1. Time it RightIt may take a bit of trial and error to figure out when your child is most creative or ready to sit down and focus. While it may make sense from a scheduling perspective to push your child to get homework and schoolwork done at a specific time, it may also be when they are at their lowest energy levels. Try asking your child about his or her preferences, and use the first few weeks of school to experiment a little – you may just find the perfect “slot” that works for them and the rest of the family. Ask your teacher for schedule flexibility with virtual learning.
2. Make sure the basics are covered: Food and SleepThere is nothing worse than trying to concentrate on a tired mind or a rumbling belly. And, despite the fact that your child stopped napping when he or she was two, he or she may benefit from a quick shut-eye before beginning homework if in-person learning or starting afternoon homeschool or distance learning. A snack right before, or with schoolwork, may be helpful, too. Many kids are too excited at lunchtime to actually eat their food and come home starving. Offer protein-rich foods that don’t trigger sugar spikes (like bananas with peanut butter or Trail Mix), so their energy lasts until homework is done.
3. Create the right space to studyWhile it’s not a “must” to create a formal environment (like a separate desk, chair, or bookshelf), many kids are motivated when they have their own space to focus. Encourage them to find their own style and take pride in creating the best setting for their success. Help them decorate and personalize it, and check on how to best evolve the space to suit their changing needs. Getting and staying organized is a very important skill to learn during these formative years, and creating the right environment to establish and re-enforce good habits can make a real difference. (See all of our loft beds with desks or our school from home collection for inspiration.)
4. Limit distractions
Siblings, pets, visitors… who can concentrate when the house is full of distractions? Limit them by either timing homework or homeschool during hours of low activity (i.e. before the rest of the family barges in), or encouraging a “closed door” location to complete homework before re-joining the action going on in the rest of the house. Some kids do better with some background noise (like soft music), which can help drown out other sounds. If your child struggles with distractions, you may want to check whether a set of earphones with soothing sounds can help them concentrate.
5. Offer the right help when they are stuckWhen your child asks for help, try asking questions, and offer different perspectives or ways to imagine the same problem. Visualize a math challenge, or relate it back to a real life situation he or she will remember. Don’t give them the answer – it’s their problem to solve. If they still can’t get it right, see if another member of the family or a friend can provide another perspective. If all else fails, it’s OK to admit to the teacher that he or she worked hard on a problem but simply could not solve it.
6. Incentivize Home LearningDepending on the age of your child, the right incentives can work wonders, and really motivate kids to complete their homework – accurately! Have an avid Minecrafter? Give them 30 minutes playtime after homework or homeschool is completed. Desperate for that playdate? Coordinate with the parents to make sure homework is completed before they get together. If you choose this strategy, be careful to follow through, though – if it’s not done right, the rewards need to be delayed or cancelled altogether. So pick rewards that are fully under your control and won’t disappoint other kids or interfere with activities that you care about.
7. Get – and stay – in touch with the teacherBeyond the scheduled conferences, most teachers appreciate informal check-ins and opportunities to connect with parents. Ask them what strategies they suggest and whether they have any feedback. Be proactive with questions and forthcoming with frustrations. We're all in this together!
8. Value their workCelebrate achievements! Show off their completed projects to other family members, and tell stories about successes to others. Bring positive energy to a job well done, and motivation will follow.