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My Favorite Homework Hack

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I learned from the Fly Lady that just 15 minutes can make a huge dent in my housework to-do list. I love the 15-minute rule - many times my family has gone from messy and cranky to tidy and motivated in a mere 15 minutes.

A timer is housework magic, and I have good news – a timer works like magic during homework too.

Get Started

First, a timer helps my kids to get started on homework when they are tired and overwhelmed. For example, I'll encourage them by saying, "just do your math for 15 minutes, and then let’s see how much you got finished."

That gets them started, and usually, they are pretty happy with how much work they’ve completed in that 15 minutes. Once, I saw my daughter finish her math homework in 9 minutes. I was able to point out that she spent longer complaining about it than doing it.

That was a nice mom moment.

Social Media Free

My kids are more willing to put their phones aside during homework if they know it’s only for a set period of time. They dislike being out of the social media loop for even 20 minutes, but they are beginning to understand that multitasking during homework is not efficient or beneficial to learning.

When my kids know they can check their phone in 15 or 20 minutes, they find it easier to put their phones away and focus on the task at hand. I will suggest that they do a subject for 20 minutes, and when the timer goes off they check their social media accounts for 5 minutes. They generally find that to be something they can agree to do. Hopefully, they are learning the kind of habits that they will carry to college too.

Decreases Panic

One of my sons has ADD, and when he was younger, he would get anxious at the thought of having to sit still to do his homework. Setting a timer worked for him. In middle school, we set the timer for 15 minutes, and he worked as hard as he could for 15 minutes. Then, he went outside to shoot baskets in the driveway for 5 minutes. Then, back to homework for the next 15 minutes. As he got older, the 15 minutes could be stretched for longer time periods, but he was always rewarded with activity at the end.

It is worth noting that the 15 minutes on 5 minutes off system did not work at all for my oldest son. He works like a locomotive. It takes him a while to get a full head of steam, but once he does, he can go for a stretch before he needs a break. If I made him adhere to the same rhythm as my ADD son, he never would have gotten anything done. Observe your children and play to their strengths.

Keeps Things Moving for Perfectionists

A timer keeps things moving along for those kids who are never satisfied with their work. If you have that child, agree ahead of time how long an assignment should take. Set the timer and let them go. When the timer goes off, remind them that it’s time to move on to their next task. A timer will help keep them moving along and from being bogged down in one assignment all night.

Good Practice for Timed Tests

Let’s face it – a lot of the most important tasks our kids will have to do academically are timed. The obvious ones are standardized tests and college admissions testing, but remember that classroom tests, and in-class assignments are also timed. Our children have time pressure on their academics frequently, and one way we can help them learn to function with that pressure is to use a timer at home when they are doing homework.

My favorite homework hack is a timer. As the Fly Lady says, you can do anything for 15 minutes – I’ll add, even homework.

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Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, a teacher-librarian, and a mom of four almost grown kids. She blogs at Raising The Capable Student where her goal is helping parents to keep family life a priority and school success in perspective. Her work has been featured in On Parenting from the Washington Post, Grown and Flown, Perfection Pending, and Today Parents.

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