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Before You Help Your Child With Homework

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Should you help your child with homework? For parents of kids with learning and developmental differences, it may not be so much a question of yes or no as of how and how much. Your child most likely needs assistance and will be unable to find success without it. Make sure you're up for the job by giving yourself this eight-question exam first.

Am I familiar with the material?

If your child's doing ABCs and 123s, helping's not so hard. If it's more a matter of Shakespeare and Calculus, you may have to brush up a bit. This is where getting a spare set of textbooks can come in handy: Try to keep up with what your child is doing in class, and read over the material yourself before working with your child.

Do I understand the techniques being used?

Educational techniques seem to change on a daily basis, so whether you went to school recently or back when kids used slates and inkwells, chances are your child is being taught differently than you were. It's worth reviewing textbooks and class notes, or even meeting with the teacher, to make sure that the explanation your child gets from you is the same one he or she is getting in class. Repetition's helpful; contradiction's not.

Do I understand how my child learns?

Of course, sometimes the explanation your child is getting in class is all wrong for the way he or she learns. If you know techniques that are better-suited to your child's learning style, use them -- but coordinate with the teacher, inclusion teacher and instructional aide first. This will give them the opportunity to try the same techniques, and release your child from the anxiety of doing things differently than the teacher has decreed.

Do I know what the teacher expects?

Different teachers will have different expectations about homework. Some may actually grade it and expect to see correct answers and comprehension. Others may just want to see an effort made, and will not mark against wrong answers. If your child's teacher is one of the latter, then give your child greater latitude to do the work independently. Don't stress over the legibility of the writing or the correctness of the work -- give encouragement for trying and finishing.

Am I allowed to adjust the assignment?

On the other hand, if the teacher expects correctness, see if you can adjust the assignment to make it do-able for your child. Kids with learning or reading problems may not be able to do all the work required to find answers for a large number of questions. Ask if you can make changes like reducing the number of problems so your child can take extra time with them; writing out the answers as long as your child does the work; or copying math problems larger on paper with more space.

When would be the best time for me to help?

If you need to provide intensive homework help, make sure your child is doing that homework at a time when you are at your most rested, patient, and able to provide attention. But if you want to give your child a degree of independence, scheduling homework for a time when you're, say, making dinner or doing housework might give you "excuses" for walking away and letting him or her try going it alone.

Where am I most able to help?

Similarly, a desk in your child's room may not be the easiest place for you to work with him or her. If it helps you stay involved, have your child work where it's convenient for you. The kitchen table may be a terrible place, if you need to give your child constant attention away from other demands, or perfect if you need to be available but not constantly involved.

What's the least I can do?

The line between helping your child do the work and doing the work yourself is a fine one, but find a way to walk it. Providing moral support and motivation are obvious jobs for parents; rephrasing and revising may be necessary; close collaboration may be unavoidable. But if your child is truly unable to do the work without you doing it for him or her, it may be time to have a conference with the teacher and ask for a little help yourself.

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