Schoolwork at Home: Parents Can Help

Rory Jefferson sailed through elementary school. But when he got to junior high, he hit a wall.

"He just had a meltdown," recalls his father, Kent Jefferson. Rory would put off doing homework, or do it but forget to hand it in. Sometimes it took hours for him to complete assignments that should have taken minutes.

"He just wasn't there, mentally," Kent says.

So Rory's parents, Kent and Maureen, worked with him. They met with teachers. They helped him get organized, buying loose-leaf binders and a hole-puncher so he could organize his work.

At a teacher's suggestion, Maureen and Rory went through his locker every week or so, regularly finding homework that had been completed but not turned in or assignments that never made it home.

It was a stressful year, according to Rory and his parents. But things got better. Rory, now 15 and a high school sophomore, does all of his homework on his own.

"He did really well on his first-quarter grades," says Kent, although some missed assignments brought him down from an A to a B+ in geometry.

Looking back, Rory says he simply wasn't prepared for seventh grade.

"You had to do a lot more on your own, and I just wasn't ready for that," he says, adding that he needed his parents' help. To help get his work done on his own, he's learned to manage his time better, especially because extracurricular activities such as twice daily swim team practice make it essential that he stay on top of his work.

Learning to Help Learn

Rory's experience shows how parental involvement can improve a child's performance at school.

"Research shows clearly that children are more likely to succeed in learning when the family is actively supporting them," says Nancy Paulu, a writer and editor for the U.S. Department of Education who has written department publications such as Homework Tips for Parents (available at

Judith Langer, director of the Center on English Learning and Achievement at the University at Albany, State University of New York, says helping your child to do well in school means creating a learning environment in the home. (See pointers, below.)

It also means reading to children — not just when they're pre-schoolers and kindergartners, but as late as fourth grade, when parents can read books to them beyond their own reading level.

This is important because kids who get off to a good start as readers and writers harvest the advantages of this early literacy for years and years, according to Lucy Calkins, professor of English education at Teachers College, Columbia University and author of Raising Lifelong Learners: A Parents' Guide, published by the Perseus Book Group.

Everyday Life Learning

Parents can also help by putting book learning into the context of everyday life.

Parents should talk to their kids about what they're doing in school, not just to find out about their lessons but to draw parallels between what they're studying and real life, according to Langer.

"When you go on vacation, as you go to the store shopping for food, as you're watching television together or visiting relatives, you may make a connection about things they're studying in math, science or social studies," she says. Putting what they're studying into the context of the real world gives students a more sophisticated understanding of what they're learning, she says.

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