Every teacher and parent knows that after students have spent the day at school, the last thing they want is to go home and do a bunch of homework.
Over the years, I came up with tons of ideas to get my kids to be enthusiastic and motivated to finish their homework (and do a good job!). Some of those ideas worked really well. And others fell pretty flat.
So, how do we engage our kids in a way that will make homework bearable for them? I came up with this list of 10 great tips to make homework not just bearable but fun for 4th graders. These are the ones that worked the best in our home. Of course, it will work for other ages too, but this article will focus on the things that 4th graders in particular will appreciate.
Here is the list:
1. Sit down with them to help them get started.
2. Start with a snack.
3. Change up the scenery.
4. Host a "homework party."
5. Recognize when it's break time.
6. Appeal to their senses and favorite things.
7. Make sure the area is free of distraction.
8. Give them a checklist.
9. Make it a race to the finish.
10. Make homework a game.
Let's go ahead and take a closer look at each of these.
Table of Contents
1. Sit Down With Them to Help Them Get Started
I remember as a child that sometimes the hardest thing for me to do was to start something. I would freeze up because I didn't know where to begin. While I wasn't necessarily frozen with indecision with my homework, I wasn't always motivated to pull out a book and get started.
In the same way, if we sit down with our kids to help get them started, we are actually accomplishing several things. First, we are able to see what they are doing in school and how well or poorly they are doing it. And that will allow us to help them get up to par in the areas we see them struggling in.
Second, we are showing them that we are support for them. They will know that we have their back, even if they don't necessarily want to be sitting there with you instead of out playing with their friends or on their phone or computer. Note: make sure to verbalize that you are their advocate and support--sometimes kids don't pick up on those cues as well as adults and it is good for kids to hear from you that you are on their side and fighting for them and not against them!
Third, you are helping them get directly to it and allowing them to block out all of the other distractions that are competing for their attention. Having someone get busy with them is a great way to get down to business!
2. Start With a Snack
Just make sure the snack isn't their least favorite food!
Having a healthy (and sometimes not-so-healthy) snack ready for them when they are sitting down for homework is a great way to instantly put your kids in a better mood about getting their homework done.
The icing on the cake for both of you is to serve your child's favorite healthy snack and include a small piece of candy or chocolate or a mini scoop of ice cream.
Some of my kids' favorite snacks were snow peas, sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, baked potato bar (baked potatoes with butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, green onion, bacon), broccoli salad, or really any kind of salad. I was always super lucky that my kids would almost always prefer fruits and veggies to sweets. And when they did eat sweets, they would follow them up with the fruits and veggies.
So for some of the not-so-healthy faves, my kids loved german chocolate cake, peach torte peaches, almond extract, and sugar in the blender, then folded in whipped cream and poured over graham cracker crumbs and frozen), carrot cake loaded with pineapple, raisins, and pecans, no bake cookies, M&M's and Skittles.
Do We Need Rules?
Honestly, I was never very strict about how they ate before dinner because they always ate well at dinner time and didn't overdo on the sweets and junk foods.
On special days or for an occasional surprise, I would order pizza to arrive just when they were sitting down with their work. That was a win-win for all of us because once their homework was done, we were all free to have fun and relax because there was no dinner or dishes to worry about.
3. Change Up the Scenery
This was one of my favorite things to do when we were homeschooling. I would pick random days and random places to pack us all up and do school. One of our favorite places was the mall food court. We would get breakfast or lunch, depending on the time we were there. And then we would study and eat. One of the malls near us even had a giant fireplace and sofas so we could be comfy and enjoy the ambience while studying.
Some other places we studied at were the park (with picnic tables and a playground nearby), fast food places, and when I was working as a server, my older high school kids would go to a closed section of the restaurant and do school while I delivered drinks and food to them. That was one of their favorites! (Can't say I'm not glad to no longer be working outside of the home though!)
It didn't have to be so elaborate as the above examples. The back patio or back yard, the master bedroom, just about anywhere that is not the normal homework spot is a great place to change it up. And the fresh atmosphere almost always breathes life into you as well as your kids.
4. Host a "Homework Party"
You could plan this once every couple of weeks. Schedule a time that a few of your kids' friends can come over for a couple of hours after school to get their homework done. Having a snack, and a great space for them to spread out works well. The dining room table, all over the living room or den, or even the yard in good weather make good places that give them plenty of space.
Supervision helps keep them on task. And then having dinner and games after rewards them for a job well done and motivates them to get their homework done quickly next time to get to the fun faster.
Having fellow classmates there also helps them to get their work done faster, especially when they are working together on projects or assignments.
This is also a great way to reinforce what they are learning because they will tend to remember facts better when they are doing something more memorable than the norm.
5. Recognize When it's Break Time
How many times have you been driven to finish something to the point that you literally couldn't function anymore?
After your kids have been at school all day, coming home to do hours worth of homework is not on their fun list. And some days they will be so burned out that the thought of doing more will be more than they can stand.
For those times, it would be good to just cut them a break. Do something relaxing and fun that doesn't exert much brain power. Then have some dinner or go out for dinner. When you get home, knock out that homework knowing that they had a chance to get some R&R and can now focus on finishing the work of the day!
Not only will they be grateful for the break, they will know that you were looking out for them when it counted!
There may be times when your kids are not going to be able to finish their homework because it is just too much for where they are at mentally or physically. And that has to be okay. Speak with their teacher to make other arrangements to make up that assignment on the weekend or another better time. And maybe you could also talk to the teacher if you find the homework is too burdensome than the normal amount of homework.
