Show Your Thinking Homework

Is it worth your time to remind kids to use neat handwriting?
This is a question many parents struggle with. Even me.

There are many battles we have to fight with our children, and as we've all learned, some of them are more worthy than others. Writing neatly is an argument I have with my son Timmy almost every day while he does his homework. Now Timmy is very capable and can write neatly but often chooses not to. Recently though, he lost points on a test because his teacher couldn’t read what he wrote. This was very eye-opening for him and meant more than all the conversations we’ve ever had about it.

So in getting back to the original question on whether writing math homework neatly is important, in this case the answer falls in the middle, dependent on your child. When it comes to math, writing neatly is very important — but not more important than your child learning and understanding the math concepts. I wouldn’t battle with Tim about neat handwriting if he wasn't able to focus on his math and writing at the same time. I've had many students who rush and choose not to make their handwriting legible. The end result is often careless mistakes, which lead to errors and confusion. On the other hand, I’ve had students who struggle to comprehend the math concepts being taught, and find writing their thinking in either equations, models (pictures), or in words very challenging. For these students, the focus should be understanding the math. Not worrying about legible handwriting.

As parents, we need to find a balance and identify what is most important and beneficial for our own kids. Some children should have neatness reinforced at home, even if that means constant reminders. Others need to spend their attention and time on getting their math thinking "out" and onto the paper. We know our children best; it’s OK as a parent to step in at certain times and make your child erase and fix her handwriting. Other times, it may make more sense to step in and do the writing for your child. If your child can verbally tell you what she's thinking, but is struggling to show it, don’t hesitate to lend a hand with the writing.

Tools to Help Kids Get Neat and Organized
A great tool for helping with writing math neatly is graph paper. My children use graph paper every night as “scratch” paper, and then staple those sheets of graph paper to their homework. Consider a first grader trying to draw circles to show her thinking, and making circles that are all different sizes and are scattered all over the page. Even though her model and answer is correct, her work is very disorganized and hard to read. Asking her to show her thinking on graph paper will help her to organize her thoughts. All her circles can fit inside a “square,” which means they'll likely be similar in size. If she consistently uses the graph paper to do computations, draw pictures/models, write equations, etc., she will naturally begin to write neatly and will transfer this skill when writing on a blank page.

Nothing is scarier for a student than staring at a blank space and knowing they have to fill that space up with something. Giving children a tool like graph paper can help put them at ease and begin to make the right steps towards neatness.

Below are links for different sized graph paper. Keep in mind, that it's important to choose your graph paper wisely. For younger students, I recommend a large sized graph paper, with one-inch squares. Then you can size down as they get older and need more room. 

Giving young kids the tools they need makes a difference not only in their handwriting but also in their learning. So whatever math concept your child is being taught, remember to make that the focus. Encourage good handwriting and accuracy, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming and frustrating for everyone!

If you are struggling to help your child with his or her math homework, submit your questions to Jennifer and she might answer in an upcoming blog.

Featured photo credit: Jupiter Images/Thinkstock

Homework and study skills

Homework is an integral part of schooling. Your children need your help in order to get the most out of their homework assignments.

Why homework?

Homework helps develop skills and reinforces classroom learning. Homework can also:

  • Improve your child's thinking and memory;
  • Help your child develop good study skills;
  • Encourage your child to use time wisely;
  • Teach your child to work independently; and
  • Teach your child to take responsibility for his or her work.

Teachers assign homework to help your child:

  • Review and practice classroom lessons;
  • Get ready for the next day's class;
  • Learn to use resources such as libraries, reference materials and the Internet;
  • Explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits;
  • Extend learning by applying skills to new situations; and
  • Integrate learning by applying many different skills to a single task (for example, book reports or science projects).

When you help your child with his homework, you can:

  • Find out what your child is learning and keep up with what's happening at school;
  • Talk to your child about what he or she is learning; and
  • Spark your child's enthusiasm for what he or she is learning.

How can I help with homework?

Show that you think education and homework are important. Create a good environment for doing homework:

  1. Set a regular time for homework. You will probably need some flexibility in the homework schedule to accommodate other activities such as sports or music lessons. If outside activities prevent your child from finishing his or her homework, he or she may need to drop one of these activities.
  2. Set up a quiet, well-lit homework area.
  3. Turn off the television and regulate social telephone calls.
  4. Provide essential supplies such as pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper and a dictionary. Also consider other supplies your child may need such as a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, glue, paste, scissors, a ruler, index cards, a thesaurus and an almanac.

Help tie homework to everyday life:

  1. Show your children how what they learn in school applies to the adult world. Let them see you reading, writing, using math, and doing other things that require thought and effort. Talk to your children about what you do at work.
  2. Help your children use everyday routines to support what they are learning. Teach them to play word or math games. Help them look up information about something in which they are interested. Talk to your children about what they see and hear when you are together.
  3. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your children what was discussed in class that day.
  4. Look over completed assignments before your children turn them in and read the teacher's comments on graded homework.

How do I help my children develop good study habits?

Good study habits will benefit your children throughout their lives. You can help develop them if you:

  • Don't do your children's homework. Your children will understand and use information better if they do their own homework. It will also boost their confidence in their own abilities.
  • Help your children make a schedule to keep track of homework assignments and due dates.
  • Help your children manage their time. If a child is assigned a long-term project, discuss the steps needed to complete it on time, including:
    • Selecting a topic;
    • Doing research;
    • Identifying discussion questions;
    • Drafting an outline;
    • Writing a rough draft; and
    • Revising and completing the final draft.
    • Encourage your child to make a chart that shows how much time he or she expects to spend on each step.
  • Help your children get started on research reports or other big assignments. Take them to the library and make sure they get help finding resources and using age-appropriate websites. After they have completed their research, ask them to tell you the main points they want to make in the report.
  • Give practice tests.
  • Help your child avoid last-minute studying.
  • Talk to your children about how to take a test. Be sure he or she understands how important it is to read instructions carefully, keep track of time, and avoid spending too much time on any one question.

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