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Melissa Schmalenberger, Published September 01 2013

MS. Simplicity: Makes kids’ homework easier with space, tools

Before the tears start of the child being forced to do homework begins, do some planning ahead to make life a little easier for parent and child.

Before the school year starts, or right after it begins, set up homework expectations.

Most schools have a night where the parents gather and meet the teacher. We hear their expectations in the upcoming school year and can figure out how to take their expectations and carry it out in our family.

Will there be nightly reading? Will there be Friday spelling tests? Will there be math drills?

With so many school curriculums changing, I know it is hard to navigate as a parent. For my kids, when they were in elementary school, it seemed like spelling tests were a thing of the past and math flash cards lasted only a few years.

Now in high school they have a PLD (personal learning device) that they now view class videos at home as ways to prepare for class. Everything is going more digital and less hands-on paper and pencil.

Whatever the school year holds ahead, make a plan to put in place the systems now.

Here are a few things that our family did and maybe to get you started on thinking on what would work for your family:

A rule that we have every school year is no video games on school nights. This has worked out very well for us. We even got rid of cable a few years ago.

So what you will find now in our house is our family in our kitchen/living room area talking to each other, lying on the floor reading a book or on an iPad watching a TED talk.

When I was a child, my mom wouldn’t allow me to watch TV until my homework was done. However, for me, it was easier to have the TV on while completing my homework. That background noise helped as I focused on drowning the noise out and studying.

Now I have two boys with auditory processing disorder, and the one has to have absolute silence when he is doing homework.

If you have a child that requires silence, create a noise-free zone where the distractions are minimalized and homework can be completed. If you have a child that needs some background noise, be OK with that.

Buy a good pencil sharpener or good mechanical pencils with extra lead and erasers. There is something about a sharp pencil that signifies for me that I was ready to get down to business. Broken lead and a search for a pencil sharpener could stop forward momentum.

Some families are a black hole of pencils, never a pencil to be found. Keep supplies at the ready.

Create a small basket or container where all the homework essentials are kept. This should be a container that is easily transported. So if a child wants to go to another area of the home, they are able to do so. If a child needs to take it in the car with them, they can.

No need for a big art caddy on wheels. Most of the time a small container with a few sharpened pencils, colored pencils and highlighters is all that is needed.

As they get older, it could be a graphing calculator, a compass and a protractor that go in the basket.

For years, my kids had to read so many minutes per night. In the homework basket went a small timer for them to set and read for their allotted minutes.

The key is to figure out what supplies are needed now and get ready.

The time is now to call a family meeting and set up parameters for when homework is to be done. Many families are faced with crazy evenings with sports and other activities. Find out what works for your family.

I do know that each child is different. So if you have a child that needs a quiet room to complete homework, find that space. I remember those fall evenings where I had three kids on three different fields doing sports. Those were really challenging years.

I had to figure out how to get a decent meal in them to fuel their bodies while at the same time giving them the space and time allowed for homework as well as down time to be with friends.

I do know that you can’t ignore it, you do need to be strategic. But see if you can figure out a few things now, it will be a little less stressful come the end of the day.

The gauge of success is not only the grade on the report card but also their level of frustration. It is my hope that as their levels of frustration drop, so does yours.

MS. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger, operates her business as I Did It With MS. Simplicity. She is a professional organizer based out of Fargo, and her website can be found at www.mssimplicity.com.