What to do if you don't understand your child's homework

By Pieter van Zyl
24 April 2016

How can you be expected to oversee your kids' work if it's all Greek to you?

If your child’s homework is Greek to you, you must get help, experts say.

The subjects you had at school may have been on the standard grade or you may have left school early to follow a technical career. But don’t fret; the older your child is, the less you have to help them with their homework.

“Parents get too involved with homework and place pressure on their children to achieve,’’ says educational psychologist Anel Annandale. Studies also show the positive effect of homework in helping children retain what they’ve learnt in class is found in high school children and not so much in children in the lower grades. According to the study a little homework can teach younger children good study habits, Anel says.

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“Children must be able to think and work on their own. Homework promotes critical thought; learners must discover things for themselves,” says Madi Mbambo, a Grade 5 teacher at Panorama Primary School in Pietermaritzburg.

Even if you don’t understand the work your children have to do you can at least make sure they’re doing enough homework. The rule of thumb is an extra 10 minutes of homework a day for every grade. A Grade 1 learner shouldn’t spend more than 10 minutes a day on homework and a Grade 12 learner should spend a maximum of two hours a day on homework.

Here are tips if your children’s homework is too complicated for you:

•Most schools have a parents’ night every term, but it’s not always enough, says Emmie Archer, an educational psychologist from Pretoria. “Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year. Find out if you can contact them by SMS, email or telephone – or even on Facebook.”

• Technology offers many new possibilities. Some schools have a Facebook group where you can ask your questions and communicate with other parents. If your child’s school doesn’t have such a group, start one or suggest starting one at a parents’ night.

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• Ask your child’s teacher(s) to explain the method of teaching used in class to give you a better understanding of it, says Candice Simmons, a psychologist from Monte Vista, Cape Town. “The teacher can provide you with extra material to help you at home.”

• Study guides for various subjects are available in printed form and in digital form so you can upload the guides onto a computer, Candice adds.

• If you can afford it obtain help from a teacher who gives extra lessons to get up to date with what’s expected in homework these days. You can also approach organisations such as Kumon or Saturday School, which can help you and your child, Candice says.

• If you can’t afford someone to give extra lessons you can approach your local university where students are studying education, says Anel. Students must get practical experience. There are often programmes where education students offer extra maths lessons as community work on weekends.

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• When it comes to preparing for orals, the approach these days is for learners to do research at home. Parents can help with this. But the children must take the information to school and complete the task there.

•Monitor your children’s homework but don’t do it for them, says Madi. Rather show your child how to do the work himself. For example, if your child must do three maths sums for homework, do one of them if you can and let them do the rest.

• Although you can’t always provide guidance in how to tackle the homework, you can ensure it’s not boring, Anel. For example, let your child write out his spelling in the sand or mud while playing outside.

• It’s especially in the foundation phase (Grade 1-3) that parents don’t know how to help with homework, says Caran Grobbelaar, a Grade 1 teacher at Somerset West Primary School. Children in this phase need parental help especially with reading. “Help them with the pronunciation of words. Be practical: encourage your child to read aloud the words on your breakfast cereal box.”

• Make sure your child can focus on their homework without distractions. Switch off the TV and make sure no one is speaking loudly during homework time.

• Say to your child, “I know you think this work is difficult but let’s try to understand it together,’’ is the advice of Christine Scolari. Be excited that you might also learn something new.

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•Find out what work your child is doing in class and encourage them to read and write for you at home. If he does his bit reward him with a treat or a DVD he’s keen to watch. This will make him feel special, says Christine.

• At the least you should know what’s in your child’s school books, says Emmie. “Keep an eye on your child’s marks but don’t specifically wait for their report after the exams. You must know when your child is writing a test and ask how it went.” Do this and you’ll quickly become aware of it if your child is struggling.

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