Homework may not be anyone's favorite part of the day, but it's an unavoidable part of life for most school-aged children. When parents hire after-school sitters, they're often responsible for supervising this task. And when there's no solid plan in place, it's easy for tears, chaos and bad attitudes to rule.
But homework time doesn't have to elicit those reactions. We spoke with Noėl Janis-Norton, author of "Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework," Neil McNerney, author of "Homework: A Parent's Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out," Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, author of "The Homework Trap," Jean Hessburg, from the Iowa State Education Association, and Steve Baker, from the New Jersey Education Association, and got their expert recommendations for how sitters can sail through homework time.
Discuss an after-school schedule ahead of time with the parents. What are they looking for? What is the schedule now and how can it be improved? What are the current challenges during after-school time? Then have a discussion with both the parents and the kids present. Parents need to make it clear to the children that what the sitter says goes. When parents and the caregiver are on the same page, children can't try to get around the rules.
It's good for kids to burn off steam before they sit down to work, so encourage them to run around for a bit before hitting the books. According to Baker, even half an hour of active play may help kids settle down for schoolwork.
Try one of these 8 Active Games for Kids »
Turn off the TV
While having some down time for play is a great thing before homework begins, television time shouldn't be part of the equation. It's a passive activity that doesn't put kids in the right frame of mind for schoolwork.
No one wants to work on an empty stomach, so give kids something to eat before starting homework. Opt for whole foods. McNerney says, "Fruit is great, as it provides an immediate energy boost without overdoing the sugar." Janis-Norton encourages feeding kids complex carbohydrates and protein as a pre-study snack.
Serve some of these Healthy After-School Snacks »
Keep to a Routine
Hessburg encourages caregivers to find "a defined time" every day for homework, while Baker suggests taking care of homework sooner rather than later, so it's not a stress in the evening.
Of course, every family is different, but the key is to have a plan. No matter when your homework time begins, however, Goldberg recommends creating "a time-boundary" so the homework session doesn't drag on all night.
Create a Productive Environment
McNerney advises sitters to: "Remember that your main role during homework time is to be a leader. That means to create a good space for schoolwork and reduce distractions. You don't need all distractions gone, but definitely turn off the TV and try to stay off the phone."
Other steps to creating a proper work environment are gathering supplies in a central location, providing breaks between subjects and keeping noise levels down.
Set an Example
Many after-school and evening sitters are in school too and have their own homework to complete. Janis-Norton says there's nothing wrong with working on it at the same time as children do their work. Children will learn from your example, so keep a positive attitude.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Make sure parents stay in the loop about how their kids are doing with schoolwork. Persistent homework troubles are often a sign of a learning problem. In that case, Goldberg points out, "Trying harder won't help." Keep parents informed about any struggles taking place, so they can seek necessary help, like hiring a tutor.
Reward Good Work
Punishment, nagging and pleading are no fun for anyone. Instead of these negative approaches, work on motivating students with a reward.
"Rewards work better when we want our kids to start doing something," McNerney says. "So, instead of saying 'No TV until your work is done,' try saying, 'You can watch TV after your homework is done.' It's a subtle, but powerful difference in motivating kids."
Rewards don't have to involve television; try things like playing a board game, walking to the park or building a block castle together.
Additionally, be sure to praise students. Point out what they are doing well, such as staying on task, using creative thinking or double-checking their answers.
Ultimately, homework is not the responsibility of the parent or the sitter. It's okay to provide guidance as your charge works through a few problems, but don't walk them through each one.
"Everybody has questions," says Hessburg, so let the child know that you're there, but also allow the freedom to get the work done alone.
Doing homework doesn't have to be filled with stress for sitters or kids. Take our experts' advice, and you'll be on the road to supervising happy, productive study sessions that will leave everyone feeling accomplished.
Meghan Ross is a freelance writer in Illinois. Her work can be found here.