The transition from kindergarten to first grade is a big one. While perhaps not as momentous as starting kindergarten, children have a lot to adjust to when starting first grade. First graders often spend more time at school and deal with increased academic demands, especially in terms of homework. That means that, while your kindergartener often had little or no homework, homework expectations for your first grade are ramped up: first grade homework often consists of multiple parts, including language arts, math and independent reading, and teachers may assign homework daily or in weekly packets.
Beginning first graders are sometimes put off by having more homework than they did in kindergarten. While dealing with a more intense academic program during the day, children may not be inspired to do their homework after school, and, homework can become a struggle. But the good news is that parents can help! Use the following tips to help avoid homework battles.
Break homework into small chunks
First graders have already spent all day at school. Make homework more manageable by allowing first graders to do small bits of work at a time. If your child has daily homework, let him take breaks in between each activity. If your child has weekly homework, decide which parts will be completed on each night. Remember to pile on the praise and make your child feel great about all the hard work he is doing!
Work together on homework
Homework is not only a time for first graders to practice what they are learning in school; it’s also a great way for families to communicate about what is going on in their lives. When doing homework, ask your first grader to tell you more about what she is learning in school. Make doing homework a time when you are completely focused on your child: if homework is associated with special family time, your child will come to look forward to it. Focus on what your child does right instead of stressing the mistakes she makes. Try to keep your tone positive and upbeat even if homework becomes a struggle. Homework will just become harder if it becomes a high-stress situation for you and your child.
Find out from your child’s teacher what strategies are being taught at school, then reinforce those strategies at home. For example, if first graders are practicing addition using hands-on manipulatives, find beans or blocks to help your child solve addition problems at home. Whenever possible, use the same language and materials that are being utilized by the school.
Make independent reading engaging
Oftentimes first grade homework includes a requirement to read for a certain amount of time each night. But first graders are often beginning readers and may not yet be able to decode many books independently. If you are reading to your child, ask him to read easily decodable words, or sight words he has learned, in the book. First graders can often decode leveled reading books independently, but many first graders find those books boring compared to those they are used to being read by their parents. If this is the case, write your own easily decodable book for your child to read and illustrate - just get a few pieces of paper out, write the words and have your child read and draw a picture! Some kids become much more inspired to read when reading becomes interactive.
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Wondering how to help your children with homework — or how to get them to do it without a struggle? Here’s how.
What’s the point of homework? “Homework is designed to help students reinforce key concepts, process and solidify new information, provide time for extra practice of skills, and reflect on how much they’ve learned,” notes teacher Susan Becker, M. Ed. However, approaches to homework vary from district to district, school to school and teacher to teacher. Some schools don’t give children homework until the 2nd grade, others start in kindergarten. Some teachers create original homework, while other use or modify prepared work sheets.
Don’t do the homework for your child. Most teachers use homework to find out what the child knows. They do not want parents doing their children’s homework but do want parents to make sure homework is completed and review any mistakes to see what can be learned from them.
Don’t take over your child’s projects. Teachers do not want parents doing their kids’ projects. Instead, they want parents to support their kids’ learning and make sure they have what they need to accomplish a task. Check with your child’s teacher for his policy and review it with your child.
Set up a good space to work. All children need the same thing: a clean, well-lit space. But keep in mind that each child may work differently; some will do their work at the kitchen table and others at their desks in their rooms.
Pay attention to your child’s rhythms and help him find the right time to begin his work. Some children will work best by doing homework right after school; others need a longer break and must run around before tackling the work. Most will need a snack. If your child does after-school activities, set a homework time before or after the activity, or after dinner. Whatever routine you choose, help your child stick to it.
Find out how your child studies best. “You should find the ways your child likes to study. For example, some kids will learn spelling words by writing them out, others by closing their eyes and picturing them and saying them aloud,” advises teacher Susan Becker, M. Ed. “The sound environment is also important,” adds Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “Some kids may want to listen to music, some are helped by being in the middle of noise, others need absolute quiet.”
Don’t hover — but stay close by. Keep in mind that it’s their homework, not yours, but remain available in case you are needed. “The ideal set up would be for a parent to be reading nearby while the child is studying because then you both are doing your educational work together, but that’s not always possible,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “A parent may be working out of the home, or need to be working in the home and cooking dinner. So if you are home, stay close, and if you are not there, have another adult check to make sure it’s going OK. And remember that all homework is not equal, so not everything will need your rapt attention.”
Limit media exposure. Turn off the TV and the iPod when your child does homework. And the computer too, unless it’s being used for research. You might start by asking how much time he thinks he should spend on this, and negotiate from there. Remember, you have the final word. And keep in mind that if you watch TV when your child can’t, the plan may backfire.
Let the teacher know if you gave your child a lot of homework help. “If your child needs extra help or truly doesn’t understand something, let the teacher know. Write on the assignment, ‘done with parental help,’ or write a separate note,” advises Michael Thompson, Ph.D. If your child resists, explain that homework is used to practice what you know and to show the teacher what you need help learning more about — so it’s a parent’s job to let the teacher know.