memorial High School, says that studies have shown that the involved student is often the better student. "When students are involved in extracurricular activities, they do better in school," she says, "because that is also the type of kid who shows more interest in school and is more bonded to the school."

If your child frequently struggles with homework, he may have other problems in school, so work with the teacher to get to the bottom of things. If it turns out that your child does need extra help, turning to a tutor is a logical next step. "What we find is when most parents try to tutor their own kids, there is a disconnect," says Jay Rosenberg, franchise owner of Tutor Doctor, which serves families throughout Bergen County. "Sometimes the parent is the last person that the child will listen to, and parents can make it an emotional experience rather than a learning experience." So get a referral from your child's teacher, a guidance counselor or your friends, and try to interview a few different tutors to see who you think would be a good fit for your child. Don't be surprised if the honor student down the block fits the bill.

While it may seem as though homework sometimes gets in the way of family life, it does have a purpose – to reinforce what your child is learning in the classroom, and as a vehicle for working on the longer term projects that they will be pursuing when they head to college. When you work together with your children and their teachers, you will pave the way to homework, and school success.

Homework Success Tips
• Have a plan: Don't let your child procrastinate on long-term projects.
• Have a set place in your home for homework and study: Make sure that your child has all of the necessary tools to complete homework.
• Know your child: Some need to do homework as soon as they get home; others need some downtime or frequent breaks between assignments.
• Limit distractions: If media consumption is a problem, institute a "no TV on weeknights" rule.
• Check up: Help the younger child manage homework by checking her planner; let the older children manage their homework, but have frequent conversations about what they are studying in school and their grades. Let the older child know that you will be checking the school's online system frequently.

When To Call A Tutor?
Before getting a tutor for your child, talk with the teacher to make sure that there aren't larger issues (possible learning differences or behavioral problems) that need to be addressed. Here are some signs your child may need a tutor:

• If your child is routinely bringing home work that seems to be beyond his capabilities.
• If your child doesn't remember the teacher's explanation of assignments, or if they aren't being explained in a way that is easy for him to understand.
• If your child can't get or keep her work organized, even after receiving guidance from her teacher or counselor.
• If your child's grades and teacher comments reflect that he is falling behind his peers in key subjects that build upon foundational concepts, such as math.
• If you are fighting about homework every day, or your child is refusing to complete homework assignments.