For years, I have window shopped for a new kitchen table, admiring the sleek lines of those glass top models with wrought iron legs that grace furniture showrooms. But recently, I've realized that I've become very sentimentally attached to the square Shaker-style table whose wood has never really matched the color of my kitchen cabinets. Why the nostalgia? The etched lines and marker stains that grace the table's surface show the wear of years of boys' artwork colored outside the lines and early evening homework sessions. If you look carefully, you can even spot a spelling word or two engraved into the finish, both in first grade printing and in more refined cursive.
Homework in our house has typically taken place at this kitchen table while Mom cooks dinner and activity swirls. Days are recapped, spelling words are practiced, and flashcards are reviewed as learning takes place in the heart of our home. As my 16-year-old has begun to retreat to the peace and quiet of his own room to do homework, my heart yearns a little bit for the days of brotherly joking over books at that old kitchen table.
Ask any teacher what you can do to help your child succeed in school and near the top of her list will be some variation of this phrase:
Give your child a quiet place to do homework.
As this school year begins in earnest, take some time today to examine your children's homework space. If you do not have a dedicated space, choose one today. It does not have to be a separate room or a fancy desk. It simply needs to be a quiet, well-lit workspace free of electronic distractions. The following are a few recommendations for setting up and equipping your homework space:
— Choose a space that is easy for you to supervise while your children work. If possible, choose a space that does not have a television or stereo nearby.
— Stock your homework space with the essentials: paper, pencils, pens, school supplies, a dictionary and thesaurus, an atlas, scissors, tape and glue, a calculator, index cards and art supplies. These can be kept in a plastic storage bin or dedicated drawer for easy access. This is a great time of the year to stock up on school supplies for your home, since many are currently on sale.
— Ban cell phones, including your own. During homework time, limit children's phone time to only calls needed to check homework details. Also try to limit your own phone time if your homework space would cause your phone conversation to be a distraction to working students.
— Plan for computer issues. These days, much homework involves needing access to a computer. If this is the case for your children, make sure that you have a computer with reliable Internet access available in an area of your home that can be easily supervised. Rule out "chatting," surfing the web, or instant messaging during homework time. Also, make sure that your child has access to a functioning printer with sufficient ink supplies. Nothing is worse than having to run to the 24-hour copy center to print a page of homework because your home computer has no toner. (I speak from experience here!)
— Keep a homework calendar. Make sure your child is updating his student planner on a daily basis. Transfer dates of long-term projects, reports, papers and tests onto a central calendar, which can be easily referenced.
If I ever graduate from my "gently loved" kitchen table to that sleek glass one I covet, I know I will have a hard time parting with the stalwart homework center that has served my boys so well. But who knows, maybe by then I'll have a grandchild or two who wants to come over and do homework at my house!