How to help your child with homework at high school

Teenage student sitting attentively in class.
Image: As children enter their teens, new horizons and experiences inevitably create distractions.

There are various techniques, resources and tools available to make things easier. It's also important to understand some of the background about the role of homework during this busy period in your child's life.

What's different about high school?

Although aspects of the homework routine will be familiar from primary school the volume starts to increase in Year 7 and there are a few key differences as well:

  • Children face more distractions as their social and emotional lives become more complex.
  • Anxieties, including about academic performance might become more intense.
  • There is a new requirement for study time distinct from set homework assignments.
  • Subjects like maths can become more challenging, including for parents trying to assist.
  • Students may receive homework from different teachers across multiple subjects.

Denise Tsirigos, English Advisor 7-12, says homework becomes more important as children get older.

"We know homework is even more important for academic development at high school than at primary level," she says.

"We also know parent or carer involvement can make a really positive contribution to the outcomes in all areas of learning, including homework."

Coping with distractions at home

As children enter their teens, new horizons and experiences inevitably create distractions, and connected devices are the biggest channel for these to enter the home. A few handy tips:

  • Create a dedicated study area an internet-free zone (unless the session requires online research). Switch off or remove mobiles, TVs and gaming devices.
  • If that?s impractical, consider downloading a social media lockout app or switching on aeroplane mode during study time to prevent interruptions.
  • Make sure friends and other family members know not to disturb homework time.

Staying motivated, organised and engaged

Students often try to avoid subjects they find difficult, irrelevant or boring. Some tips to help deal with procrastination include:

  • Break the task down into smaller chunks: brainstorm to identify headings; list them and summarise relevant information, one at a time.
  • Make a to-do list of tasks they can check off as they finish.
  • Monitor their progress and reward each step.

?Parents and carers can help by providing support and the right environment but ultimately it?s up to students themselves to get the work done, Ms Tsirigos says.

"By the time they reach high school, kids should be developing independent working habits. Homework is partly to refine these."

Nothing saps motivation (or provides a better excuse) than the lack of some vital piece of equipment. Do a stocktake and make sure they have they need in the study area:

  • pens and pencils
  • highlighters
  • scissors
  • glue
  • paper
  • ruler
  • calculator
  • computer, internet and printer only if required.

Confronting doubts, building resilience

If your teen still seems unable to settle down to work, talk about what?s on their mind. If they?re worried about school performance come up with some strategies to help.

Video - What is your teenager trying to tell you?

Duration - 2:53

What is your teenager trying to tell you

Read the transcript for 'What is your teenager trying to tell you?'.

You could encourage them to set goals and write down the steps to achieve them - making a start on homework as soon as it's set, for example.

Ms Tsirigos says parents and carers should highlight strengths and successes, while also helping their child to see setbacks as a natural part of the learning process.

"There's no need to dwell on mistakes but they shouldn't be totally ignored either. Try to help your teen value them as something they can learn and benefit from," she says.

For specific academic hurdles, you can also encourage them to seek help from school counsellors and teachers. If they're anxious about something else - social situations, for example - counsellors may be helpful as well.

Reachout.com is a great resource with practical support, tools and tips for young people navigating the ups and downs of teenage life. It's useful for parents and carers too.

Staying healthy

Although many students understand the need for regular study, a lot don't realise their physical and mental health are just as important.

This requires:

  • a healthy, balanced diet
  • plenty of water but not coffee (if they must, limit to one per day and not after midday)
  • enough sleep (at least 8 to 10 hours is recommended)
  • exercise and downtime each day.

Video - Three steps to stress-free study

Duration - 2:32

Learning Potential: Three steps to stress-free study

Getting down to work

With the right environment and mindset in place, it?s time to start grappling with the content. Once your child has established a working pattern, help them maintain it. Routine builds confidence and improves overall results.

Ms Tsirigos says there?s no one ?best? way to work and teens should be encouraged to develop an approach that is effective for them.

Coming to grips with study (not just homework)

Regular study time is important at high school and it?s important to understand this is completely different from set homework.

Study involves regular review of work covered in class, summarising key ideas and practising tasks with additional reading and research.

Preparing useful summaries

Summaries are essential for effective study and they?re also a great way to prepare for tests and assessments.

"When summarising, students pick out the most important information and write it in the shortest way possible, using their own words."

Summaries can be in a student?s own shorthand and may include:

  • dot points
  • headings and subheadings
  • abbreviations and symbols
  • diagrams, mind maps or brainstorms
  • quotes
  • highlighting and annotations
  • colour coding (colour can stimulate memory).

Tips for study time

The best study is active study. This means not just reading but trying to respond in an active way.

Writing summaries is one example but active study could also involve creating lists and mind maps, answering practice questions or teaching someone else about a topic. Active study helps to move content from short-term to long-term memory.

To help your child make the most effective use of study time, encourage them to:

  • Focus on one topic at a time.
  • Highlight class notes or handouts.
  • Create summaries, diagrams, mind maps or brainstorms to link the main ideas.
  • Explain a topic or key concept to someone else.
  • Prepare glossaries of technical language, include examples of appropriate use.
  • Memorise short quotes.
  • Read summaries aloud - they can record themselves and play back while travelling.
  • Write key concepts on flash cards with an explanation on the back for recall testing.
  • Read widely and add any new information or quotes to summaries (remember, sources must referenced).

Study timetables

Study timetables are a great way to embed routine and stay organised. Other tips include:

  • Help your teen fill in regular activities including school, sports and part-time jobs. Don't forget to include meal times and travel.
  • Students should discuss requirements with teachers. Later years will need one or two hours per subject each week, gradually increasing.
  • Think about the best time to study. Is it straight after school or following a scheduled chill-out time?
  • Remember the school timetable - two hours of physics on the same day as a double period might be enough physics for one day. Don't forget any subjects -even the 'easiest' will require revision in Years 11 and 12.
  • Colour code chunks of time for different subjects.
  • Allow a break of at least five to 10 minutes each hour.
  • Try it for a fortnight and see if it's realistic. There's no point having a study timetable that isn't followed.
  • Some days are busy. If your child can follow their timetable 70-80% of the time, they are on their way to success.

Study banks

Alternatively, try a study bank. This may be better for senior students with changing work rosters but it requires more independence and commitment, and therefore a fair bit of supervision.

To prepare a study bank:

Add up the hours teachers suggest for each subject.

  • If there are two hours of study for English, maths and legal studies; three hours for modern history and Japanese but only one for senior science, the bank will be 13 hours.
  • By the end of the week, there needs to be a record of the 13 hours of study, across the subjects as identified. Keep track of how it's going through the week so there isn't a mad rush on Sunday.
  • If your child can't fulfil the suggested hours, a study timetable may work better.

Help with maths

Maths often becomes more challenging in high school. Here are some tips to encourage your child and help them maintain confidence:

Talk positively, even if you struggled with maths yourself. Don?t give them an excuse to give up ? let them know you believe they can succeed.

Practice works better than anything else. Help identify weaknesses and make a plan to work on them. Their confidence will increase as they see improvements.

Ask about their homework and what they?re learning. They?ll appreciate your interest and feel more motivated.

Reach out to their teacher. They can provide advice and support materials.

Learning resources

ABC Education

Engaging videos, games, competitions and resources. Thought-provoking parenting articles and latest education news. Non-commercial and funded by the Australian Government.

Raising Children Network

Reliable, up-to-date and independent information to help your family grow and thrive together. The network is funded by the Australian Government, reviewed by experts and is non-commercial.

Learning Potential

An Australian Government website and app providing hundreds of articles on all aspects of your child's high school learning and development.

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