Q: My son, Cameron, started middle school and his homework load is huge. He's floundering. I'm a working mom who can't spend all night urging him to "get it done." He's not organized. Help!
A: The transition to middle school can be a shocker for students used to lighter homework. You'll need to coach your son in how to organize, manage time and focus on goals. By establishing guidelines and making a specific plan to get the work done, you'll teach Cameron skills that will serve him throughout his life, says Virginia educator Ann Dolin, author of "Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework" (Advantage, 2010).
Dolin's tips for homework success:
-- Set aside a weekly half-hour to plan the upcoming week. Sunday evenings work well. Preview extracurricular activities and long-term assignments to eliminate last-minute surprises.
"Often, it's what's not due the next day that throws you for a loop," says Dolin.
Plan for upcoming projects, book reports and tests by recording them in his assignment notebook. Do a "clean sweep" and clean out his binders, folders and backpack. Make sure that completed assignments aren't lost in a forgotten compartment!
-- Establish a daily homework start time.
"There are three good times to start: right after school, after a 30-minute break and before dinner," says Dolin. "Don't wait until after dinner or before bedtime to start: Kids aren't as productive then.
"Elementary students often need downtime after school or extracurricular activities -- about 30 minutes is usually sufficient. Although each start time might be different due to scheduling, keep the routine of starting 30 minutes after returning home. For older students, consider a policy that homework always starts before dinner, not after, to reduce late-night stress."
-- Use after-school care to your advantage. If Cameron participates in aftercare, encourage him to complete the easiest homework assignment before leaving for the day.
"Many kids either cannot focus or do not want to do homework in aftercare, but they are capable of completing a simple task," notes Dolin.
Then, by the time Cameron arrives home, at least one piece of work should be out of the way.
-- Use "home alone" time. If Cameron arrives home before you do, call him daily at a specified time to "go over his prioritized homework list, ranking work from easy to hard. His job is to complete the simple work early; you can assist with harder assignments later if needed," says Dolin.
Have him check off finished work so that you know what is left to do. Check the school's online portal to verify the homework load.
-- Get a study buddy. Ask Cameron to identify classmates he feels comfortable contacting with questions regarding homework. Keep their information in his homework area.
-- Monitor homework regularly and step back a bit, but not completely, after the first quarter.
"Praising Cameron's effort is a powerful tool when it comes to homework," Dolin advises. "It motivates kids to keep trying, even when the going gets tough!"
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)