It’s exam season and most children in school are doing tests or exams. Almost every parent knows what it feels like to know that their child has a test the following morning and their child is not prepared. Just this last week, I have taken double the amount of calls I usually take to put worried parents’ minds at ease. Homework is a common cause of arguments in homes and we’ve all fallen into that trap where parents nag about homework and children ignore……
Does your child expect you to help them with homework? Have you ever done your child’s homework for them because you thought it was too hard? And how do you tread that fine line between helping your child with homework and interfering/doing the homework for them?
Homework has many purposes; the main one I think is to re-enforce what has been learnt in school. It teaches children how to work independently and finally it teaches them to be responsible.
At my centre, we give homework for all of the above reasons and our policy is to allow the children to do their homework without ANY intervention from parents. Parents are encouraged to check that the homework is done and that it is done to a suitable standard, but not to sit with their child while the homework is being done. If a parent has to intervene, then we ask them to highlight or mark the questions they helped with so that we are aware of any areas of difficulty.
Sometimes parents don’t even realise that they are helping. Take the following scenario for example:
Child: Mum I can’t do this question.
Mum: I can’t help you, but I will read out the question for you. The question says “Katie has 5 apples and Tom has 6 apples, how many apples is that altogether?”. So Katie has 5 apples, can you picture that in your brain?
Mum: Good. And Tom has 6 apples, can you picture that?
Child: Good. Now work out how much that is altogether.
Without even realising the parent had broken down this question into simpler words and steps.
When parents do help, then it can cause many problems:
1. The parents try to teach the child their way.
The way that you and I learnt how to do simple arithmetic is totally different to the way it is taught now. For example, the traditional method of adding up is to add in columns, but many schools use the “partitioning” method to teach addition. If your child has been taught partitioning and you are trying to teach them the traditional “column” method (maybe because you think it’s simpler), then you could end up confusing your child. Confusion can lead to mistakes, which can lead to loss of confidence. So ask your child how they work things out at school. Use the method they use at school first and if your child is confident with it, then you can teach your method.
2. The parents have to learn all about the topic first.
This takes time and it is difficult to know what the expectations are. In such cases, the parent’s anxiety can spread to the child. If you don’t know about the topic, then don’t use search engines to gather information so that you can help your child. It’s better to help your brainstorm what they know about the topic and start from there. Teach them how to look up information and develop their research skills instead so that they are the ones looking things up on search engines and not you.
3. The children start to rely on help from parents.
Some children are reluctant to ask their teacher for help at school so they will ask mum or dad because it’s much easier. So a shy child may not have understood what she was doing in class earlier that day, she didn’t ask for help from the teacher and therefore waited until she got home to get mum to explain it better. Encourage your child to ask for help from the teacher first. Be firm and resist the urge to help, and that way, if they don’t get help from you, they are more likely to ask in school.
In contrast, I think that teachers should only set homework that they know the child will be able to do. It mustn’t be too easy either. I have often changed the planned homework at the last minute because I knew that the child was not confident enough to do it by themselves at home.
4. The children learn that at the first sign of trouble, mum or dad will bail them out.
Children need to take responsibility for their own learning. The homework belongs to the child and should be completed by the child. Some children need re-assurance and there’s no harm in explaining how to do the homework so that the child can get started. One parent told me that when her daughter was doing her maths homework, she asked for help. The homework was on long multiplication which involves many steps and so, the mother sat down with her daughter and wrote down all the steps involved. She then sat there until the daughter worked out the second problem correctly. Then she decided to leave the room and within seconds, her daughter said “mum this is too hard, I’m stuck”! The mother still left the room and the daughter completed the rest by herself – CORRECTLY.
5. Parents end up nagging and bullying their children into doing homework.
This can lead to resentment and sets homework in a negative light.
My Child Can’t Do Maths
A solid maths foundation is vital for children to succeed. Without solid math skills, children will probably have a lot of trouble in school and afterwards.
I often get asked the question “how can I help my child with maths at home”?. If your child is struggling with maths, there are many ways to help, but before you do that you need to know what the problem areas are.
