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Sometime soon your child will have a project-type assignment for school. It might be a major paper, a poster or demonstration, or something she needs to complete as part of a group. Whatever the project, you know the risk: that your child will leave this until the last minute and you will find yourself getting over-involved just to help your child get it done.

Over-involvement is something you want to avoid. Your child’s teacher will not be impressed if he suspects Mom or Dad did more of the work than the child did herself. And, of course, the purpose of the project is to aid in your child’s learning. Giving too much help robs your child of a great opportunity to add to her skills.

Your role is to teach skills here too – skills in organization and time management. Here’s how you do that.
1. Start the minute you know a big project is due. Sit down with your child when you have 20 or 30 minutes to think and talk over the whats and the whens.

2. Break the project down into its component parts. There might be library or Internet research, notetaking, creating the final project, and planning a presentation. Look over the assignment  together and figure out what steps need to be accomplished in what order. If there are questions about the assignment, now is the time to make note of these so your child can ask his teacher.

3. Figure out how long each step might take. Work backwards from the project’s due date, filling in on a calendar what has to be started by when. Be sure to add in some time for unexpected setbacks and take note of any interruptions, like vacations or other events, that you know will get in the way. You should end up with a calendar that has the big due date on it for the project itself and a lot of little due dates for each step along the way.

4. Plan how to work on the project a little bit every day. The secret to getting a big assignment done on time is to work on it steadily. That way, there are no surprises when one part is more difficult than expected and there is plenty of time to adjust.

5. Make it clear that your role is one of support person and advisor but not one of participant. You will not do the project and you will not tell your child how to do the project the way you would do it. You will help him stay on track and will troubleshoot challenges that come up but the project, from concept to completion, is your child’s responsibility.

If your child is supposed to complete the project as part of a group, the same steps apply. If you are worried about the group’s ability to deliver, then get off to a good start by hosting a planning session along the lines just described. But resist the temptation to become the leader of the group or to thrust your child into the leader role. Group projects are valuable because kids have to negotiate responsibilities. Don’t deny your child and his classmates this learning experience by taking it over.

Some parents worry that other families will “cheat” and do a project for their children. They think that they have to cheat too, just to keep their child competitive. Please try to avoid this sort of thinking. Remember that your child needs to learn how to manage her time and organize her work. No matter what other kids do, don’t short-change your child but teach her what she needs to know to be a success now and into the future.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

Does homework at your house stretch out to fill the entire evening? Assuming you believe the amount of homework is reasonable for your child’s grade (and check with your child’s teacher or principal if you think it’s not), then now is time to help your child get homework done with time left over for fun. Here’s how.

You remember Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time allowed. The child who lets his homework drag on is allowing it too much time. Many kids do this because they don’t know any other way. Because homework always takes all night, they don’t realize it might be possible to do it quicker. To change your child’s perspective, you’ll need to help her think differently.

A New Daily Routine

As soon as your child gets home review together what homework was assigned that day. It helps to walk through the daily classroom schedule: what do you have for reading? what do you have for math? what do you have for social studies? and so on. The objective is to get a clear picture of the homework load early on, so there are no surprises later.

Then, help your child to imagine how long each piece of homework will take. He will need your help here, though he’ll get better at estimating time as he becomes more practiced. Put a sticky note on each bit of homework that indicates his best guess about time.

Next, help your child consider what else he’d like to do that evening. Does he need to play outside a bit or have a snack? Is there a television program he wants to watch? Does he have some sort of practice or lesson he needs to get to? Remember to figure in time for dinner and a reasonable bedtime.

Now your child creates her plan. What homework will she do first and how will the various bits of homework fit into the spaces between the other things she needs or wants to do? Some kids like to do the hardest or longest piece of homework first and some like to get a lot of the smaller, easier ones out of the way first. There’s no right or wrong way.

Get settled in. Make sure your child has a clear space to do the work. If your child has trouble staying on-task, make this a quiet spot near where you’re also going to be. Turn off the TV and other distractions. Especially when you’re trying to build a new habit for doing homework, it’s important that the place for homework work well for your child. Other kids in the household might need to help in reducing the interruptions.

Set a timer or at least note on the clock when the first bit of homework should be done, based on your child’s estimate of the time needed. Let him get started.

When the first piece of homework is completed, share high-fives all round and let your child get on to the next. Celebrate each step but help your child stay on-track. Make sure to stop for whatever breaks your child has planned but make sure also to not delay in getting back down to business.

A New Habit

It will take a while for this new system to become a habit. But if you can stick with it for three weeks, your child will be on the way to being able to manage his time better all by himself. He will also start to see the results of his diligence, in the form of better grades at school and more fun at home. He may be able to look back on the time when homework took forever and laugh at his old self.

But What If?

What if there is just too much homework? Talk with your child’s teacher and talk also with other parents. Is everyone in the class having the same difficulty? If it’s just your child having trouble, why is that? Is she having trouble not just with homework but with guided instruction during the school day? Does she have too many extracurricular activities that take up too much after-school time? What is reasonable and what can be done?

What if he can’t remember his assignments? Most schools these days offer a homework hotline or online homework listings that can be helpful on those nights your child can’t figure out the homework directions or he knows there is an assignment but can’t remember what it is. Using a homework notebook can help, though he’ll have to remember to fill this in during class, when you won’t be there to remind him to write things down.

What if she just plain won’t do it? Kids sometimes don’t do homework because it’s better to be thought lazy than stupid. Why go to all the trouble of doing homework and earn a D – and let everyone know you’re dumb – when not-doing homework just means you’re lazy or too cool for school? If your child feels she cannot succeed, she won’t do her homework. In this case, you’ll need to help her get her confidence back, by locating a tutor or helping her with her work yourself. (Notice this doesn’t mean you do the homework – that only makes your child think you believe she’s dumb too. But it does mean you’ll need to make her success a priority.)

When you help your child manage his homework, you give him a great skill he’ll use over and over. It’s worth the time and effort you’ll need to put into this to get your child back on track.