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Your school-age child could be spending five to 12 hours – even more – on homework each week. So, here’s how to use that time to improve their skills mastery, performance and even wellbeing.

Parental involvement

Parental styles of involvement in their children’s homework could affect the latter’s performance and wellbeing, a study[1] has found. You want to guide, rather than hover and direct.

“Parents who set clear rules [around homework] generally foster positive outcomes, whereas merely monitoring a child’s homework completion does not,” said the researchers.

They recommended parents:

  • Emphasize mastery goals as this encourages children to set their own personal mastery goals
  • Focus on the child’s self-improvement rather than performance
  • Discuss the relevance of homework and show it can be enjoyable and that mistakes are a learning opportunity
  • Not compare or promote competition between children and
  • Be mindful that their own attitudes may “directly contribute to children’s motivational orientation”.

“What matters most is not merely completing the homework or spending more time on it but, rather, the extent and quality of student engagement while doing the tasks,” the researchers said.

 Sorting out the basics

 While your dining or kitchen table may be central, it might not be ideal for your child to get into the ‘homework mind space’. You’ll still need a ‘public’ area in your home to keep an eye on them (depending on their age) and, if they have a mobile phone, it should stay with you.

Can you help them make their homework zone their own space? Check out these Pinterest pins for inspiration. Considering finding a meme that helps motivate them, printing it out and framing it.

Some basics to consider: keep the top of the desk clear of distractions. Hide pencils, pens, highlighters and other stationery in a drawer. Have a planner or calendar handy to mark progress, assignment due dates and chunks the work to complete before then.

Getting the ambience right

Aim to get a sense of how your child studies best. They may need a study buddy. Do they work well with low-level background noise, even soft music or is a set of noise-cancelling headphones a good investment? You might think listening to music boosts their brainpower, but research doesn’t support that. In fact, it can interfere with short-term memory.

A study reported in Applied Cognitive Psychology[2] found listening to music you like before you study rather than during it, is beneficial. That means having music on before homework time can “improve general cognitive functioning”. The study found that when people listened to music while doing a task, their performance was still poor regardless of whether they liked or disliked the music.

As well, lighting can set more than the mood. A Dutch study cited research showing both “natural and artificial lighting affect people’s health, mood, well-being and alertness”.[3] What worked best were bright lighting (500 lux compared to 300 lux for standard lighting) and being able to adjust lighting levels for different activities.

Connecting with teachers

You’ll probably meet with your child’s teacher a couple of times a year formally for interviews about their progress, but why stop there? When teachers texted parents weekly about their children’s math homework, as part of a study involving 16,000 high school students, that boosted their results by a month[4]. The texts covered “dates of upcoming tests, warnings about missed homework to conversational prompts on what their child had learnt that day. And, they were more effective than coaxing parents to take part in 12 classes over a year to upskill them to support their child’s literacy and numeracy learning.

Working to the same curriculum or not

Ever noticed your child’s homework stumps even you? Chances are you may not be familiar with the Common Core Standards, which outline the learning progression for the end of each grade from K-12.  But that may not be true for your state – check this site to see if your state has adopted them. And here’s an overview of how math has been taught for the past few decades – the only constant is change.

You may have heard of the free online help with the Khan Academy’s videos, but while they will explain the steps such as in maths problems, you may not understand the concepts, the ‘why’ you’re doing it that way. Ensure your own skills are in ship-shape – here’s one of our other blog posts about what to do when you’re struggling with numeracy skills.

Knowing and teaching aren’t the same

But even if you do know how to do the homework, you may come up short when it comes to teaching it. You need pedagogical content knowledge. That means you can hone into a particular way of explaining the process of problem solving that suits the learner – that is your child. You’ll be able to identify and even pre-empt their misconceptions and mistakes. That takes a bit of work, but Googling allows you to tap into some amazing resources (see our links below, too).

Getting them into gear

You or your child may have a ritual to help get them started on their homework. Perhaps they tackle it during a particular period after school. Those routines can go haywire with after-school activities, interruptions, hunger and even the lure of playing outdoors with buddies.

Consider helping them get started with an online learning program. Built on brain science, BrainWare Safari is an engaging one that we use to help children aged nine and older to develop their cognitive skills for memory, attention, processing and sensory integration. The idea is to ensure students’ fundamental cognitive skills are solid, so they can build on those for more advanced abilities.

Keeping up with the times

As a parent, you’ll hear a lot more about the flipped classroom as it’s the standard used by more than two-thirds of US teachers[5]. That’s where students watch an instructional video at home then do the work and practice at school. So, instead of working through problems at home, your child is tackling them at school with their teacher. Makes sense, but it turns the idea of homework as practice on its head.

When you both need more help

 If your child has a diagnosed learning disability, you may need to look elsewhere for at-home help. That might be enlisting the services or a tutor reaching out for an online learning intervention, for example. Check out Gemm Learning’s programs informed by neuroscience here to help get your child on their best track for learning at home and at school.



www.Youcubed.org is a free online course for students about ‘How to Learn Mathematics’, by Professor Jo Boaler of Stanford University

https://skoolbo.com Skoolbo for four to 10 year olds – covers numeracy, literacy and language

https://www.brainscape.com/ for creating flashcards

Free online video courses in math from early grades to senior high school https://khanacademy.org


[1] Nir, M, Nitzan, S & Moshe, L. [2016]. The Role of Parental Attitudes in Children’s Motivation Toward Homework Assignments. Psychology in the Schools. Feb, Vol 53, Issue 2, pp173-188

[2] Perham, N., Vizard, J. [2010]. Can Preference for Background Music Mediate the Irrelevant Sound Effect? Applied Cognitive Psychology. July 21

[3] Sleegers, P. J. C., Moolenaar, N. M., Galetzka, M., Pruyn, A., Sarroukh, B. E., & van der Zande, B. [2013]. Lighting affects students’ concentration positive: Findings from three Dutch studies. Lighting Researching & Technology. Vol 45; pp159-175

[4] Unknown author. [2016]. Texting parents about tests and homework can improve math results and reduce absenteeism. Education Journal. July 19

[5] De Araujo, Z., Otten, S., & Birisci, S. [2017]. Conceptualizing ‘Homework’ in Flipped Mathematics Classes. Journal of Educational Technology & Society. January 1