Category: Homework Strategies

Homework Strategies: Version 2.0



I am in awe of homeschoolers.

Our little one is a highly creative thinker with a flair for drama. Homework is a major negotiation every afternoon. She has dutifully kept her rear in a chair for the past several hours, and now it is time to par-tee. She pirouettes around the living room in lieu of math. Freestyles ELA vocab lists into goofy poems. Stages meltdowns at the proper cues.

It’s more like open-mic night at the club than an after-school homework session.

But when she settles in, she knocks it out of the park. It is about tuning in and staying tuned in for that short while—which I know can be a challenge after a long day at school.

I joke with her that if we were to homeschool, I’d be so burnt by the end of the day of schoolwork drama that she’d have to get herself a bowl of cereal for dinner and I’d be in bed by 8 o’clock.

Thankfully she also understands my wry humor, and finds this hilarious. Hand on forehead in faux exhaustion, she acts out Mommy going to bed by 8.

But it is probably pretty close to the truth.

We have gained a little maturity around here since our earlier homework posts. We are nearing 4th Grade, and prepping for that change that will be Middle School (cue horror-flick music).

So, here are some fresh ideas for getting that work done. And done well.

First: Transitions are huge—maybe the most important part of the process.

To avoid surprises, we have a set standard for homework time

1. Home
2. Snack
3. 15-minute break
4. Homework

So, she expects the expected. She may not love it. That 15 minutes may lag a bit here and there. But it is the rule of law and she knows it.

Second: Embrace (for lack of a better word) the transition into doing the actual work.

Know that there will be drama and prepare thy self.

This way, I do not make the mistake of meeting her drama with drama of my own. That “here we go again!” feeling can really take over.

In terms of handling drama, I’m kind of on the fence about deep breathing. It sounds great, and I know it works. But when I am facing frustration, I become a little rebellious. “Deep breathing? Yeah right.”

Usually I’ll take a step back and busy myself and approach her when I feel calm.

The non-dramatic response to her drama keeps things on a level plane. She is watching me for my response. If I get riled up, she owns the moment, and—lo and behold!—homework is delayed. Mission accomplished.

Third: Don’t let the turkeys get us down – the little stuff can make or break the process:

Arrive prepared:

Have a backup pencil.

Have the homework all in one place.

Be willing to brainstorm answers for a bit to get her back on task.

Take a mini silly-break or hug-break if/when needed.

Be prepared for the onslaught of issues that will arise: “I’m hungry,” “I need the bathroom,” “I’m too hot.” Meet each of these with awareness of the bigger idea – the kid feels the need to escape.

Disappear so she can truly concentrate once dialed in.

Eventually she is “on a roll.”

Don’t interrupt. Go pretend to dust something (or actually dust something) far away but within earshot.

Hold breath.

Watch for new wiggling and intercept as necessary.

Settling into homework is a skill like any other. It must be learned, coached, even coaxed at times. But we will keep at it. And every year sees improvement.

And someday, in the distant future, I imagine her looking wistfully back at the days when Mom so patiently worked with her on how to “buckle down and get it done.” Well, maybe.





Homework Strategies: When the Homework Doesn’t Make Sense to You Either



I can’t dive head first into a math worksheet when helping with homework. I can fake it for a moment, but invariably that falls apart. In reality, it takes me some time to catch on to what is being taught, and how they want the concept presented to the student.

Concepts are being taught differently. In some cases, even cross-multiplying has been taken off the table, and that was one of my favorites. When I sat for the GRE, my internal mantra was, “when in doubt, cross multiply.” It worked.

So the question is, how to get up to speed — and quickly.

Here is what has worked:

1. Grab the worksheets and take a time out on the sofa while little one has a snack and break time.

Then I know what needs to be covered and am not caught off guard in the moment.

2. Look it up if I don’t get it or if I simply need a refresher. I try the following:

Google image search – gives me a quick fly-by of the concepts so I can tell at first glance what matches up with what we are studying. I find it much faster than digging through text search results.

Khan Academy – Brilliant

YouTube –  Of course

One of my favorite print resources is this handbook from Great Source – It is a few years older at this point, but it is simply a visual dictionary of math concepts so it won’t go out of style.*

3. Stay cool and ask questions to get the student on board with the concept.

My student was most probably taught the concept in school (unless they had a busy day and did not get to it). With a bit of review, the concept should come tumbling back into mind. It’s in there. Reach for the “Oh, yeah!” moment.

