13 alternatives to paying for homework help

By Julie Rains on 2 October 2007 (Updated 18 February 2009) 8 comments

Being overwhelmed with homework seems to be a badge of parental honor. If homework is heaping, you may look to costly resources for help. In "How Homework Is Hurting Our Family," Jeff Opdyke (a personal finance writer for The Wall Street Journal) writes of his family's struggles. He and his wife have hired a college student to help organize their 5th grade son's workload, a solution superior to anti-anxiety medication as mentioned by friends. But, there are smart, frugal alternatives: here are 13 ways to avoid paying for homework help, suitable for elementary school students.

1. Realize that parental involvement means providing encouragement and support, not being a homework slave. You can avoid helping with homework and still be a good parent.

2. Find out the homework guidelines (how many hours per day) for your child’s grade level and class. If homework time exceeds standards, let the teacher or an administrator resolve overload.

3. For specific problems, ask your child to talk to his/her teacher. Teachers respond more favorably to a child who advocates for himself/herself than an intervening parent.

4. Don’t correct your child’s homework as a sensible teacher will assume that the child has mastered the subject matter and move on to more challenging material. Your child may struggle with new material as foundational concepts have not been learned.

5. Resist the temptation to do parts (or all) of a project, even if your friends are helping their children and your child’s presentation will look, well, childish. Accept that the project grade may be low compared to peers.

6. Become a project manager. Here's my concession to homework assistance but I believe that most 10-year-olds do not have the capacity to manage long-term, complex projects. If the assignment doesn’t come with a timeline and milestones (for example, a book report may have dates for getting the book approved and preparing a rough draft), then break down the project into tasks and create a plan for your child.

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7. Make sure there aren’t any underlying problems that may be impacting your child’s academic performance. Have your child’s eyesight and hearing checked. Make sure your child gets enough rest and an adequate breakfast. 

8. Learn yourself. Find out about learning strategies based on kids' unique cognitive profiles (for example, a child with great verbal but poor visual/spatial skills may have to spend more time studying geometry, or ask the teacher to explain concepts in a new way).

9. Get free tutoring help, which may be offered at your child’s school or through other community resources.

10. Review your child’s extracurricular activities. Consider whether your child has adequate time to relax after coming home from school, engage in creative activities, participate in structured activities, and finish homework.

11. De-stress at home. Even if you’re stressed about schoolwork, don’t show it. Your stress adds to your child’s anxiety.

12. Make sure your child is on track. Ask to be informed of interim test results (most likely quarterly) so that you can verify that your child is learning whether or not he/she is getting stellar grades.

13. Champion change. Channel your homework-helping energy into advocacy for less homework or penalties (yes, lower grades) for obvious, unnecessary parental meddling.

Getting too involved in your child's homework leads to unneeded intervention and frustration. Try these homework-helping alternatives to let your child develop lifelong learning strategies and save cash.

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Guest's picture
plonkee

I have been to school already.

If you do too much of the homework, then your child won't learn for themselves. And at least they don't have corporal punishment in schools these days ;) .

Guest's picture
Kathy

Don't forget the public library as a source of homework help. I am director of a small-medium public library. Some of the resources we offer for FREE to anyone with a library card -

Books, magazines, encyclopedias, etc and friendly librarians to help you and your child find information for assignments

Subscription databases available via our website 24/7. These include the full text of magazine and newspaper articles, language learning services, reference material just for kids, practice tests for all grade levels, and more. Go to your library's website and look for things like "Kids Infobits" "E-library elementary" "General Reference Center Gold" and "Novelist k-12). Many of these databases have a tab for resources for teachers and parents that can be of great help. If your not sure how to find these just call or stop by your local library and your friendly librarian will be happy to help.

Many libraries, ours included, subscribe to online tutoring services like Tutor.com These allow your child (4th grade and up) to use instant messaging to contact a qualified tutor who will help them solve a specific homework problem. In our case the service is availabe 7 days/week from 2-10PM and can be accessed from home.

Many libraries also offer homework centers after school where kids can come for assistance with homework....

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for giving us the lowdown on library resources. My county also has live homework help offered through the public library. Just a few days ago, a high school chemistry teacher told me she tested the service so she could be confident in recommending it; apparently the tutor asked relevant questions of her (the teacher/pretend learner) and guided her rather than just give answers. What a great resource!

Guest's picture
Snit

When I was a grad student (in English), I tutored a nice family's two children twice per week in exchange for the babysitting of my toddler twice per week. I could have not afforded this invaluable time to connect with my spouse alone otherwise! Please do not underestimate the poverty and loneliness of your local grad students: underpaid and often far away from their extended families, such partnerships can be beneficial to both beyond mere money. I am a professor now but everyday I miss my "family" - seeing the children’s' improvement in school was a personal joy as was their seeing my little one grow. And beyond a few small Christmas gifts, all we ever exchanged was time, care and effort.

You might want to contact your local university or, as my family did, the English Dept or department of your choice directly. Hang a poster, ask around -- we may seem pretentious on the surface, but trust me, we are all human underneath :)

Guest's picture
Library chick

>Subscription databases available via our website 24/7. These include the full text of magazine and newspaper articles, language learning services, reference material just for kids, practice tests for all grade levels, and more. Go to your library's website and look for things like "Kids Infobits" "E-library elementary" "General Reference Center Gold" and "Novelist k-12).

I used to do on-site database training for teachers. They really ARE the bomb.

What is not the bomb is you, the parent, coming in with your kid's homework assignment and without the kid, meaning we now have one parent and one librarian working on a kid's homework while the kid's elsewhere. Not cool.

Guest's picture
Jon

I have to disagree with #4, at least as it's stated. Maybe you are talking about a very good private school or a self-paced Montessori program, but in normal public schools the teacher doesn't slow down or speed up the material for individual children. If that were true, then your point would be invalid anyway since as soon as it was clear that the foundational material was giving the child problems, the teacher would slow down and correct that. Obviously that doesn't happen.

Correcting your child's homework is the *only* way to ensure that your child builds a good store of foundational knowledge in the subject. If your child misses a question, the teacher is not going to sit down privately with him and explain what was wrong and how to fix it! But you, as the parent, have that leisure.

Another thing the teacher won't correct is sloppy work (bad handwriting, miscopying numbers, accidentally skipping problems). The teacher just marks it wrong -- a math teacher, for instance, obviously doesn't have time to teach handwriting skills to individual children. Don't underestimate the impact that these seemingly minor problems have on your child's self esteem and enjoyment of the subject.

Guest's picture
Jon

Oh yeah, and I meant article point #4, not comment #4. I didn't realize the comments were numbered. :)

Julie Rains's picture

I guess it depends on the school - my kids go to a public school and I received this warning (don't correct answers) from one of my children's teachers at curriculum night. She asked us not to correct answers because parents in previous years had corrected answers, and she moved on to new material only to realize later (around testing time) that the kids had not grasped earlier information.

My oldest son's sixth grade teachers (in middle school) seemed to not like questions from kids but all the others have welcomed individual requests. Though testing is not popular with many people, the accountability measures have helped administration in my kids' elementary school, so that teachers are encouraged and required to pinpoint problems and make parents aware of problems, which can then be solved using parent, teacher, or other resources -- partly because it makes sense but also because AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and test scores are impacted.

Oh, I should add that the few times I've corrected my kids' homework (at their request to review), I've managed to give them bad advice; they are very quick to tell me what I got wrong and rarely ask for my help.