Some of the traits that I see in children who are weak in maths are:
They don’t understand the language used in maths like “less”, “more than”, “half of”, “share”, “total” and “difference”.
They have difficulty retaining basic number facts. They will take a long time to work out something in their head and often make careless mistakes.
They often use long-winded ways to work out something on paper. For example, I saw a child work out the sum 100 – 42 by drawing 100 dots and crossing out 42 of them. I saw another child work out the sum 250 ÷ 5 by writing out the 5 times table.
They cannot “translate” number word problems into maths calculations. For example: if Sam, Tim and Emma each eat 4 sweets, how many is that altogether? Children either don’t know that this is 3 x 4 or they may know that this but not know their 3 times tables.
Your child may not have such general difficulties; it could be a more specific problem like understanding fractions, or getting to grips with geometry. The point is that you need to get to the root of the problem. Fractions are related to division and multiplication. Is it because your child hasn’t grasped the basics of these skills yet? Difficulty with geometry could be just a simple matter of not learning the rules for working out angles in a triangle. Whatever the cause, there are ways in which you can help your child fill in those gaps.
Help Them Learn Their Times Tables.
Times tables is the bricks and mortar of basic maths knowledge and it is crucial that your child has plenty of opportunities to learn them. Don’t rely on school to the job for you, as many children will need a lot of exposure to learning times tables.
First get your child to write out the times tables, and then try to get them to learn “parrot-fashion”. If it’s just not sticking then an easy way to help is to write them on your child’s fingertips or use stickers as shown in the pictures below.
Another place for great ideas is here. I also get children to recite times tables going forwards and backwards, and sometimes I get them to recite from half way through the tables. It just breaks up the monotony and introduces a new challenge.
Use a Multi-Sensory Approach.
It has been shown that children retain information better when they not only see it, but when they hear it and also when they can put it into practice. Making maths practical and relevant to everyday life can get a child to use all of their senses and at the same time giving it a purpose. Maths is all around us and we can use our surroundings to help our children with maths.
To teach measures:
teach your child to use a ruler or a tape measure with accuracy. If you are into gadgets then why not invest in an electronic tape measure (often used by estate agents).
Point out quantities of things on food packets to show them the difference between grams and kilograms or litres and millilitres.
Look at angles on objects around the room, see how many right angles your child can spot.
Involve your child in cooking, getting them to read the scales when weighing out ingredients.
If you are baking cup cakes and the recipe only makes 12 but you want 24, use this as an opportunity to teach about ratios and equivalents.
Play with water using different sized containers, predict how many small cups can fill a large container and measure how much water the containers hold.
To teach place value and money:
Show your child a till receipt and look at the quantities in pounds and pennies.
Take your child shopping and equip them with a calculator. As you shop they can work out the bill.
Get your child used to handling money, recognising coins and working out if they have/don’t have enough money.
To teach about tens and units, read our blog post here.
Talk Maths Language
Use mathematical words like “total” and “difference” when talking to our child. Other words to use are “rotate”, “divide”, “more than/less than” and “fewer than”.
Here are some more ideas:
Plant sunflower seeds and get your child involved in measuring how much water to give each day, measuring how tall the seedlings are growing and comparing the length of the seedlings.
Make sandwiches and get your child to decide how many pieces of cucumber to put into each sandwich, how much cheese to weigh, or how many slices of bread to take.
Get your child to help you with spring cleaning. They can sort things into different groups for you, place objects in order of size, measure the amount of space they have made by clearing out the clutter and simply just counting all their possessions.
Invest in a dart board to get children working out the totals, for younger children you can buy a simpler version of a dart board which uses Velcro darts.
Use every opportunity to count things, whether it’s during a walk to the shops, or how many bounces on the ball or timing how long it takes to take a shower.
“Red hot marking” is the term I use to describe how I mark children’s work. As a teacher, I believe that children’s work should be marked as soon as it’s done, when it’s “red-hot”. The children get instant feedback and know that their efforts have not been ignored. I used to hate it when my work was not marked at school, or when the teacher just used to put random ticks on my work without even reading through it.