I remind myself that I am not alone by watching The Math Class from The Middle. The scenes that show the parents helping with homework are priceless — worth much more than the $1.99 I spent for the SD version.*

Update – just saw this today on Twitter: One school district holds parent information nights

*This is not a sponsored blog post. But when I totally love something, I will share it.

Photo credit: © Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-DIG-nclc-05022, photographer: Hine, Lewis Wickes / National Child Labor Committee

Homework Strategies: When the Homework Doesn’t Make Sense to You Either

Homework Strategies: Teaching your Student to Enter the Work

Homework Strategies: Teaching your Student to Enter the Work

Homework Strategies

I think the title of this post is strange. But I will live with it for it describes what I have been thinking.

We have a predictable routine: home from school, have a snack, take a 15 minute break, then homework. She is rested and ready — or so I think. But, sometimes our inventive little one has a difficult time switching gears into homework mode. She, like many, is very busy and has reached the point of overwhelm by 4 pm. I touched on this in a prior post about avoidance. But I need to dig deeper into the discussion about the transition itself. I want mastery over the situation for her sake, and for mine.

(I am starting to hyperventilate as I write this, recalling the frustrating wiggle fest that precedes any homework session. I am reliving the moment and realizing that it is not our finest hour.)

I normally resort to illustrating various approaches, some of them in vain:
  1. the zen thing where I make loose fists and place them on my knees. See? If you just take a deep breath it will be easy to get started
  2. the “just focus and get it done” thing where I put on a serious face and pretend to be filling out the worksheet in record time
  3. the getting annoyed and walking out of the room thing (I am human, but not proud of my behavior when I resort to this)

These are not working. They are simply the last-ditch efforts of a tired parent at the end of the day. Furthermore, they seem weak, and she can see right through them.

It is time for me to brainstorm. I have to figure out how to make that entry process easy for her. This post, therefore, is a work in progress that I will update with our successes and (hopefully zero) failures. Let’s use KWL since it relates to school!

What I KNOW: 

The homework itself is not the problem. And once she is IN homework mode, she quiets right down and gets it done – beautifully.

What I WANT to learn:

I want to learn how to make the entry process easy for her so the transition is smooth.

What I have LEARNED:

Obviously not enough. The aforementioned demonstrations (zen thing, focus thing, storm out of room thing) have not taken hold. So let me juggle some ideas.

I can start by making sure I have taken care of myself. Last week I tried to fly on a handful of popcorn while thinking about the not-yet-cooked dinner and ended up in tears. Math homework should not be making me cry anymore. I left those days behind in 9th grade.

If there is a lot to be tackled at once, I can simplify an overwhelming worksheet by folding over or hiding certain areas.

Being funny works: Talk about the word problems: why does Derek need 1,200 glue sticks after all? It makes the homework an adventure. It can lead to over silliness, so I use with caution. And being funny requires that I be completely on point. I cannot swing funny when I am worn out.

Taking care of my mood: Kids can read us better than we can read ourselves. My little one can sense the growing dread in my chest when homework looms. Cue the wiggling and pretend fainting. My terse, fake smile does nothing to hide this. I end up looking like Church Lady from SNL when I try to pull this off.

Finally, at this moment, I know that it will change. For this reason, I can relax until more answers come. I am an up-all-night-till-I-solve-it obsessive thinker, so I know it is only a matter of time. I will add to this post as the answers come.

Wishing you a wonderful and interesting day.

Photo credit: © Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-DIG-fsa-8d12762, photographer: Collier, John, 1913-1992 / U.S. Farm Security Administration

Homework Strategies: Teaching your Student to Enter the Work

Homework Strategies – Avoiding Avoidance

Maybe it is the first warm night of spring and running in circles outside seems infinitely more fun than homework. Or maybe it’s the night with both late school pickup and swimming practice, and my student has dozed off on the car ride home.

Homework Strategies - Avoiding Avoidance: two children work by lamplight

The Lopez children doing their homework on the kitchen table/U.S. Farm Security Administration

What I know  for sure is that there is a folder stuffed full of worksheets that need to be done!

