Sometimes when I’m leaving work, I feel a slight anxiety. The anxiety is what will need to happen from the time I get home until MY bedtime? I go through the checklist in my head. Pick kids up from after-school activities. Check. Make dinner. Check. Give bath. Check. Make sure there is enough food in fridge for following night. Check. Pack kids lunch for following day. Check. Wash my son’s sport shirt. Check. And then….

“Homework time!” The response from my two older children comes together in a small symphony of nods and groans. And it’s here in this moment I have to admit — I’m not sure what to think about all this. It’s one of those things that I have to gear up for.

My two older children are in first and second grade. They have homework every night. I have all sorts of feelings about this. I love that I feel a connection and in touch with what my child is learning at school. I love that I can practice Spanish words with them, help structure sentences and teach math tricks, but I do think about how times have changed. Kids seem to have more pressure on them. I try to keep a balanced day and get my kids to bed early, but it gets tricky with homework and reading. And what I can’t quite figure out is what my role is in these early years of homework. I know their academic future won’t be made or broken by Thursday night’s spelling worksheet, but somehow I feel like the responsibility of getting it done falls on my shoulders. So what is my role? What’s the best way for me to support both my kids and their educational future? As I talk to other parents and read about it, it seems that there are different ways to go about it:

Method 1

Some parents feel that being in close proximity and proactively helping a child with homework is the best way to do it. They feel it’s not okay to give the answers, but rather they try to act as a supervisor. The key here is to stay close — then check the work together when the child is completely done.

Method 2

Other parents believe that setting up discipline and independence is the most important role of early homework. In this case, a parent helps to choose a consistent time and work place for homework, reviews the assignment with the child, and then leaves her alone to complete the work. If the answers are wrong, then teachers know what to work with her.

Method 3

And then there are those parents who think homework is the ultimate evil and inappropriate for that young age. They do everything they can to help the child finish their work so the child can play, sleep, or do whatever they need to do after school.

Honestly, I seem to shift between all three of these methods. But how can I relate to the situation in a way that most benefits my children so they have the greatest self-esteem, confidence, and most importantly, positive engagement in their own learning?

Homework is a reality for my children, and I think the best pathway for me is to recognize what my kids can get out of the process and to support their work time with those goals in mind. So what are the possible benefits of homework for younger children?

1. It helps to establish a commitment and routine. I think this is probably the most essential role of homework for young kids. And I know that if I can help my kids establish their routine, that skill will serve them for the rest of their lives. In this case, I can get them started and help create space for them to work, but then let them be. I can help them understand that getting answers incorrect is all part of the process, but not trying is not okay.

2. It helps them to be more engaged in learning. It does seem that there are opportunities for engagement that are specific to home. When my kids do their work at home, they can go at their own pace. They can talk with us about what excites or challenges them, and we can find ways to continue the lessons through our day-to-day life.

3. It helps me to be more engaged in their education. Diane Salvatore of Ladies Home Journal spoke to this on, and I think she gets it just right:

One of the great benefits of homework is to keep parents engaged in what kids are doing. Knowing that your kids have homework and what the expectations of the teachers are on that homework is important. As kids get older you may not know every piece of homework they do, but you should have some sense of teachers’ expectations for your students work. However, parents are not supposed to do kids homework. Being engaged in it vs. doing it are two different things. Just because you’re involved doesn’t mean you should do your kids’ work for them.

It all seems to come down to the idea of partnership. First and second graders are just starting to read fluently and learn basic math skills. They certainly need help packing their lunch and their school bag. Perhaps homework is part of that routine as well.

I do feel that as a parent, I am here to give support and help, especially when my children are so young. As time marches on and their reading comprehension and number dexterity matures, I think I’ll be able to back away. But for now, given their age, I’ll stick with my gut. I’ll take out their assignment, grab them a pencil and say, “if you need my help, let me know.” And then I’ll pull up a chair, open my computer and do my work right next to them.

Now, put kids’ homework and school books back in their knapsack. Check.