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'How to Help Your Child With Homework'

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[JAN. 18, 2006]  "How to Help Your Child With Homework: The Complete Guide to Encouraging Good Study Habits and Ending the Homework Wars." Jeanne Shay Schumm, Ph.D. Free Spirit Publishing, 2005, 193 pages.

Review by
Richard Sumrall

One important component of a good education for children ages 6-13 is homework. In the revised edition of her classic work "How to Help Your Child With Homework," Dr. Jeanne Shay Schumm of the University of Miami's School of Education describes how homework has changed in American education and the role parents should play in helping their children. Identifying parents as "homework helpers," Schumm explains what they should understand about three fundamental changes in homework: (1) a greater awareness of the role of parents in the educational progress of their children; (2) the evolving emphasis on instruction in early reading, word recognition and reading comprehension; and (3) the maturation of technology -- specifically computers -- in the home.

Why is homework still considered to be so important to a child's education? According to Schumm, homework encourages children to practice skills they haven't fully learned; it gives children opportunities to review skills they might otherwise forget; it enriches and broadens a child's knowledge; it teaches responsibility; and it allows for tasks that are too time-consuming during school hours.

By following her guidelines and recommendations, parents will be able to create a homework plan specific to their child's needs, establish a study area, cope with the problems that can occur and help instill in their child a love of learning.

Getting started, troubleshooting, reading words

In understanding that homework represents a two-way street between home and school, it is important for parents to strike a balance between the amount of homework for a child and how much assistance the child should receive. There are several ways that parents can address potential problems in the school-homework relationship. By determining the particular type of intelligence exhibited by their child, parents can help keep track of their assignments and prepare them for classroom tests. Parents should also maintain a dialogue with the teacher and not hesitate to voice their concerns about the homework assignments.

Since reading and reading comprehension is a cornerstone of learning, parents can help raise their child's reading levels through exercises in phonological awareness, letter recognition, phonics, word patterns and sight words. Never underestimate the importance of reading aloud to a child; according to Schumm, "Reading aloud to your child is the best way to help your child learn to read."

Fluency, vocabulary, reading, spelling, writing, math, science, social studies and foreign languages

These chapters contain some of the most useful information to parents since they give them the option of developing a broad approach to homework assistance or customizing a plan to improve performance in a certain subject.

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Helping children improve their writing is a good example. The book explains how parents can help their child increase handwriting skills, printing skills or cursive writing skills.

Mathematics is another good example. The author shares her insights into encouraging improvement in skills related to math concepts, word problems and computations. She even offers suggestions for making math fun for children to learn. One of the most effective methods is to teach these skills through meaningful, real-life experiences. These can include role-playing experiences such as making a purchase at a store and counting the change, opening a savings account at a bank, or giving the child their allowance in coins, for practice in counting skills.

Assignments, projects, reports, papers, technology and game playing

Strengthening a child's skills and abilities in the different subjects within a school curriculum better prepares the child for homework assignments. Those assignments can take other forms beyond repetitive exercises and can include special projects, papers or reports. Planning ahead and making the child feel comfortable with the project are key elements that parents should consider.

It's also important to remember that these projects may be a prelude to preparation for an upcoming test in the classroom. Test anxiety is a common problem among school-age children. Parents can discourage panic or indifference at test time by occasionally having their child complete their homework with a timer and without any assistance to simulate the test-taking experience. Other ways to alleviate stress include teaching the child how to take a brief "relaxation break" or plan a special bonding moment or event with the child on test day.

"How to Help Your Child With Homework" is an essential tool for any parent who wants to help their child improve their learning abilities or performance in school. In addition to the aforementioned information, the book contains a clear explanation of the role of home computers in homework and how to make the best use of new technologies. There's also a list of valuable reproducible forms -- assignment sheets, story study guides, cursive writing practice samples, book report outlines, etc. -- as well as a comprehensive index. One especially appealing feature of the book is the "Help!" section in each chapter. This feature represents hypothetical questions a homework helper might ask related to that chapter and contains advice from the author.

Parents wanting to improve their child's performance in school or better integrate themselves into the child's education should read this important book.

[Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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