But, after such a long day, how can I get our daughter into homework mode? I talked about what times work best in our house. But what if the timing is the best that it can be, and my student is still in non-homework mode?

Time to gear up with some strategies.

1. Take care of yourself first. This is a night when my frustration could rise, and I could end up hissing “Just do the worksheet!” instead of calmly helping. Whether it be a snack, or a 5 minute sofa crash, I need to make sure I am calm and ready to arrive at the homework table.

2. Allow the student some warmup time: I know that it may take about 5 minutes for our daughter to settle into homework mode. During this warmup time, she may wiggle, look for excuses to do the homework later, or give up easily on a problem. If I am ready for this warmup period I do not let it distract her – or me from the task at hand. I just accept it, and remind her that it takes a few minutes to go “into the homework zone.” The more understanding she gains of her process, the better. And hopefully this is a skill she can take with her.

3. Be prepared with a bag of tricks:

“Oops! I dropped my pencil” I keep one on hand. Stopping to pick up pencil may interfere with homework momentum

“My pencil broke/is dull/I don’t like this kind” I keep one on hand. Allowing my student to get up and sharpen may break the homework momentum. We have a jumbo, bright blue, electric sharpener and it is very fun. Then we might have to start over with the warmup process.

I’m thirsty: Start homework with glass of water on table. This is also a nice mini-break during homework, as my student can refresh with a sip whenever she needs to regroup

I’m hungry: I make sure my student had a healthy-ish snack prior to starting.

“I don’t get it!” followed by sigh of frustration:  Sometimes we shuffle the work about as necessary. Maybe we start with the easier tasks that we can do together, such as spelling words or Spanish vocab.

Then tackle the pre-algebra. This way we can talk about all she has accomplished already. “Look honey, there’s just this one eensy-weensy math worksheet to go!”

4. Give mini-breaks if necessary, but mini is the key term: Bathroom. Tell a quick, fun story about her day. Organize folder.

There is no better feeling than packing a folder full of completed worksheets for the next day. Even on tough nights, this moment can be reached – and should be celebrated. For every successful night of homework encourages our children that they can accomplish more than they ever realized. Good work!

Homework Strategies - Avoiding Avoidance: two children work by lamplight

Photo credits: © Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (top) LC-DIG-fsa-8d25834 (bottom) LC-DIG-fsa-8d25885, photographer: Collier, John, 1913-1992 / U.S. Farm Security Administration


Homework Strategies – Avoiding Avoidance


School Strategies – Assignment Checklist with Text Fields

I had fun making this. It is a weekly assignment checklist with text fields in the PDF. Continue reading

Homework Strategies – Scratch Paper that Makes Sense

Homework Strategies – Scratch Paper that Makes Sense

Does this page look familiar?

The teachers want to see the steps of our student’s work. But scratch work as shown on the page below is hard to follow for the teacher – and the student.


Download this scratch paper to help your student organize his or her thinking. Features an oversized grid layout with space for problem numbers.  Within each section, there is plenty of room to fit complex problems. Page works in horizontal or vertical format, depending on what makes your student most comfortable.


Homework Strategies - Scratch Paper that Makes Sense

printable scratch paper



Homework Strategies – Care for Yourself First

Homework Strategies - Care for Yourself First

Homework comes at a very interesting time of the day. Late.

I know that by 4 or 5 pm, I have already crammed as much into the day as possible: working, housework, talking with our little one about the day, getting dinner fired up…

Next on the to-do list? Homework. Continue reading

Homework Strategies – What Time Works Best

Homework Strategies - What Time Works Best - school bus

I know what doesn’t work:

Homework on the bus

Believe me, I tried this method many times growing up. I would get woozy and bus sick. I still remember the feeling of bus sickness – not quite the same as car sickness. The diesel fumes mixed with the scent of bologna sandwiches really took it to a new level. Continue reading

Homework Strategies – Simplifying a Worksheet

Homework Strategies - Simplifying a Worksheet - sample complex sheetYou know the night.

It is 5:43. Dinner is not in the oven. School shoes have been left in front of the door so they can be tripped over tomorrow morning. Your young student, who wants nothing more than to jump from sofa to sofa to expend some energy, had been seated at the kitchen table with a fresh pencil in hand. And then?

Out comes the math worksheet (cue sound effect).

Continue reading

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