Getting kids to do their homework can be a battle of wills, and many parents can attest to the frustrations that come with helping children complete assignments. But education experts say there is plenty of homework help available for both parents and students.
While some educators and researchers have questioned the value of homework and its ability to improve academic outcomes, it is still a part of life in most schools, and experts say it helps teach children executive function skills, such as planning and completing assigned tasks.
“Homework should be about practicing content,” says Audrey Dolginoff, a special education teacher based in Washington, D.C., who has taught middle school students at both public and private schools.
“But it’s also about structuring your time to plan for the next day, making sure you have all your materials and ensuring you are looking ahead in the calendar as you get older in school,” she says. “All of these skills tie into being a functioning member of society later on.”
Whatever the subject, education experts say there is much parents can do to help their children with homework, whether it’s directly or by providing resources.
The Right Environment for Homework
Making homework a smoother experience starts by providing a dedicated space for children to focus on their studies. Create a clean space that is relatively free of distractions — including TVs, phones and other devices — and provides ready access to the materials and technology needed to complete homework.
That might include a computer, a comfortable chair, a calculator, a stapler, paper, pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, markers and anything else that facilitates schoolwork.
“Giving them a special, well-equipped study space is a good foundation for quality accomplishments,” says Cindy McKinley Alder, a veteran elementary school teacher in Michigan and co-author of the book “10 Quick Homework Tips.”
Education experts recommend that children with homework in multiple subjects use a calendar or planner. This tool can be a physical book or binder or a digital app such as MyHomework, My Study Life or Trello.
Parents can help children plan their homework assignments, Dolginoff says, which is a great way of “showing interest before there’s a problem.” She says parents should create a routine in which they ask their children daily about the homework assignments they have, when they plan to do their homework, and what help they might need.
Getting Homework Help at School
Educators say teachers are the first people struggling students and their parents should go to for help. Teachers often have office hours or dedicated time during the school day for students to drop by to ask questions.
“Sometimes just asking a teacher how they can improve can be so helpful because the instructor can point out weaknesses they’ve noticed,” says Laurie Kopp Weingarten, a certified educational planner and independent educational consultant in New Jersey. Teachers may be able to point students to study materials they should be using, such as class notes or other resources, Weingarten says.
Some schools may also have homework clubs or students who provide free tutoring in certain subjects.
How to Hire a Tutor
When parents feel they are out of their depth on a subject or just realize their child may need some more specialized instruction, outside tutoring services may be the answer.
Before hiring a tutor, a parent should check in with teachers to find out “how the parent can best support the child at school or what interventions can be put in place in the classroom to help the child access the content,” Dolginoff says.
Brian Galvin, chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors, says parents should hire a tutor if their child has “hit a roadblock or slowed their advancement.”
“Learning can look a lot like a Jenga tower, where a student can feel completely overwhelmed and unmoored in a higher-grade topic like algebra, and the entire cause is a missing building block or two a few levels down in something like understanding factors and divisibility,” he says.
Galvin says a tutor can help a student relearn those missing blocks, in addition to working on the current curriculum.
There are several national tutoring chains that offer in-person and virtual tutoring, including Sylvan, Mathnasium and Kumon. But parents may also benefit from exploring locally based tutoring services or finding local teachers who work as tutors.
Online Resources for Homework Help
There are a plethora of online resources purporting to help kids with their homework and practice skills they are learning in school, and many are free or offer low subscription rates. But determining which apps will be most helpful can be daunting.
Common Sense, a nonprofit that independently reviews online media and content for children, has information on educational apps that can help parents determine what kinds of online homework might be the most beneficial. Teachers are often a good source to ask about what online sites or apps might be most helpful for the curriculum they are teaching.
For parents who want to do some research, here are several sites and apps recommended by educators:
— Math is Fun has tutorials and practice questions for math, including basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry and even physics.
— Summerbell helps children with reading difficulties access books and reading in new ways.
— Khan Academy is a nonprofit site that offers practice exercises, instructional videos and a dashboard for students studying multiple subjects.
— Learning Ally provides audiobooks for students who have learning differences or difficulty reading.
— IXL is a personalized learning site used by both parents and schools, with a K-12 curriculum and real-time analytics.
Parents should be careful that online services they hire are not offering to write student papers or provide answers to the questions in textbooks.
“Unfortunately, many of those who claim to provide tutoring services actually sell cheating,” says Derek Newton, author of a newsletter on academic integrity and cheating called The Cheat Sheet. “To avoid cheating traps and get actual tutoring help, start by asking the school or teachers for a recommendation.”
Searching for a school? Explore our K-12 directory.
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