How to help your child study

Regardless of a child’s age or challenges, parents can encourage sound homework routines for a successful start to the school year.

Every cartful of new school supplies is loaded with promise: binders organized by subject, crisp homework folders and pristine notebooks. But for many parents it can feel like it’s just a short hop from those freshly sharpened pencils to a child in full meltdown over a barely started English essay. 

You don’t have to let go of the optimism. As parents, teachers and tutors, we have some concrete advice for staving off the tears — for both parents and children.

First, students should consider how to create organized work spaces, backpacks and lockers cleared of clutter and systematized for easy retrieval of important assignments. Second, nightly to-do checklists are a must to help prioritize and plan ahead.

But many students still struggle when it comes to homework. Their stress tends to be exacerbated by three primary challenges: procrastinating, feeling overwhelmed and struggling to retain information. Ideally, parents can help elementary school children develop effective homework habits so they will not need as much guidance as they get older. 

1. For Procrastination

Reduce potential distractions.

Many students finish reading a sentence, and then refresh their Instagram feed. Ideally, their phones should be nowhere near them during homework time. Establish a family tech-space where phones and laptops go when not in use. And model these boundaries by leaving your devices there, too!

Remember that consistency is key.

Kids ultimately thrive in the comfort and reliability of a structured approach to homework, so each afternoon they should follow the same steps in roughly the same order.

2. For Students Overwhelmed by Workload

Plan ahead.

It might be helpful for you to model the planning process, so your kids can see how you schedule a series of tasks. Try to make a point of letting them in on the process when you’re running errands, preparing for a trip or completing a project for work. The more practice students get with planning, the sooner they’ll become self-sufficient.

Use time estimates.

Students should estimate how long each assignment will take and develop a schedule accordingly.

Begin with the most difficult task.

Most kids’ instinct will be to complete the fun or easy to-dos first. But they should start with the hardest work…

3. For Students Who Struggle to Retain Information

Use a cumulative approach.

Memorize information in stages that build upon one another. When students are confronted with vast swaths of material, it can be overwhelming and difficult to recall. Suggest that they break it up into a series of discrete parts based on the number of topics and the number of days they have to study for the test.

Summarize with concise lists, identify keywords and use mnemonics.

A big block of text on a study sheet can be difficult for students to absorb and memorize. Instead, they should break the sentence or paragraph up into a series of points, highlighting the keywords and then creating their own mnemonic device to remember it. Sometimes the silliest mnemonics stick the best, and remembering the first letters of words will help trigger ideas that they might otherwise forget.

Employ visual aids and narratives.

Some students can best synthesize information by creating charts or other graphic organizers. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by writing several paragraphs, students might present the same data in streamlined form with a chart.

Make study materials.

We know it’s old-fashioned, but writing out information helps commit content to memory far better than typing it. If writing out the material longhand is too onerous, kids should still create their own study sheet digitally, rather than borrowing one from a friend.

4. How Much Studying Is Enough?

Some kids believe they’ll never be prepared, even after hours of studying. Others barely crack a book open and declare they’re done.

Use practice tests.

The best way to know that study time is over is when students are able to perform the task that will be asked of them on the in-class test, quiz or essay. Talk through these study habits now, so that on the first day of school, your child will not only have the requisite sharpened pencils, but also a plan of action.

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