Setting A Homework Routine And Sticking To It

Back to school means back to homework, and for a lot of parents that comes with conflict. Kids don't always want to do their homework, but it's not like they really have a choice. Having to sit down and keep your child's attention through a reading assignment may not be easy, but it can be done. We asked parenting expert and author Dr. Michelle Borba to share her thoughts for saving heartache (for you and your child!) at homework time. How can families implement a homework routine?  

Dr. Borba:

Select a time that works best for your child – after school, before dinner, after dinner – then stick to it. Ask your child for their input and do try to accommodate their schedule. A set and predictable schedule helps defray the battles and gets your kid on a routine. You may want to even post your agreement in a visible place and then sign it. Many kids need a break after school, while others like to delve right in. Find your child’s best work time and consistently reinforce it. Drawing a clock face that shows the set homework time is helpful for younger children. What are some important things to consider when developing an evening routine for homework?

Dr. Borba: There are a couple of things to consider when creating this routine: 

- Develop a weekly homework reminder. Teach your child to create a simple reminder of daily or weekly assignments as well as a long-term projects and reports. A white board or chalkboard is preferable because it is reusable. Just be sure to hang it in a central place. List the days of the week, and then help the child jot down regular daily or weekly assignments. For instance: Monday: Sharing; Wednesday: Library; Friday: Spelling Test. Use photographs or icons for nonreaders (for example a picture of a book for library day). The ultimate goal is for your child to keep track of his own daily assignments without your reminders, but you know that will take some time.

- Create a special homework spot. Involve your child in the selection and stock it with necessary school supplies. The general rule is the younger the child, the closer that spot will be near you. Put the computer in a place where you can carefully view what your child is doing online.

- Set a routine! Select a time that works best for your kid to do his—after school, before dinner, after dinner—then stick to it. Ask your child for his input and do try to accommodate his schedule. A set and predictable schedule helps defray the battles and gets your kid on a routine. You may want to even post your agreement in a visible place and then sign it. How can parents measure and reward progress?

Dr. Borba: Show daily interest. Create daily rituals such as in the car pool, during the family meal or every night before your child goes to bed to discuss school. Ask: “What did you do in school?” not “How did you do?” Don’t let a day go by that you don’t talk about what happened in your child’s classroom and what he’s learning. You can also: 

- Applaud effort! Acknowledge hard work and persistence not just the grade or the outcome. Use specific praise about a task so your child knows what he did right to help stretch his inner motivation. The single greatest correlation to success in life is not the child’s grade but his persistence. Emphasize the effort! Rewarding your child with an educational prize like VTech’s Care & Learn Teddy can applaud a job well done as well as provide an educational resource that your child will not only learn from but will feel rewarded to play with.

Praise effort and not the “end product - Kids needs to learn the importance of hard work and effort. Homework provides a great opportunity for you to reinforce your child’s perseverance. You might start a family motto such as “Never Give Up!” or “Don’t quit until you succeed” or “In this family, we finish what we start,” Perhaps the most important trait that doing homework instills in our children is perseverance. And the only way they’ll learn to value effort is by our steady emphasis of “it’s not good enough just to start; you have to finish.” Research at Columbia University by Carol Dweck found that when you emphasize Effort “You’re working so hard” over Smarts “You’re so smart, you can do it!” you actually will increase your child’s persistence.

Some other great ideas for measuring and rewarding progress:

  • Photo success image: Photograph your child achieving her goal and frame it.
  • Create a Victory Log: Provide your child with a small notebook or journal (A Victory Log!) for your child to log each goal achievement.
  • Victory Dinner: Have a Victory Dinner where you cook your child’s favorite dinner and celebrate their success.
  • Balloon pop: Take a picture of a prize, such as the VTech’s V.Reader, that promotes reading in a vivid and fun way, and help your child tightly roll and insert it inside a large party balloon. Blow up the balloon and knot the end. On the outside of the balloon use a black laundry pen to write or draw a goal your child wants to achieve. Tie string to the end and hang the balloon in a special place. Tell the child that the moment he achieves the goal, you will pop the balloon together. The prize will be his reward for his hard work. In the meantime, the blown balloon serves as a reminder to work hard at the goal. What about kids who have difficulty concentrating or just aren't interested in homework. What tactics can parents use to engage them?

Dr. Borba: It may not be easy, but there are several ways to help engage your child and get them through homework in a positive way: 
  • Make a ‘To Do’ list first: Help your child make a list of what needs to be done in order of priority, and then cross each off as completed. A young child can draw a different task on paper strips put them in the order he plans to complete each homework and then tear off a strip as each task is finished until no more remain.
  • Chunk tasks: Tell your child to do “one chunk at a time” to seem less overwhelming then gradually increase the size of the “work chunks” as your child’s confidence and ability increases.
  • Do the hardest first: Encourage your child to do the hardest assignment first since it takes more concentration and longer to do. Designating a short break time to play with an educational toy in-between homework assignments creates downtime while simultaneously keeping your child’s intellectual mindset “warmed” up.  
  • Beat the clock: To help with time management, give your child an oven-timer or stopwatch. Tell him to set the time for a specified amount (that he can do… like five minutes) and encourage him to work by himself until the time runs out. Gradually stretch the time as your child’s attention span increases.
  • Put finished tasks away, ASAP: Set a routine that the finished task is immediately put into a folder, placed in the backpack and set by the door ready for next morning. How can parents work with their child's teacher to get a better insight into what they need?

Dr. Borba: Be clear as to each teacher’s homework policy so you are all on the same page from the get-go. Find out how long it should take on the average per night. That answer will help your determine if your child has too much work, is a procrastinator, has a learning disability or lacks study skills. Then talk with your child so he knows you are not only aware of the teachers’ expectations but also support them.

If your child is struggling with his learning don’t wait to get help. Call the school and talk to the teacher. Ask to speak with the counselor or school psychologist. Your goal is to create the best plan to help your child’s learning steadily progress and reduce frustrations so he feels successful. Don’t give up!

Dr. Michelle Borba is a parenting expert. You can read more of her tips at