Most teachers want to hear feedback. They could be under the impression that the work they assigned was less involved than it turned out to be. Teachers cannot adjust the homework assignments if they don't hear back from the parents when things are not optimal.
6. Appeal to Their Senses and Favorite Things.
Studies have shown that everybody learns much better and retains that knowledge when certain senses are used in conjunction with the learning. For more on this, see my article on How to Hook Your Students Instantly: The Anticipatory Set.
If you know what their homework is ahead of time and know of a certain food that is related, you have a great way to reinforce the lesson they are learning, plus give them a treat.
If you connect their homework time to soft classical music playing in the background that inspires and encourages them to study, you are also appealing to their senses in a beneficial way.
Watching a quick Youtube video that is related to what they are learning will help to reinforce their homework, change up the routine, and, if you can find an educational video that is also entertaining you have won the jackpot!
Burning a candle in the vicinity of their homework space that is a favorite scent is another great way to help them remember what they are learning over time.
The sense of smell is one of the strongest senses with the most correlation, sometimes even back to early childhood memories. Combining several senses at a time just cements the brain power even more. But even more than that, you are showing your child that you know and appreciate their favorite things. And that reinforces not just their homework, but your love for them as well!
7. Make Sure the Area is Free of Distraction
If you put your fourth grader in a room full of toys or electronic devices, they aren't going to do even the tiniest bit of homework the minute you walk out the door.
Even if you put your fourth grader in a room with nothing in it but a desk, chair, and their homework, you are still going to have a hard time getting most of them to study. That is just a very difficult age to keep kids on task. (I am at this very moment trying to get my fourth grader to watch his history video while he crawls around the carpet!)
So finding a spot in your home to put a dedicated study area is a great idea if you have the space. Keeping it in the living area where he/she can be gently reminded to stay on task is absolutely necessary. And maybe even using the time yourself to catch up on paperwork, email, or some other job that allows you to sit next to them is even better! You are getting your work done, you are there to help your child with anything they may need, and you are encouraging him/her to keep on task. Motherhood multitasking at its best!
8. Give Your Kids a Homework Checklist
This is a great idea because it allows your fourth grader to take command of his/her own homework. And it also allows him/her to feel accomplished every time an item is checked off. Rather than looking at the big picture, they are able to see each step along the way. This realization will allow them to be able to keep on going, knowing how far they've gone and how much is left. And the end will be in sight!
Some great suggestions for making a checklist for your student are as follows:
- Break it up with balance: don't make the list too long or they will feel like it's impossible to get through. But don't make the list too short or it will take too long to check off the items and they will feel, once again, like they can't get through it.
- Decorate the checklist with their favorite things. This can be done with stickers, or you can design a simple checklist with their favorite items in clip art in a Word document.
- Have encouraging notes on it. This can be just an I love you, an inspirational quote, or any work of encouragement.
- I'm sure all you other moms and teachers can think of even better things to make the checklist a hit!
9. Make it a Race to the Finish
Sometimes it just seems like they are never going to get their homework done. Distractions abound. They are tired and don't feel like moving on it. And at the end of the day, you can't make them do it!
So how do you motivate the "unmotivatable?" Yes, I just totally made up that word. But anyway, one thing that worked really well for me was having them race against the clock. I got this super adorable timer (it is lost at the moment because we just moved and it hasn't shown up in the unpacked boxes):
There are some awesome features to this little man. First of all, you can treat the timer knob as a nose and put googly eyes from the top. I got my pack of googly eyes from my local dollar store. You can literally get them just about anywhere you get craft supplies. You can always get them here on Amazon too!
Besides being amazingly cute, he doesn't plug in or run on batteries. He is purely mechanical, which means once you buy him, he doesn't cost anything to maintain! And your kids will love him.
Every Race Needs a Prize!
You can set it for up to an hour. And upon your kids beating the timer, you can offer them whatever reward/privilege works for that particular child. It can be online time with friends, extra tv time, or go out and get an ice cream after dinner. Or it can be a small prize you keep on hand. I keep a small basket of prizes they can pick every once in a while when they have done a great job on something or I just need to give them a pick-me-up.
And the best reward of all is that they got the work done!
For those that don't finish within the timer's limit, you can sit with them and help them to finish up. You can also offer a lesser prize upon them finishing with you so that they don't feel as defeated and give up. You definitely don't want to play up the disadvantage of not beating the timer. I had a few meltdowns over them not getting their work done before the bell went off. It was not a good night after that.
10. Make Homework a Game
There are so many ways that you can do this. I definitely don't have all the original ideas. But here are a couple of things I did:
- Have your fourth grader read his assignment as though it is a news report. Just make sure he doesn't get so silly that he forgets what he is reading.
- Have her make a poster with the main points of what she is learning. I definitely wouldn't do this one if the homework for the night was long. You don't want to add to the already large pile. But if it's a light homework night and your fourth grader loves arts and crafts, it would be a great option.
- If you are doing the homework party suggestion above, you could turn the review questions into a game of Jeopardy or Family Feud. Or you could make up your own competition. It could just be two teams trying to answer the most questions. This would depend on how much time you have for prep.
- If it is review for a spelling test, have your homework party do a spelling bee.
There are so many things you could do with this category. But the point is to make the game reinforce the review without adding more homework to your fourth graders' assignments. Even fun homework isn't fun when it's all night!
So this is 10 of my tips to make homework fun for 4th graders. I hope that it has inspired you and will help you to make homework nights a bit easier on family life. And a bit easier for the teacher when he/she sees the next day that your child did their homework!