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Routines are good for children
Denise Kelly , Friday, September 3, 2004

As children all over the country return to school for another academic year, Denise Kelly urges parents to establish routines at home which will help their children improve as students.
Parents everywhere are heard sighing with relief this week as children make their way back to school. For many, coping with their active energetic – and in the case of teenagers- hormonal children in the heat for two months has been just too much. Spare a thought then, for the teachers who, for yet another academic year, must look after many more in each class than you deal with at home and for whom your children’s education is a responsibility.
It is worth remembering however, that ultimately the responsibility for the education of your children rests with you, the parents. Learning is not something which is done to children. It is something which they do themselves. Teachers are merely facilitators of learning, albeit qualified ones, but facilitators nonetheless. If you are lucky in the school you have chosen for your child, then teachers should also be educators. Educators are interested in the whole person; in their social and personal development as well as the academic.
You too can help facilitate the education of your child and if you work closely with the school and teachers then you increase the effectiveness of your child’s education considerably. To start with, children, especially younger ones, like and need routines. Schools don’t function very successfully without them; your child will be used to them and therefore it helps a lot if routines are also part of family life.
It is not realistic, for example, to expect your child to progress in school if in the evenings, homework is done only if there is time, if it’s squeezed between ballet  and swimming classes or indeed if it is done hurriedly just before bedtime. Children do need a break after their school day, learning is tiring after all and everyone’s brain needs a rest. However, everyone from the youngest to the eldest student, should have an established time for homework set aside when, without distractions, they complete tasks set by the teacher(s) and /or carry out study. It is not necessary that everyone has his/her own bedroom in order to work effectively but it is necessary to establish a particular place in the home which is their place for doing homework. It might be the kitchen or dining room table for example. Ideally, there should be no background noise (such as TV) in this place and there should be adequate space, light, temperature and air for the young person to work comfortably. Water is also necessary for the brain to work well and working for long periods at a time (depending on the age) is not conducive to effective learning, so regular breaks are essential especially for older students. Although do look out for the situation where the breaks become longer than the time spent working! If, as a parent of a teenager, your experience is that friends tend to call or telephone and interrupt the homework, then you might consider making a rule that such callers are very welcome between certain hours but not during the stipulated homework time.
As a parent you should know how much homework your child is asked to do and what the nature of the homework is. Most schools require the children to have diaries or homework journals in which the homework is recorded. If you feel inadequate to help your child with his/ her homework, join the majority of the parent population! However, you should feel that you can approach the school and ask for guidance on this. Maintain regular communication with the teachers and get to know your child as a learner as they do. Over the years you will identify how your child works best, in which conditions, using which methods and in which subjects. As a result, you will come to learn and develop techniques to help him /her with the homework and in the long run, make the learning process more manageable. There is a difference too between homework and study. Usually the purpose of the latter is to know the subject matter. Children have to be taught how to learn something so that they don’t forget it. Sitting for an hour reading the topic will never result in knowing it – unless of course they have photographic memories-  so they have to learn how to learn. Many schools integrate such skills into the curriculum so you might want to ask your child’s teacher for tips in this area.
The old cliché patience is a virtue certainly holds true when it comes to homework. You will not achieve anything by shouting and bullying the child to learn. Physiologically that becomes impossible for anyone when s/he is frightened because the brain just shuts down and refuses to function as we want it to. Similarly, you must recognise the need to quit if it is obvious that the child is just not able to grasp a concept or carry out a task. Leave it, write a note to the teacher, explaining the efforts   you’ve made and ask if perhaps s/he could take your child through the topic again. As long as this doesn’t happen often teachers are usually very willing to help. If it is a frequent occurrence then ask around to see if others are experiencing something similar (there may be a problem with the teacher) or your child may have a learning difficulty. It is very important that whatever else you do, you don’t actually do the homework for your child. Teachers can spot this practice a mile off and there will be obvious discrepancies between the standard of the work done at home and that in school.
If you don’t feel inclined or able to help you child with the homework, then at the very least check that they have done it. You don’t have to be a qualified educationalist to know that careless handwriting is unlikely to be acceptable from a nine year old or that a paragraph doesn’t pass for an essay in secondary school. More than anything it is the routine of checking that will become important because if the young person knows s/he’ll have to re-write the homework should you think it’s necessary then s/he is more likely to do it well the first time.
Finally, on behalf of all teachers I appeal to you as parents to ensure that your children develop concentration skills and the ability to see things through. As obvious as it sounds, learning requires excellent concentration. A lot of the problems teachers deal with in schools would be made easier if children had adequate amounts of sleep and were encouraged at home to see a task through until completion.
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