How can I avoid homework becoming so stressful?
I often hear from parents how difficult and stressful it can be to get children to sit down and do their homework. There are so many other fun things to be doing after school and these days children have much more homework than I ever did.
In Montessori education, we avoid giving set homework because we help children develop their love of learning during the school day.
They tend to go home and choose to create stories, experiments or other experiences that naturally support what they learned that day.
However, if your child attends a traditional school, you can help them with their set homework in the ways I’ll tell you about below.
But just before we get to that, if your child is still very small and doesn’t yet have any homework to worry about, this is the best time for you to help them develop concentration and self-discipline.
Concentration starts from birth
Newborns will focus on mobiles (and other slow-moving people or objects) for up to 30 minutes at a time. Most people have no idea of this natural ability to concentrate and so we distract or entertain babies much more than is necessary. Unfortunately, this often creates a dependence on other people that continues throughout the toddler years and right up to adulthood.
You can help your baby to concentrate by quietly observing and avoiding disturbing them until you see they have finished looking or playing with whatever it was. Then you can talk, play, sing, read etc. together.
There should be plenty of opportunities each day for your child to play independently, even as a young baby.
When it’s time to eat, wait until you see they have finished what they were focusing on. Then invite them to help you set the table (as soon as they are able to walk steadily) and sit together to eat. When it’s time for sleep, wait until they’ve finished their activity and then invite them to their room.
There are other times when we stop natural concentration without realising
For example, do you notice yourself reacting immediately to a text or other notification from your mobile? Your child absorbs your behaviour as normality and will pay more attention to phone sounds than their own work if they see you respond to them as a matter of urgency each time. It makes a huge difference if you can set specific times for checking your mobile rather than being at its beck and call.
The Absorbent Mind
Your child’s mind is incredibly impressionable from birth to 6 years – Dr Montessori called it the ‘Absorbent Mind’ because children literally absorb everything they experience. This includes language, movement patterns, values, beliefs, morals, habits, prejudices etc.
Everything your child experiences forms the very basis of their understanding and cultural identity. They will use this foundation to build on as they mature and it will always be there unconsciously.
Modern neuroscience is proving everything that Maria Montessori discovered through her observations of thousands of children. It’s being proven that many food, anxiety and other disorders that appear in adolescence stem from unconscious experiences that formed the foundations of the mind.
7 ways to avoid homework stress
You can help your child avoid future difficulties with homework and other life challenges in these ways:
- Create a basic routine for your home – waking and bedtime, mealtimes, free play, purposeful activities, reading and work, quality family time, special time alone with each child etc. This creates security and trust for your child which leads to a calm mind.
- Work together to create a schedule that suits your individual child. For example, some children like to get home from school, have a quick snack and get their homework done straight away. Others prefer to watch a bit of TV and then get their homework done. Some like to have a parent sitting next to them while they work, and some like to work alone. Ask your child what they would prefer – this shows you’re interested in their thoughts and opinions and it’s half the battle done.
- Step back and observe your child before you rush in to offer help. Mostly, they will be able to solve challenges independently but only if you show faith in them by holding back at first.
- Offer encouragement – your child needs to feel you have faith in their ability to try and problem-solve. Use phrases such as: “I know you can do it. I’ll be here to help if you need it.”
- Avoid rewards and punishments because these put your opinion and judgments on your child’s efforts. In fact, their efforts deserved to be recognised in their own right. For example, “You worked so hard on that picture. There are so many colours in it! Can you tell me more about it?” or “You spent a long time on your homework. You wrote really neatly and you’ve included lots of descriptive words. Are you proud of yourself? I’m proud of you too!”
- Give your child opportunities to evaluate their own work and discover how they could improve next time by themselves. Think about how you feel when you’ve worked hard on something – you feel proud of yourself and have ideas for the next piece of work. How would it make you feel if someone else always gave you a generic response such as, “Well done,” without any further comments? Or, conversely, if you’d just done the bare minimum and someone went overboard with praise about how wonderful it was? Your opinion is the most valuable because you’re the one in control of the effort you put in.
- Show your child you respect their interests by ensuring there is time every day for them to play independently doing whatever they love at this moment. Then when it’s time for homework they’ll be more willing to sit down and get it done.
I hope these tips have been helpful and given you food for thought. I’ll expand on the whole ‘avoiding rewards and punishments’ theme in future blogs as I know it’s an unusual idea at first.
For tailored help with your family’s challenges, feel free to contact me for a home consultation. I provide mentoring and family support for children from birth up to 12 years old. You can find out more here.