Essential Homework Skills, Part I

Dr. Sam Goldstein

Skill One: Writing down assignments and bringing home the proper books and supplies. Some students experience difficulty recording homework assignments given orally in class. They may struggle because their teacher gives assignments at the end of the period and children may be tired or do not have enough time to write down the assignment accurately. Students may not listen carefully when assignments are given, not pay sufficient attention to details such as page numbers or not possess sufficient information in written form to complete the assignment correctly once they arrive home. This results in a somewhat cryptic description of the homework, which neither you nor your child understand. Your child may require a buddy to write down the assignments and give your child a copy or a friend available to call after school.

  • It is important to make certain that your child possesses the skills to bring home materials necessary to complete homework. There are a number of ways to help your child remember which materials to bring home.

  • We suggest that elementary school students divide their desks into two parts (turning in and taking home sides).

  • For middle or secondary school students, a place can be set aside on a shelf in their locker for books or other materials during the day that will be needed that evening.

  • Some students turn books with the bindings towards the back of the locker to indicate those books are going home.

  • Increasingly schools are providing classrooms with a single set of textbooks at the upper school levels. These remain in class and are used by different students during the day. Each students personal text are left at home. Text copies are also in the library for use immediately after school or during the school day, such as study hall.

  • Some students find it easier to carry everything with them to and from school in heavy but large backpacks. This way nothing is forgotten or lost. Keep in mind, however, that orthopedic experts suggest that your children’s backpack should not weigh more than 25% of his or her total body weight.

  • Some elementary school teachers provide or allow you to provide a plastic bin to your child to keep next to his or her desk. A bin is easier to organize and visualize than a desk.

Skill Two: Choosing an Appropriate Place in Which to Do Homework. Finding a suitable place to complete homework can be a challenge. Some children prefer completing homework in the middle of all the action (e.g., at the kitchen or dining room table). Others prefer quiet locations such as in their room. Within these locations children possess individual preferences. Some choose to work at a desk, others like to sprawl on the floor and for some, their beds make a perfect homework place. If your children are experiencing difficulty with homework, help them find the best place to work. Let them try different places and see how much work they complete. Once a suitable homework place is found, encourage use of that setting, but be flexible as children may prefer different homework places from time-to-time.

Homework materials – papers, pencils, pens, scissors, notebooks, rulers, dictionary – should be stored at the homework place. A bright plastic bin or a device such as a materials organizer can help keep all materials in one place. The Homework Helpmate made by Sensible Solutions and available through the ADD Warehouse ( would be such an organizer and could be easily moved from place-to-place. We also suggested at the beginning of the school year, you help your child create a resource list or index card file. This list should include names and phone numbers of friends or homework buddies, teachers or homework hotlines and even helpful internet addresses.

This column is excerpted and condensed from, Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide for Solving Common Homework Problems by Sydney S. Zentall, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. (1999, Specialty Press, Inc.).