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Homework Helpers: 14 Steps to A+ Habits

We’re halfway through the second semester of school and progress reports are arriving home in tentative little hands. It’s a time to celebrate improvements and successes, absolutely, but also a time to buckle down. We are nearing those last chances to improve grades before the end of the year!

One of the most effective ways to get those grades up is to instill strong study habits. Good study habits begin with a reliable routine:

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  • 14 Steps to A+ Homework Habits 1 of 15
    14 Steps to A+ Homework Habits
    This is all about establishing an effective and encouraging routine... You can SO do this!
  • Start homework at the same time every day. 2 of 15
    Start homework at the same time every day.
    Knowing what to expect allows kids to relax until it's time to start their homework, vs. a constant low level of stress anticipating when mom is going to say it's time to study. Establishing a "homework start time" that is the same every day helps tremendously to manage stress and expectations.

    For our elementary school age kids, 4:30pm works well, as it gives the kids time to relax while allowing enough time to finish by dinner.

  • Don’t overdo the discipline. 3 of 15
    Don't overdo the discipline.
    Seriously, though, give them a break after school.

    Time to veg out and kick their feet up after school is important. Without that light at the end of the tunnel, it reduces their ability to pace themselves toward the end of the day while AT school.

    If you can get them outside, even better!

  • Establish a homework zone. 4 of 15
    Establish a homework zone.
    Create a regular study area: distraction-free (turn that TV off), good lighting, storage area for supplies (they'll drag their feet if they have to return to a messy zone tomorrow), and plenty of surface area to spread out papers and books.

    This can be as awesome as their own home office space or as easy as the kitchen table. Ours is the kitchen table: I'm able to weigh in on their questions and keep an eye on their focus while quietly prepping dinner. When they are done, we slip everything into a storage cabinet and we're done for the day!

  • Stock it with supplies. 5 of 15
    Stock it with supplies.
    Nothing breaks a good groove like wandering around looking for a ruler. Stock their homework area with all the supplies they regularly need: notebook paper, pencils, pens, highlighters, glue sticks, safety scissors, rulers, erasers, water, and even healthy munch-on snacks.

    I love office supplies, so this was my favorite part. Ooh! I found the absolute best pencil sharpener EVER in all of the world this year: The CARL Angel-5 !

    I could write an entire post about this thing. Go buy it and then tell me how much you adore it. Seriously.

  • Study Body: Instill good posture. 6 of 15
    Study Body: Instill good posture.
    Your body creates your mind, so proper posture makes all the difference when maintaining focus.

    My husband taught the kids what he calls "Study Body." It's just good posture, but it reminds them to fight slouching and therefore fight frustration.

    Flagging out? Jumping jacks do wonders for the kids, too. Completely resets their attitude and lets them return to their homework with fresh focus!

  • Review yesterday’s work for improvement. 7 of 15
    Review yesterday's work for improvement.
    Before you begin today's homework, review returned tests and homework together first. Not only can you (hopefully) pat them on the back for a job well done and start out on a positive note, but it's the ideal time to spot and discuss room for improvement on today's tasks.

    Struggling with reading comprehension? Fractions a mess? Don't throw them back into confusing worksheets without looking for ways to solve current confusion first.

  • Do classical conditioning with music. 8 of 15
    Do classical conditioning with music.
    We play classical music in the background (through our TV's music stations) while the kids study for two reasons: It satisfies their need for fidgeting (occupying a bit of their mind in the background) while subtly conditioning them to focus when they hear the music. Bach playing? We're in the zone.
  • Order your tasks. 9 of 15
    Order your tasks.
    Now that they are in their homework zone, supplies on hand and ready to focus... focus doesn't necessarily immediately materialize.

    Decide the most productive order in which to tackle their daily work. We choose repetitive tasks first (copying spelling words, basic math drills) to get them into the groove. These drills don't require a lot of deep thought, and the repetition gets their minds and bodies moving.

  • Print daily homework checklists. 10 of 15
    Print daily homework checklists.
    Make a printable checklist of their daily homework (with room for misc tasks) that they can physically check off.

    The kids have planners and weekly homework plans the teachers provide, but we made our own checklists the boys could scratch off each day. Ever since creating these lists, the boys have been incredibly more productive and stay on task.

    Plus, it's really satisfying to just demolish each line. We don't check it off: we scribble it out! Done!

  • Killer notes of encouragement. 11 of 15
    Killer notes of encouragement.
    Add some fun to those daily checklists with silly encouragement notes at the bottom of the page. We reprint a new set of lists each week, and I take that opportunity to change the note before I print.

    I love it when they are halfway through the checklist and look up with an eye-rolling, "I'm a homework ninja now? Mom!"

  • Print helpful drills in advance. 12 of 15
    Print helpful drills in advance.
    My 3rd grader has to write out his own multiplication drills every night. While taking care of the kids when I was away on a trip, my former-teacher mother-in-law wrote out some drills in advance for him, and he loved it. I knew I didn't have time to do that, but I loved the effect.

    I found some wonderful teaching resource sites online that allow you to generate your own worksheets, often to your own specifications. Math drills, reading comprehension practice, and more! I particularly love WorksheetWorks.com and Math-Aids.com.

    We keep these worksheets hanging behind their daily checklist sheets on the fridge.

  • Determine an end time. 13 of 15
    Determine an end time.
    Remember that light at the end of the tunnel while they are at school? They need one at the end of homework time, too! Although every day's tasks will vary and special projects can complicate it, try to establish a goal end time for homework every day. Ours is 6pm, before dinner at 7pm.
  • Build in time before bed! 14 of 15
    Build in time before bed!
    Nothing sucks more than finishing your homework and having to go straight to bed. Your whole day feels wrecked, no matter how late you started your homework in the first place.

    Regardless of when you decide your homework routine should begin and end, build in a solid break between your homework end-time and bedtime. This generous structure is healthy for family time and reduces stress levels across the board for the whole family.

    My 6 year old is currently in a hunt for his hidden talent and the evenings are consequently highly entertaining:

  • Celebrate results! 15 of 15
    Celebrate results!
    After the first quarter of our new, more structured homework routine, we noticed a significant improvement of the kids' grades. Not to mention a crazy improvement in everyone's stress levels!

    Celebrate (if not reward) when you DO see results and improved grades (even weekly returned tests, etc). Our favorite? An afternoon trip to our local bounce-house center. Positive, bouncy reinforcement for everyone!

What are your tried-and-true homework tips? We’re always looking for ways to improve!

• • •

Read more of Megan’s writing at VelveteenMind.com
Follow her celebrations of the small victories on twitter and Facebook

More of Megan on Threadbare Theory:

14 Tips for Raising Crush-Worthy Boys
Disney Hangover: How to Cure Post-Vacation Blues

Talent Search: How A.N.T. Farm Encouraged my Son to Discover his Hidden Talent

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