Taking The Hassle Out Of Homework In Three Easy Steps

14/08/2014 16:47 | Updated 22 May 2015
Taking the hassle out of homework in three easy steps

Every evening, in households up and down Britain, the tension builds. Dinner is out of the way and there are a couple of hours until bedtime. Yes, it's the bit-in-between when the battle lines are drawn and arguments flare.

It's homework time: the time that all children dread – but not half as much as their parents do. This is the time when we turn into nagging, moaning, whining monsters. A time when we bribe and cajole (and even encourage) our children to sit down, get their pencils out and start writing.

Anything. Just do it. Please. For my sanity's sake!

In our home, I have three lots of homework to contend with and the battles are all different.

My 11-year-old takes to her bedroom and emerges two hours later having done precisely the minimum amount possible.

My eight-year-old son sulks and scowls for every second of 20 minutes as he ploughs his reluctant way through the nonsensical language of a Roald Dahl book.

And my five-year-old squirms like he's got a barrel of snakes in his trousers as he attempts to scrawl the alphabet in his exercise book.

It is a painful, tense time. And from what friends of older children tell me, is only going to get worse as my kids grow up. So what can be done about it?

Well, thankfully, help is at hand in the form of a new book from renowned parenting expert Noël Janis-Norton, founder and director of The New Learning Centre in London.

Noël is a learning and behaviour specialist with more than 40 years' experience helping parents and teachers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Through her innovative Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting book and Teaching programmes, she has helped hundreds of thousands of parents and teachers learn effective techniques that result in more cooperative, confident, motivated, self-reliant and considerate children both at home and in the classroom.

And on February 14 she has a Valentine's gift for us beleaguered dads and mums with her new book, 'Calmer, Easier, Happier HOMEWORK!'

And not before time! So what can we learn from the book?

In an exclusive interview with Parentdish, Noël said: "Homework is a flashpoint. So many families are concerned, verging on despair because it's often such an unpleasant interaction.

"Parents come to us in droves worried about homework. What they'll say is, 'My child just sits there and stares out of the window and I have to do all the motivating'; 'Why can't he just get on and do it': or they will say 'I have three kids – how can I help them all at the same time': or parents will say, 'Even before the child looks at the work they will say it's too hard, that they can't do it'.

"The fact of the matter is that there is much more homework nowadays.


People of my age barely remember homework, whereas now, if your child is in Reception, they are doing homework before the age of five.


"I think it's because people are worried and the idea seems to be that homework will make the difference. But research shows us conclusively that in the primary years, homework doesn't add anything to attainment. In the secondary years, one hour of homework a night leads to achievement.

"But parents go to teachers and say, please give me homework, because they fear the school won't be able to educate their child on their own.

"But I believe my book can make homework enjoyable and productive – for both parents and children. They will get the satisfaction from knowing that their child is developing their full academic potential.

"Children will like school better, because they feel more successful.

"Parents will be more relaxed, because there's not this dread from the homework hour and will feel more confident that they can bring out the best in their child. Homework becomes something both parents and child dread and something that both parent and child can enjoy."

So what's the secret to this Holy Grail of stress-free evenings?

Noël said: "One of the first things to do is to find out from the school how long homework is supposed to take in that year.

"If the school says half an hour or an hour I then recommend that parents don't let their children spend a minute more or a minute less on their homework.

"If they are allowed to rush through it they won't be giving their best, but if they are allowed to sit over it all night they won't feel like they have any other life.

"I recommend parents say to the child that if you are not finished tonight, you can always get up early tomorrow morning. And if you want some company, you can wake me up.


There are some things that are just as important as homework: family time, helping cooking, sitting with your family, reading, lying around, picking your nose!"


She recommends that every piece of homework be divided into three stages.

These are:

1. The think-through.

Parents ask the child questions to help the child clarify what they are supposed to do. This is to bring back their short-term memory of what they have been taught. How long should this essay be? What do you always need to put at the end of a sentence? How will you show the teacher how you did this sum? Based on what the parent knows of their child's habits you will know what questions to ask. It will always result in...

2. The Doing.

It will be much quicker. The child focuses more. The child knows what they are supposed to do and how. During stage 2 the parents give no help whatsoever. If your child needs any help, you refer back to stage 1. It's about doing it on his own. It is intended to be done by the pupil, it is not intended to be a collaborative effort.

3. Improvement stage.

The day after the child has done the homework, the pupil says two things that are good about the work, and the parent says two things that are good. In addition to this the pupil and parent each have to mention two things that need to improve, for example. make your small letter small, your tall letter tall.. This irons out a lot of things that need to happen, there will be far fewer mistakes, which is always very wonderful.

But what if I don't feel confident that I can do my child's homework?

"It's not the parents' job to do the homework," says Noel. "Recognise that the purpose of the parent in homework is not to re-teach. If you do that children come to rely on it.

"What is really happening is that the parent is doing the child's homework for them. It is the child's job to rack their brains to remember what they've been taught. You could be illiterate and give your child the help.

"The purpose of parental involvement is to get the child into good habits. Instead of explaining, the parent should say, 'Take a sensible guess and put down what you think the answer is.'

"A child would much rather be told what the right answer is, but that's not helpful.

"When a child makes a mistake, rather than correcting them, you point out why they made the mistake.


It's about teaching the child how to think for themselves. Whereas what we call helping is actually doing the teachers' job and rescuing the child. The child comes to rely on it, can't bear the thought of being wrong.


Can it work? Noël certainly has the credentials to back up her theories.

She said: "I've been teaching parents and teachers for 35 years, and I've been teaching children for 40 years. My approach to everything is solution-focused. Instead of thinking, 'This is the way kids are, or this is the way teachers are, or this is the way schools are, or the way families are,' I'm always thinking, 'How can we do something different to get a different result?'"

Noël's methods are 'common sense, highly specific and absolutely solution focused'. Parents always tell her that their biggest frustration is having to repeat instructions numerous times before their children cooperate.

But Noël's methods give parents a step by step approach to solve this problem, using techniques that make children want to cooperate without complaint and without having to be reminded.

"People always talk about teenagers succumbing to peer pressure, but I think that there's far more peer pressure on most adults," she said, explaining our desire to give our children 'everything'.

"What children get instead through 'Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting' is a world of predictable routines, clear rules and loads of descriptive praise that catches them doing the right thing and inspires them to think of themselves as considerate and capable people."

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