No more homework hassle

Mum-of-three Anne Reid finds out how to help your child develop a successful homework strategy.

If you want your children to do well in school, parental involvement in a homework is a must.

Getting the kids out of bed, faces washed, teeth brushed, hair brushed, dressed, fed, schoolbags ready, coats on and out the door first thing in the morning is quite the challenge. When accompanied by a last minute howl of “Mummy! I forgot to do my homework!” it can tip an already frazzled parent right over the edge.

So, how do you keep on top of things? Here are a few ideas to help you put a homework system in place that will work for you and your family.

At Junior Infants level your child will not be given homework. Later in the academic year they may be given a book or word list to read with you. As your child progresses through primary school, their workload increases and more time will need to be dedicated to homework.

First things first

When your child comes in from school their first priority is usually food. Once your child has had a snack, getting their homework done straight away means the rest of the afternoon is free for play, activities or family time. If your child attends afterschool care, they may have a homework system in place. This can be especially useful when a parent’s free time is limited. If your child does their homework at their place of childcare, take the time to have a look over it in the evenings with them. This can give your child a sense of pride as they show you their work and may encourage them to present their work well, which is a good habit to get into for later on when they attend secondary school and college.

Give them control

Sometimes, the mere suggestion of homework is enough to cause a child to go into meltdown mode! Giving your child the opportunity to have an input into their homework timetable can calm the situation and make your child feel more in control of their schedule. It will also teach them responsibility. At the start of the school year, sit down with your child and come up with a plan. Agree on a time-slot within which homework needs to be done and stick to it.

In his book, The Essential Parent’s Guide to the Primary School Years, Brian Gilsenan gives some guidelines on how long your child’s homework should take, depending on the stage they’re at, “Parents of children in the infant classes are always encouraged to read stories to and with their children as often as possible, to play games with them (not educational games necessarily) and even watch television with them. In first and second class, 20 minutes per night, in one or two subject areas, with a little reading should be sufficient. In third and fourth class, this goes up to 40 minutes and typically, in fifth and sixth class, homework time will not exceed one hour.”

A homework-friendly environment

Ensuring your child has adequate space and lighting and is generally comfortable when they settle down to do their homework can help make the whole experience a good one. Some children are happy to sit at the kitchen table doing their homework with the ambient sounds of Mum or Dad making the dinner in the background, whereas others need the peace and quiet of their bedroom or a study to do theirs.

Your child should, where possible, be allowed to work without assistance. If your child needs help with their work, encourage them to search for the solution themselves, rather than immediately providing them with the answers or correcting their mistakes. This will teach a child that taking a different approach can often be the solution and they will learn that it is okay to make mistakes.

If you find your child is finding homework a real struggle, it may be time to have a chat with their teacher. When you let the teacher know the specific areas where your child is struggling, he or she can then work on those areas with your child and may be able to show you ways in which you can help your child at home.

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


Portion control

From the moment a baby is born parents worry if they are getting enough food. Are they drinking the right number of bottles? Are they at the breast long enough? And how on earth can you tell how much milk a breastfed baby took?



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….