You should also bear this in mind if you are a parent and working with your child at home. Children love to be praised and respond well to encouraging ticks and words during their work.
Try the following strategies:
Mark a child’s work as soon as they have done it. If there is too much to mark, then at least mark part of it. Alternatively ask the child to do the first 3 questions out of 10 and mark those before allowing them to continue.
Mark the work in front of the child. They like to see you put the ticks and comments on, and it also gives you the opportunity to verbally tell the child what they have done right.
Beware of putting in too many crosses in RED INK all over the child’s work. If when marking a piece of work you find that there are lots of mistakes, it’s better to mark a little bit and speak to the child about it. Don’t put “SEE ME” at the end of the piece of work. It put’s the child on edge.
Discuss the good and bad points of the work with the child and set new targets. Make sure that the child is aware of their targets before and after doing a piece of work. Having a target, for example accuracy, neatness, creativity, or a specific grammatical point gives a focus to the child.
Sometimes a child can mark their own work, if the task is multiple choice or if it’s maths. However, this should not be done too often as it doesn’t give you the chance to go over the mistakes.
Always mark homework as soon as it is handed in, and give back to the child during the same lesson or the next lesson. If you leave too much of a gap between submission of homework and marking of homework, children will forget and the effort on homework almost seems wasted.
If you don’t get time to mark straight away then tell the child why and make a promise that you will mark it as soon as possible.
These strategies accelerate learning and are easy to do. Do you use any of them? Which ones work best/are easiest to use? Or do you have your own technique of marking?
Do you read without thinking? And then don’t remember much about what you have read? This blog post will teach you how to read effectively so that what you read, you remember.
All revision and study involves reading, but if the reading is just superficial, then it’s pointless. Here are some tips on how you can read actively so that you understand thoroughly what every word, sentence and paragraph means.
Why are you reading?
When revising, there is always an aim or a purpose. Identify that purpose and as you read have that purpose in the back of your mind.
If you are going through Romeo and Juliet then you might need to memorize quotes or highlight the important/most exciting parts of the play. This blog post gives some excellent advice on how to do it.
If you are revising maths, then make sure that you know which formulas you have to memorize and which ones will be given to you. You will also need to remember the steps involved in specific calculations. For example, you need to know how to work out the surface area of a rectangular prism. This blog posting gives you 21 ways of revising maths.
If you are revising history, then learn important dates, events and try to imagine what life would be like in those past times. As you read, make notes and create timelines. Actively highlight key points in the text. This article gives some great revision tips on revising history.
Younger children often read mechanically, and look at the text word by word. They are so absorbed in working out what each word says that they don’t think about what they are reading. When helping a younger child with reading, help by decoding words, going over particular sounds and working out the meaning of new words. Also, stop at certain points and ask question on the text. These blog posts has some great advice on helping young children to read with more comprehension.
When revising science, make sure you know which topics you have to “recall” which means to memorise and which topics you must “understand and apply”. There is a lot to learn in science, so it is best to learn how to skim read and zoom in on the key words in the text.
Don’t Lose Concentration
To avoid getting bored and to staying focussed:
use highlighter pens – the colours add variety to our work
write questions in the margins to jog your memory
make up mnemonics to help you remember
use “sticky notes” to add points to think about
try to find patterns when you read
look for links between cause and effect or to other topics
You should be able to learn the work in such a way that you can teach someone else without getting muddled up. You don’t have to memorize every single word of your notes, but aim to memorize the main points at least, so that you can then write down these main points in a summary or on revision cards.
How Do I Know It’s Sinking In?
Re-read many times, even if you think you know it all. Test your knowledge by covering the page you are reading and then seeing how much you can remember. Then read the parts you forgot again. Read and understand one sentence at a time.
This is called active learning and it ensures that you are concentrating on what you are reading and will help you to remember more.
The important thing is to try a variety of techniques and to do it properly. I’ve seen students work, where they have revised using a highlighter, and they have highlighted nearly every word on the page. Another student, said he had revised using the “questions in the margin” technique. There were not enough questions to test that he had understood everything on the page.
Try them out and see what works for you.