End the Homework Battle

by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

"Do you have any homework tonight?"

A simple question, yet it can spark what becomes a familiar argument throughout a child's school years.

Haggling over homework is nothing new (most parents can remember protesting their own responsibilities on school nights), but homework battles in the 21st century are aggravated by a culture flooded with technical distractions.

According to recent research, 97 percent of youth play video games; nearly three quarters of them have an online social networking profile (Facebook, MySpace, etc.); 91 percent have a cell phone; and the typical teen sends an average of 10 text messages an hour. Is it any wonder parents will repeatedly hear their children complain that homework is boring and pointless?

Even with the advent of computers in the classroom, formal education doesn't even come close to holding a student's attention like the competition. Fortunately, you don't have to be as tech-savvy as your kids to keep them engaged in their schoolwork. Even if the assignments are boring and pointless, you can use these opportunities to help your children develop the skills and attitudes they'll need to be successful. You can get them thinking about the way they learn best, how they can motivate themselves and what it will take to succeed. You can teach them to be confident learners.

When I wrote my first book, The Way They Learn, my twins were toddlers. They are now in their sophomore year in college. During all those years, the learning-styles strategies I first advocated have remained effective. Let's take a quick look at these timeless techniques.

Listen as Cynthia Tobias talks about learning styles in this Focus on the Family broadcast: Part 1 and Part 2.

Ask more questions.

Encourage your children to take responsibility for their success. Keep your questions brief and positive — and always assume the best. For example:

  • Would you like my help?

  • What grade do you want to earn?

  • What do you think it would take to accomplish that grade?

  • How will I know your homework is being done?

  • How do you want to be reminded?

Help them design their individual study space.

Don't underestimate the importance of finding the right environment — even if it includes some elements that would make you uncomfortable if you were studying. Every child is going to be different. In our household, my son Mike usually did his homework at his desk in solitude, with no noise and no distractions. His brother, Rob, on the other hand, needed to be listening to music with headphones, lying on the floor with something to eat or drink and taking plenty of short breaks.

The most important question to ask yourself: What's the point? If the point is to get the homework done, let your child propose how he or she wants to do it, and simply require proof that it works.

Help them focus on their strengths.

For auditory learners, sounds are important — and the lack of sound can sometimes be just as critical.

They may say: Could I ask you a question? Could I talk to you? I need to say something! Give them a chance to talk about what they need to do. Ask brief questions, and be patient with long answers. The more they talk it through, the greater the chance they will get their homework done.

Then help them figure out the best environment for doing homework — challenge them to find the least distracting place. When they are working, do your best not to interrupt them, and keep outside noise levels to a minimum.

For visual learners, it's incredibly helpful for them to picture what they're doing or see an example of what's expected.

They may say: Could you show me how to do this? I don't see what you mean! Could you look at this? Help them create pictures in their minds of what their tasks should look like. Ask to see their homework assignment — sometimes just looking through it again will help them remember what they're supposed to do. Offer to provide a visual homework reminder — maybe a calendar, a whiteboard or a pop-up reminder on their computer or cell phone. Remember, just giving them verbal reminders probably won't have much effect.

For kinesthetic learners, the greatest challenge can be sitting still long enough to do their homework.

They may say: What's the point? It's boring! For these active and restless learners, spending any more than five or 10 minutes on something that seems like just another pesky chore can be perceived as torture. Their best chance for achievement often involves taking frequent short breaks and keeping some part of their body moving. Keep in mind that the point is not to have them sitting still to do their homework; the point is to get the homework done.

For learners who are wired to be analytic (step-by-step, detail-oriented, predictable), it's important to find the best place for concentrating. They tend to thrive in a quiet, uncluttered space where they can be alone and uninterrupted. They often like to do their homework on a predictable schedule and rarely request help. Make sure they are clear about the assignment deadline. Don't hover or nag — but get their cooperation in coming up with a method of accountability.

For learners who are wired to be global (big picture, intuitive, contextual), it may be easier to study when they're not alone. Globals are naturally drawn to working cooperatively with others, and if they sit alone, they may struggle to concentrate on the task. One tried-and-true solution is to make sure everyone works while the global works. If your whole family can do something quiet and productive (reading, working on the computer, etc.) while your global child is studying, it's easier for him or her to stay focused.

Homework will continue to be a challenge for parents and kids. But developing and nurturing a relationship with each of our children can build a solid foundation for educational success. The first step in this journey comes from understanding our children's design and strengths and appreciating the unique way they learn.  

Listen to Cynthia Tobias talk about learning styles in this Focus on the Family broadcast: Part 1 and Part 2.

Cynthia Ulrich Tobias is founder, manager and CEO of AppLe St. (Applied Learning Styles). She is the best-selling author of The Way They Learn.


When There's More to Consider

by Shari Rusch Furnstahl

To be certain your child is in line with basic standards of growth and development before he or she starts school, check with your pediatrician or local school district. Markers for development can help you identify your child's level and determine if a delay exists. If you notice any delays before your child enters school, you can look for early screening programs. When children enter school, their readiness for each grade level can be determined by checking state and district standards. If you're concerned that your child might be lagging behind his or her grade level, talk with his or her teacher about the situation.

If you suspect that your child might have some type of learning, behavior or physical issue, be swift to act. That action could include testing, research or looking into different forms of schooling. It might require changing teachers or schools, changing doctors or finding the right specialist.

Whenever you enter into a conversation with a professional, be armed with as much information as possible. Being prepared with test results and related information can ensure you will get the best information from the person you are consulting.

The following list of recommendations provides a road map to help you get started.

1. Create a family history including health, learning, behavioral and emotional traits among family members.

2. Create a living history of your child's life so far.

Information gathered from a family or child's history can be used to assist others in helping your child. One of the reasons for creating a child's history is to think about the onset of particular behaviors and learning patterns.

When creating the history of your child, concentrate on positive aspects as much as possible. Questions to ask include:

  • What does this child do well?

  • What type of environment works for him or her?

  • What makes this child happy?

  • What hobbies or activities does this child gravitate toward?

  • What people (personality style and method) seem to work well with this child?

  • What strategies are in place and work well to combat challenging behaviors?

  • Now ask those same questions from the opposite perspective.

3. Obtain comprehensive evaluations for vision, hearing and speech.

4. Obtain a comprehensive physical evaluation including blood sugar, anemia, allergies, thyroid and endocrine functioning.

I always suggest parents seek evaluations from board-certified physicians specializing in a particular area of study such as vision, hearing, etc. The tests at school are only a screening tool, not a complete evaluation.

5. Obtain comprehensive testing for IQ, aptitude, learning styles, learning, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and sensory-processing issues.

—Taken from From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones, published by Tyndale House Publishers Inc. Copyright © 2007 Focus on the Family. This article first appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Thriving Family.


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