When my kids ask me to check their homework, the unspoken part of the request goes like this: “Daddy, please tell me which ones I got wrong so that I can correct them and get my ‘A.’ ” But I look at their homework in a different way. I want to know “Does my child understand the concept being taught?” Those are two very different things. I have kids in second, fifth and sixth grade and I have found that there are two approaches you as a parent can take to checking homework: one is to lead them to the correct answer, and the second is to make sure they understand how to solve problems.
I think the first thing to note is that it is okay for your child to make mistakes. It is not your job as a parent to make it easy on them by directing them to the mistakes. I have a strong suspicion that my kids’ teachers can easily sniff out homework done by a student versus homework done by the parent but in the student’s handwriting. That is why I often opt not to point out mistakes in homework unless it is an error that is repeated over and over. That said, general sloppiness bothers me (adding instead of subtracting, spelling an easy word wrong) and I wrestle with pointing out sloppiness in hopes my child will be more careful or letting it go and letting the lower grade teach my kids to be more careful. (I find it difficult to teach a child to check their work and not race to finish. If they depend on you to catch their errors, then they will never learn to catch mistakes themselves.)
The second thing is to say is that it is okay — and perhaps beneficial — to go off the homework sheet. By that I mean that I give my kids extra problems that mirror the ones they’ve been assigned. The goal is to check if they can solve math problems or spell words that they haven’t seen before but fit with what they have already learned in school. For example, on spelling lists if my kid misspells “night,” I’ll ask them to spell “bright” and then maybe “sight” just to see if they can pick up the pattern. I might throw in “bite” to see if they can adjust on the fly. Same goes for math. If my fifth grader has a difficult time adding fractions, or my sixth grader can’t solve for “x”, then I will make up in my head a couple of extra problems that are solved the same way as the problems in the homework but with slightly different numbers involved. I find that when my children realize they can solve Daddy’s made-up equations that they are more confident doing similar problems in school. They actually “get it” in a way that others who only did the assigned problems and nothing more.
The third thing is that I like to give my kids small, achievable goals to shoot for. For example, on a spelling quiz, I will tell them that if they get five correct in a row, we will stop and they can go back to playing. I’ll then give them the five hardest words on the spelling list. I will try to make it fun and trash talk them the closer they get to fulfilling the goal so that when they get there, it feels like they hit a shot at the buzzer for the win.
The fourth suggestion is to give pop quizzes. I like to give quizzes, especially when they are trying to memorize facts for a social studies test or some such thing. So if my second grader is studying the parts of a cricket, we’ll go over each one and he may get 5 out of 8 parts correct on the first try. No pressure on the first try, I will tell him. We do the quiz a second time, and he’ll get 7 out of 8. Round three will begin with the one part that he got wrong in the previous quiz — he’ll get it right because it will be fresh in his mind–and then if he can reproduce his answers from the second round of the quiz, then he will have got them all correct and be ready for the test the next day. On spelling quizzes, I will throw the 10 words on the assigned list in a rapid-fire method that in which the most difficult words keep coming up and easy ones are barely mentioned. By the time we’re done, my child will have spelled the difficult words five or six times until he’s got them nailed.
Like most things, there is no perfect way to deal with homework. My suggestions have some downsides, and my children know that asking Dad for help might be more time consuming and more work than if they go to someone else. For starters, it takes time and some thought to add in extra problems, or give quizzes that continue until your child has got all the material committed to memory. Another downside, you have to be prepared to let your child hand in homework that has some wrong answers on it. I think children can learn from the big red ‘X’ marks that teachers leave on wrong answers more than they can learn from having their parents show them the right answer.
In the end, you should keep in mind the big picture. That is, use homework to instill in your kids good study habits and teaching them some tricks so that good grades come easier in the future. Most of all, stay positive, supportive but persistent and demanding and your child’s homework will be a true learning experience and not just an exercise in writing down the right answers.