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Back to School: Homework troubles? 6 tips to smooth the struggle, along with Wake schools resources to help

Now that school is back in session, so are the nightly struggles with homework. Here are some tips to help.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Now that school is back in session, so are the nightly struggles with homework. Some students simply don't understand the material. In other cases, they wonder how they'll ever write that report and solve those math problems between sports practices, music lessons or a part-time job.

But students aren't the only ones stressed out about homework. Parents can be, too.

In fact, a study from the National Center for Family Literacy found that nearly 50 percent of parents say they've struggled to help their kids with homework. About the same number of parents with kids in grades one through 12 also say they don't feel like they can even help their child because they simply don't understand the homework questions either.

Now that the school year has started, there will be plenty of evening and late-night clashes as students agonize over their assignments and parents have no idea how to help.

I checked in with Syreeta Smith, director of year-round support and early elementary education for the Wake County Public School System, to get some tips for how parents can help cut down on these homework anxieties.

Smith tells me homework isn't assigned just to frustrate students and parents. There's a reason behind those math worksheets and book reports.

"Homework is an instructional strategy that strengthens the home/school connection and gives parents a glimpse into the tasks students are being asked to perform," Smith tells me.

And its importance depends on a child's grade.

In kindergarten through fifth grade, for instance, homework is considered practice and reinforcement of concept and skills, Smith said. So, in Wake County, homework is not reflected in the content grade on the report card, but it does appear in the work habits grade. The work habits grade is based on whether a student uses time wisely; listens carefully; completes assignments, such as homework; writes legibly; works independently or seeks help when needed; and completes work.

For students in sixth to twelfth grade, homework can't count for more than 15 percent of a student's academic grade for each marking period, according to Wake County policy.

Wake schools' policy follows research-based guidelines for minutes of homework per day. So, for instance, kindergartners to second graders should have about 20 minutes per day. Third graders to fifth graders should have about 50 minutes per day. Middle schoolers should expect about 90 minutes of homework a day. And high school students should be assigned two hours of homework a day.

Smith shared some strategies parents can use to establish a homework routine and set their children up for success with homework:

Establish a location that is well stocked with materials, such as pencils, erasers, paper, crayons, scissors and free choice reading books, so your child has everything they need in one place to complete assignments.
Decide on a time for your child to complete homework, such as right after school, after dinner or before the bedtime routine. This may change night to night depending on when your child may have activities.
Support your child with returning completed homework to their book bag at the end of the homework routine. Check with them at night to ensure that they've put their assignments in the right binders or folders.
Communicate with the teacher on your child’s progress with homework. Notify the teacher if your child has difficulty with homework assignments or if the assignments appear too easy.
Allow your child to grapple with concepts before rescuing them with support. Productive struggle can lead to deeper learning and feelings of empowerment and efficacy. (This is an important one for parents to remember).
Make reading a priority. Encourage your child to read nightly and/or read to your child nightly.

If you find yourself struggling in the coming months as your child stumbles over math problems or can't figure out a science concept, Wake schools has some online resources:

The Success Series videos are designed for middle school and high school students and include guidance on topics such as English, Spanish, sciences, math and more.
WCPSS Academics also has a YouTube channel dedicated to supporting parents and students. The videos offer tutorials on mathematical strategies that both parents and students may find useful, Smith tells me. Other videos give parents a glimpse into instructional strategies that occur in classrooms.
Another place to look, Smith tells me, is the National PTA's Parents' Guides to Student Success, which are by grade level and provide an overview of content that will be learned in each grade, along with activities to support learning at home. The National PTA's website has guides for middle school, along with high school English and math guides. You can access the elementary level guides from the Wake schools' website.

Setting homework expectations and routines now with your child and familiarizing yourself with these online resources can help make a big difference toward fending off those homework battles that nobody wants to fight.


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