As a 4th and 5th grade teacher, I rarely use homework for grades. I simply use it to ensure the kids understand what they have learned. I actually prefer it when parents do very little “help” because it generally is the parents coming pretty darn close to doing the work for them.
But of course you want to help your kid learn! So here’s how I would advise you to help your kid with their homework:
Start by asking the following kinds of questions:
(Obviously changing the language depending on the age of the child)
- What have you done in class recently that is like this?
- What do you already know about this topic?
- How might you start? For math problems, you could ask, “can you start by drawing a picture?” Or “can you use manipulatives?” (Good math manipulatives to use at home are pennies, dimes, and dollars because they represent our base-10 number system well.)
Show the child a different way of solving a problem
I love it when parents show their child a different way of solving a problem, particularly in math. I only have time in class to usually teach two strategies of how to solve a problem. Often there are many more ways than that, and one of the other ways may work best for your child. I always let a child do the work in the way that they understand rather than forcing them to do it my way.
Don’t give them the answers
Make sure you’re not just giving your kids the answers. I don’t want to mark your work; I want to mark your kid’s. Also, I usually weight take-home homework assignments low on your child’s grade. It’s important that it gets done; it is important that the concepts are practiced, but I want the grade to reflect the concept that has been learned, not the concept that the child is still learning.
If you don’t get it and they don’t either
Write me a note to say that you tried for X number of minutes, and you think your son needs a quick refresher. I am ALWAYS more than willing to do so! I would rather get 20 notes from 20 parents saying “I couldn’t get this” than not know that my students don’t get it until the unit exam. I don’t mind teaching a lesson over again in a different style! It forces me to examine my teaching techniques and my effectiveness.
Don’t stress too much if you can’t help
Quite frankly, sometimes there are things you learn in the fourth grade curriculum that really, most people only need to remember until the end of fourth grade. After that, you can Google it. So don’t stress too much if you can’t remember those concepts. It’s an introduction to a concept that might be picked up later in high school physics. Or it’s a rote memory fact. Or it’s problem solving, and there’s no easy answer. I just want to see that your kid tried.
And sometimes, what you spent an hour on at the kitchen table, I can clarify in five minutes in class. So give it a good shot — give it all you’ve got, and show that you tried. And then give up with grace.