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Ask an Expert: How much should I help my daughter with homework?

Q. How much should I help my third grade daughter with more complicated school projects? She just had to complete a diorama about Native Americans. My husband and I helped make a few things and I wonder if we helped too much. She did a lot, too, and it seemed to help her stay focused that we worked together as a family. Looking at other projects, it was evident some kids had parental help; others did not. Not sure how this will be reflected in the grading. As a teacher, where do you come down on parental help in projects like this? What is best for the child?

A.  “Help, don’t do!” That was the sign I put up in my classroom at back-to-school-night and conferences.  Much of business and industry work in teams.  In my house it is the “Herrell Team.”  I believe that if your daughter thinks you are on her team it is a huge support to her growth as a person.

Depending on how well the lesson is designed by the teacher, you may be needed more sometimes and lessother times. If there is a clear purpose, you won’t need to help your child discover one. If the assignment is broken down into steps already, you won’t need to help your child figure that out. If the work has a list of materials, you won’t need to brainstorm with your daughter what is needed. If the assignment comes with a calendar, you won’t need to show your child how to plan over time what should get done. But, if the assignment comes with very few instructions and design guidelines, your child may really need you and the home team.

There is another issue to think about, also.  Often, elementary students know exactly what they want and need to do; they just get betrayed by their motor-skills. They know what they want, but their body just can’t pull it off yet.  Your daughter may need you to help complete her vision. In a big company, there are various departments to help with that. You can support your daughter in the same way.  Show her how to make labels on the computer, how to make a grid to lay the design out, and talk about the project. That is teaching.

Moms and dads, the home team is so important to the process of learning.  “Help, don’t do!” is what is needed. If your child gets a little frustrated, that is OK.  It will help them learn persistence, the key to success in life.  You can always help keep them on track by asking key questions, sometimes to remind them of the focus of the project:  “What is the purpose of this project?”  “How do you plan on showing that purpose?”  “How can we help you complete that purpose?”  Most of all, follow her lead.

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