Often, homework is a chore for both child and parent, one that both may dread. Are there ways to make children more independent when it comes to this inevitable part of most school programs? What works best to build skills without fraying tempers?
One answer seems to emerge from a study out of Finland. The First Steps Study is a wide-ranging long-term examination of learning and motivation in some 2,000 Finnish students from kindergarten through high school. In this component of the study, reported in the journal Learning and Instruction, researchers looked at 365 second through fourth graders and at how their mothers supported their children's homework. They found that the more opportunities for independent, autonomous work that the mother offered the child, the more persistently the child worked on his or her school assignments. This, in turn, resulted in the mothers offering more opportunities for independent work.
In contrast, when mothers offered their children concrete homework help, the children were less independent in their work and the mothers responded by offering more and more help. Note that this effect persisted even when the child's ability level was controlled for. Notably, the study does not mention interventions by fathers. The study authors posited, in a press release from The University of Eastern Finland, that,
"One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child's skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities."
Similarly, concrete homework assistance - especially if not requested by the child - may send out a message that the mother doesn't believe in the child's ability to do his or her homework.
It is difficult for some parents to draw down their level of homework involvement. It seems, however, that doing so may have long term benefits for students, and likely for their parents as well.