Beyond the Classroom founder and owner, Cathy Thompson, was interviewed by Readers Digest magazine to provide families across Canada with tips on how to overcome some common homework issues.

Here is the article featured in the September 2014 issue:

As parents, we’re hard-wired to want our kids to succeed. When my eldest son, Ethan, now 14, started skipping his homework in favour of playing XBox, my husband and I enforced a no-video-games policy. We were surprised, and miffed, when he found other ways to procrastinate. I suspected something was up—he’d never resisted completing assignments before. With some gentle questioning, he admitted that math had grown tough for him, and after a long day at school, the idea of further struggle at night left him exhausted and discouraged. As a kid, I’d suffered fraction frustration myself. I knew I couldn’t help him and hired a tutor to get him over his hurdle.

Here are some of the most common homework headaches and expert advice on how to overcome them.

When’s the best time to tackle the work?
It’s important to establish a regular routine, but whether that means right after school or after dinner may vary by child. Cathy Thompson, owner of Beyond the Classroom, an in-home tutoring service in Burlington, Ont., says making sure your son or daughter has eaten a healthy after-school snack—proteins like nuts and yogourt, and lots of water—will help them focus. “If your child starts fiddling or becomes agitated, you may need to shift their homework time around,” she says.

My child brings home an assignment and needs help, but it’s beyond my skill level. What do I do?
Thompson hears from exasperated parents out of their depth as early as Grade 2. This is where a tutor can provide some relief. If a tutor’s not an option, do some online research to bolster your own knowledge before settling in to help. There are many helpful, free online programs: the British Columbia government, for example, offers LearnNowBC, which features 20-minute online tutoring sessions from Sunday to Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m., for all provincial students. Or look into programs offered at community centres like the YMCA.

Do I need to supervise my child’s homework?
Letting children study autonomously is good for their self-esteem and development. Sit with your kids to do homework in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. Make the experience about bonding and learning things together. By Grade 3, you can step away but be in the room for questions; and then by Grade 4, adopt a more hands-off approach. “Teaching children time management and giving them opportunities to do their homework in a calm environment are the best ways to be supportive,” Thompson says. And remember: it’s more about effort than perfection.

I check my son’s work when he’s finished but often find errors. Do I help him make the corrections at home or leave them as is, so his teacher knows his weaknesses?
Help your son understand his mistakes, says George Kalimeris, national director of school perseverance programs for the YMCAs of Quebec. “Talking about their assignment and asking guiding questions can help your child think through a problem,” he says. “You’ll be able to see patterns indicating where they get stuck and communicate this to the teacher.” If your son gets frustrated, offer to take a break, and always let him see that you know he can do the work himself.

My daughter forgets about a project until the night before it’s due, right before bedtime. What should I do?
Mark deadlines on your family calendar and work backwards to track milestones along the way, Thompson says. This will keep everyone focused. It may be tempting to cave and help your kids complete assignments, but sending them to school with incomplete work gives them a chance to learn about the consequences of their actions.

My son never struggled with his homework before and now has trouble focusing and completing projects. I think there might be something more going on. Should I take him to the doctor?
Before assuming something is medically wrong, consider your son’s study habits. Sometimes it’s not the homework that’s the struggle, but knowing where to start, Kalimeris says. That said, learning difficulties can be related to medical issues. Some indicators can include difficulty remembering, poor coordination and problems following directions. If the problem persists after your child has received extra support with homework and studying, see a doctor.

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