How to make time for homework and home learning – tips for creating the right space and schedule in busy households

As with all other things, children are different when it comes to their approach to homework or learning at home. Some will be keen to get their homework done and will happily sit down to work when their parents suggest it. Others may be less enthusiastic! But there are lots of simple things you can do to make doing homework a positive and rewarding experience for your child and to support their learning at home.

1. Create the right setting

Try to create a calm environment so that it is easier for your child to concentrate. Keep distractions to a minimum. Make sure the television and radio are turned off and, ideally, turn any mobile phones to silent. It will help if your child has a calm space to work, a table or desk to sit at where not too much else is going on. If you are reading with your child, choose a quiet spot – on the sofa, in their bedroom or anywhere that your child feels comfortable.

2. Little and often

Often the best approach to homework or learning at home is to do it little and often at predictable and regular times of the week – ideally not the last minute if at all possible! Spending ten minutes a day reading or the five minute journey to school learning times tables helps to make sure your child is getting plenty of learning practise in short, fun sessions.

Tackling homework over several short sessions across the week is sometimes more realistic in busy households, than sitting down for hours at a time. It is more likely to keep their interest and enthusiasm. Most importantly, it gets your child in a good habit for learning. For those children who are more resistant to doing homework, a regular 10 or 15 minute session is less daunting than sitting for an hour.

3. Pick your time carefully

It’s important to avoid children seeing learning as a chore, so bribery should be treated with caution, but you might find it easier if homework or home learning is done before a favourite television programme or a playdate, rather than suggesting it when your child is in the middle of something they are enjoying.

4. Be on hand to help

Don’t be afraid to help. While all parents want to encourage their children to be independent and to take responsibility for their learning, even the keenest learners need help now and again. Try being nearby in case they have a question without cramping their style. Finally, keep calm! Tensions can run high when homework is being done but if you can avoid showing any irritation it will help things to run smoothly. Give them lots of praise for their efforts.

5. Be prepared!

Make sure your child has everything they need before they start (or, for older children, encourage then to do this themselves). This can avoid your child having to stop when things are going well to find a ruler or an eraser.
When it comes to homework it pays off to read what work has been set for your child (or, even better, to encourage them to read it out to you) as early as possible, even if they aren’t planning on tackling it for a day or two. A last minute panic about more work than was expected could be a source of friction!

Isabel Thomas: creating a positive learning environment

Author and mum of three boys, Isabel Thomas, shares what she’s learnt about encouraging her children to do their homework.

Fostering a sense of pride

“The best way to compete with distractions at home is to make homework fun. For us, this doesn’t mean bribing them to finish it, but making the process itself feel like warm, enjoyable time (much like reading a bedtime story). I don’t track their homework schedule for them – it’s up to them to remember to do it. And I will offer time and guidance, but I never get hands-on. So I ask what the task is, enthuse about how interesting it sounds, maybe point out a couple of relevant books or websites, then pretty much leave them to it. One of my sons likes the sense of companionship of sitting and working on projects together (and as I often have late homework of my own, I can always oblige!). Once they’ve finished it, I always offer praise, and if it’s a bit scrappy, I ask if they could think of any ways to make it even better. And over time, they’ve begun to enjoy the sense of pride you get from producing work independently. So much so that my youngest, in Reception, has been begging to have homework each week!”

Helping to learn coping strategies

“I think homework is not so much about the actual work done / content learned, but about modelling useful learning behaviours. One of my sons is easily discouraged, so homework has been a good chance to lessen his sense of perfectionism, to show him it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. It took me until I was about 32 to learn this, so I’m hopefully giving him a headstart! Sharing books like Beautiful Oops and talking about strategies if he makes a spelling mistake, and showing him my own early drafts and crossing out in notebooks etc. have helped.”