Helping your child with their homework

For Parents of Elementary and Junior High School-Aged Children

By Nancy Paulu
Edited by Kathryn Perkinson
Illustrated by Becky Heavner

Homework: A Concern for the Whole Family

Homework is an opportunity for students to learn and for parents to be involved in their children's education. A parent's interest can spark enthusiasm in a child and help teach the most important lesson of all--that learning can be fun and is well worth the effort.

However, helping your child with homework isn't always easy. At PTA meetings and at parent-teacher conferences, mothers and fathers ask:

  • How can I get Michael to do his homework? Every night it's a struggle to get him to turn off the television and do his homework.

  • Why isn't Maria getting more homework? (Why is Jonathan getting so much homework?)

  • When is Tanya supposed to do homework? She takes piano lessons, sings in her church choir, plays basketball, and helps with family chores. There's hardly any time left to study.

  • How can I help Robert with his math homework when I don't understand it?

  • Do homework assignments really help my child learn?

This book helps answer these questions--and many others--that parents and others who care for children in elementary and junior high school often ask about homework. Included are practical ideas for helping children complete homework assignments successfully. Some of the ideas in this book may also be helpful for high school students.

How To Help: Show You Think Education and Homework Are Important

Children need to know that their parents and adults close to them think homework is important. If they know their parents care, children have a good reason to complete assignments and turn them in on time. There is a lot that you can do to show that you value education and homework.

How To Help: Monitor Assignments

Children are more likely to complete assignments successfully when parents monitor homework. How closely you need to monitor depends upon the age of your child, how independent she is, and how well she does in school. Whatever the age of your child, if assignments are not getting done satisfactorily, more supervision is needed.

Here are some good ways to monitor assignments:

How To Help: Provide Guidance

The basic rule is, "Don't do the assignments yourself." It's not your homework--it's your child's. "I've had kids hand in homework that's in their parents' handwriting," one Washington, DC-area eighth-grade teacher complains. Doing assignments for your child won't help him understand and use information. And it won't help him become confident in his own abilities.

It can be hard for parents to let children work through problems alone and learn from their mistakes. It's also hard to know where to draw the line between supporting and doing.

Different teachers have different ideas about the best way for parents to provide guidance. Here are a few suggestions with which most teachers agree:

How To Help: Talk With Someone at School To Resolve Problems

Homework hassles can often be avoided when parents and caregivers value, monitor, and guide their children's work on assignments. But, sometimes helping in these ways is not enough. Problems can still come up. If they do, the schools, teachers, parents, and students may need to work together to resolve them.


The following publications provide more information for parents on ways to approach homework.

  • American Federation of Teachers (1991).Home Team Learning Activities for the Early Grades.*

  • Canter, Lee, and Hauser, Lee, (1987).Homework Without Tears. New York: Perennial Library.

  • Klavan, Ellen (1992).Taming the Homework Monster. New York: Poseidon Press.

  • The National PTA and the National Education Association (1995). Helping Your Student Get the Most Out of Homework.**

  • Rich, Dorothy (1988, 1992).Megaskills: How Families Can Help Children Succeed in School and Beyond. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

  • Sonna, Linda Agler (1990).The Homework Solution: Getting Kids To Do Their Homework. Charlotte, Vermont: Williamson Publishing Co.

* English and Spanish versions available free in limited quantities by writing: AFT Public Affairs Department, 555 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001.

** Sold in packages of 25 through the National PTA Catalog (item #B307). Call 312-549-3253 or write National PTA Orders, 135 So. LaSalle Street, Dept. 1860, Chicago, IL 60674 1860

Federal Sources of Assistance if Your Child Has a Learning Disability

ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education The Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive
Reston, VA 22091

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542

National Institute of Child Care and Human Development
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
31 Center Drive
Building 31, Room 2A32
Bethesda, MD 20892-2425

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
U.S. Department of Education
Washington, DC 20202

Parents and caregivers may also wish to learn about an innovative homework program called TIPS (Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork), which was developed at the federally funded Center on Families, Communities, Schools and Children's Learning at Johns Hopkins University. TIPS assignments are designed for elementary middle grade students to do together with adult family members. Hands-on, interactive assignments that draw on real-life situations have been developed in language arts, math, science, and health. Information is available through the Center's Dissemination Office at Johns Hopkins University, 3505 North Charles St., Baltimore, Maryland 21218.


This guide was made possible with the help of many organizations and people who provided materials and suggestions, reviewed drafts, and contributed generously from their own experience. The individuals include: Lettie Cale, Phil Carr, Sharon Craig, Cynthia Dorfman, Christina Dunn, Gerard Devlin, Joyce Epstein, Lance Ferderer, Cheryl Garnette, Naomi Karp, Barbara Lieb, Margaret McNeely, Suellen Mauchamer, Oliver Moles, Sharon Scales, Joe Vaughan, Barbara Vespucci,Audrey Warcola, staff members at Greenbelt Middle School in Greenbelt, Maryland (including Judy Austin, Helen Cheakalos, Ann Donahoe, Janice Elliot-Banks, Maha Fadli, John Lapolla, and Barbara Morris), and staff members at Hunter Woods Elementary School in Reston, Virginia (including Denise DeFranco, Sara Depczenski, Linda Goldberg, and Lucy Miller). The organizations include: the American Federation of Teachers, the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, the National Education Association, the National PTA, and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

The handbook was prepared under the direction of Eve Bither, acting director of OERI's Office of Reform Assistance and Dissemination; and Charles Stalford, director of ORAD's Knowledge Applications Division.

Checklist for Helping Your Child With Homework

The National Education Goals

The GOALS 2000: Educate America Act, signed by President Clinton on March 31, 1994, sets into law eight National Education Goals for the year 2000:

  • All children in America will start school ready to learn.

  • The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.

  • All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our Nation's modern economy.

  • The Nation's teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.

  • U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.

  • Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

  • Every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.

  • Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.


U.S. Department of Education
Richard W. Riley

Office of Educational Research and Improvement
Sharon P. Robinson
Assistant Secretary

(AD 95-1203)
September 1995

Publication of this book was managed by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. Listing of materials and resources in this book should not be construed or interpreted as an endorsement by the Department of any private organization or business listed herein.

U.S. G.P.O.: 1995-398-648
September 1995