It is a truism that parents are the first teachers. However, when your children start to receive schoolwork to complete at home, it is important that you see yourself as their supporter rather than their main teacher. Homework – what we at Cluey call “practice” to reinforce its benefits – is all about students applying what they have learnt and becoming more independent in their learning.
There are two elements to parental support in this context: support for the specific pieces of schoolwork/homework and support for learning. These are not the same thing and understanding the difference will help you to navigate your role.
Let’s start with the more straightforward of these: support for homework. While frequently maligned, research shows us the value of homework, particularly for secondary students. One of the reasons for the success of homework as a learning strategy is the way it enables students to apply and consolidate what they have learnt in school. It is important to remember, therefore, that homework is only useful if you let your children do it themselves. That doesn’t mean that they have to do it on their own or without your help, but “support” shouldn’t translate to “doing it for them”. I should probably tell you, too, that teachers can generally pick parent-completed (as opposed to parent-assisted) homework at a hundred paces. (I have a great story about a parent who rang me to question the mark that “we” had received on an assignment – perhaps for another time…).
The best support you can offer your kids as they do their homework comes down to space and structure. All students need a quiet space and a regular time in which to do their homework. Family life can be full and chaotic but prioritising some time – and ideally the same time – every afternoon is very important. If your household doesn’t lend itself to this consistency of space and time, look for external ways to create structure. Many schools allow students to stay after school in the library to do their homework. Local libraries are also a great resource and have become much more appealing than they used to be. Many of our families use Cluey tutoring as a way to create that learning structure and (digital) space for their children to consolidate what they are learning at school through our personalised programs and also to get some help with their homework.
The important thing to remember is that establishing and enforcing routine is a vital way to help your child establish positive lifelong work habits.
So, that brings me to the second element of this topic: the matter of supporting learning. This is as much a mentality as anything else. Parents should always approach the topic of learning positively. Talk about your own learning in a positive way that reframes difficulty as possibility. Be curious about what they are learning and demonstrate curiosity in the world. It is important that we inculcate a belief in our children that learning is a good thing and something we are all engaged in, a process and an attitude separate from marks and grades at school. Not only will that attitude encourage engagement, it will also build resilience for those inevitable times when the process is difficult and discouraging.
Finally, the best way to support your child learning at home may be much simpler than you think. It is important for parents to remember that doing a task or completing a project is not the same as the actual process of learning – that is, really embedding a concept or skill so that you can use it later in a different context. Neuroscience tells us that this process of embedding or consolidating what you have learnt happens during sleep. Those one or two nights after you have learnt something new are crucial elements of the learning process. So, possibly the best way you can support your child’s learning at home is to make sure they get regular and plentiful sleep.