Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Now that the holidays are over, school is in full swing. Not just for the children, but also for me, as I have decided to go back to school this year. My classwork comes with a large amount of homework, which leaves me with less time to do homework with my children. As luck would have it, they are getting older and with age, apparently, comes more homework.

This is not necessarily a bad thing as more homework for them means more time for me to do my homework. That is, of course, if they are doing their homework, not me. In general, I am a firm believer that parents should never be doing children’s homework, other than helping them with kriyah or reading, and testing them on study questions. If you find yourself spending time explaining math or history, either the homework is not based on class work that they learned, or your child might be falling behind grade level. Either way, you might need to speak to the teacher and see what is going on.

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You also want to make sure that the amount of time required for homework is age appropriate – the recommendations are about ten minutes per grade level, i.e. ten minutes for first grade, twenty minutes for second grade and so on and so forth. As my children have a dual curriculum, I would permit ten minutes for secular subjects and ten minutes for Judaic subjects. If the homework is taking too long, I would speak to the teacher to make sure my children are prepared.

Now, assuming your children have the appropriate homework amount and practice level, let’s talk about one of the biggest obstacles to regular completion: after school activities.

Really, I would advise parents to avoid extracurricular activities at all costs.

If your children beg and plead, I would allow just one per week, and that is only if they are old enough to get back and forth by themselves. As most parents are holding down a full time job, the afternoon is short enough without spending it dropping and picking up children from various activities.

Many working parents, perhaps out of a sense of guilt or because of the benefits emphasized by the organizers of the activity, have a full schedule for their children after school. I know someone who came home at 5 pm, and would spend the next few hours dropping and picking up different children at different activities. In between, she would throw in a load of laundry and whip up a basic supper or order takeout. When the children would finally come home, always at different times, they would eat dinner in their rooms while trying to catch up on their homework. Their mother had them enrolled in these sports-related activities because they were good at them. Yet, they were losing out on family time and causing their mother a great deal of stress. If a child has real talent, these extra activities could be scheduled in the summer.

Another friend would come home at 6, take her children to a sensory gym, return at 8, make a quick dinner and do homework with the kids, i.e. do it for them because by that time the children were too tired to think, and then, only after 9, finally have a moment to get anything done in the house. This schedule was stressful for everyone.

There is a major advantage to just relaxing and decompressing after a long day of school, especially for those children who attend schools with a dual curriculum. There are so many studies that show that overstimulation is counter-productive. If you feel that your children need exercise, simply remove any screens and hand them a ball. I promise they will figure out what to do with it soon enough, and might even make friends with the neighbors at the same time!

Finally, with a cleared schedule, the best way to get them to sit down and actually do their work is by making it part of their schedule. My children prefer to eat dinner and then do their homework. Yes, this means my children eat dinner very early. However, you have to do what works best for your family. That may mean having a healthy snack waiting for them when they come home and dinner later.

In our house, as soon as dinner is over, we clear the table and bring out homework. The kids begin by doing whatever work can be done on their own and then they come over to me for help with kriyah or testing. Once homework is done, signed, and put away, they can go outside and play. This gives them the incentive to get their homework done as quickly as possible, so I can then focus on my own homework while the kids are outside playing. Of course, if you don’t have any of your own work to do, take the time to relax a bit – you definitely deserve it!

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Pnina Baim is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at pninabaim@gmail.com.