Most parents want to help out with their child's homework. If our children ask questions we instinctively want to be helpful and provide the answer. However, teachers know that students are more likely to remember an answer if they work it out for themselves. So, if we shouldn’t just say the answer, what things can we do to help? Here are a few suggestions based upon the experience I’ve gained as a teacher, a learner and a parent.
Re-phrase a difficult question or make it a bit easier
Sometimes the way that a question is phrased is just a bit too tricky. Simplifying the question might enable your child to work out the answer for themselves.
This is something that my Mum did whenever she helped me with my maths homework. She didn’t give me the answer but just changed the question slightly. I was then able to work out the easier question by myself. This gave me the skills and confidence to tackle the more difficult question using the same strategy.
Give your child time to think about something
Perhaps we just need a bit of time to work out the answer. This is something that I’ve noticed from playing the piano. New pieces of music are often too difficult when I first try them. However, after a good night’s sleep I can often do something that was too tricky for me the previous day. Our brains are incredible if we give them the time they need.
Don't just focus on whether your child gets the right answer. As a teacher, I’m much happier when someone asks me a really good question than when they give me an answer that I expected. Asking intelligent questions shows that people are thinking about things and trying to understand them.
Ask your child to explain what strategy they used
Sometimes a child does 90% of a question right but ends up with the wrong answer. If this happens, they need to know that they were nearly right. Boost their confidence by commenting on all the good things they’ve done. Don’t worry about the mistakes as we all make them. However, do recommend that your child checks their answers carefully so that they can notice the mistakes and correct them.
Show your child where to find the answer
This was a tip that I picked up a while ago in David Attenborough's autobiography. If your child asks you a question, it can be a good idea to pretend not to know the answer. Instead find the answer together in a dictionary, reference book or online resource. Teaching children how to do research is a valuable skill.
Encourage your child to phone a friend
At times children don’t want help from their parents but are very happy to accept advice from their friends and peers. It goes without saying that this should be encouraged! Working in teams is a great way of learning.
Use everyday situations to teach your children
The final point is that there are hundreds of ways that we can help our children to learn without this being linked to homework. Here are a few suggestions but there are many more.
Do jigsaw puzzles with your kids
Let your kids see you reading books
Get a newspaper delivered
Practice maths whilst shopping with your kids.
Bake cakes with your kids but change the recipe (double the ingredients, for example)
Divide a cake unfairly and see what reaction you get. This will teach your child about fractions.
Tackle The Guardian crossword together
Watch quiz programmes
Play games such as Pictionary and Articulate
Hire a private tutor
This is another option. In my experience it works well when the child is motivated and wants additional help.
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