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Scratching your head on how to help kids with homework? You're not alone

Amy Coyne Bredeson • Jun 30, 2014 at 3:41 PM

The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)


Bluffton, S.C., mom Stacy Grey is a pre-K teacher at Red Cedar Elementary School. She's also a tutor with the Neighborhood Outreach Connection. But that doesn't mean she has all the answers when helping her own children with their homework.

Grey admits she has a hard time helping her sixth-grader, Timothy, with his homework — especially when it comes to math.

"I tell the kids jokingly sometimes, 'I don't know. That's why I teach pre-K.' "

Grey isn't the only one struggling to help her kids get their homework done. Part of the problem is that it's been so long since parents learned these skills. The other problem is that the kids are being taught differently now from how their parents were taught when they were young.

Here are some recommendations for helping your children be successful with their homework assignments:

—USE THE INTERNET: Teachers often encourage their students to use educational websites, such as Everyday Mathematics Online and CompassLearning Odyssey, to strengthen the skills they learn in the classroom. Grey said she often employs Google when she's helping kids with homework.

—GO TO THE LIBRARY: If students can't find help through the Web, your local public library may be the ticket. For example, the Beaufort County Public Library in South Carolina offers live academic assistance through a program called Brainfuse. Anyone with a Beaufort County library card can create an account online and access Brainfuse. Live help is available between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Beaufort County Library information services coordinator Traci Cox said all tutors are trained and certified by Brainfuse. All tutors have been cleared with thorough background and reference checks, and are required to have a four-year degree, and prior teaching or tutoring experience.

Cox said math is the subject that draws the most requests for help. Science, social studies and reading homework come in close behind.

Brainfuse provides affordable online homework help to libraries nationwide, so libraries all around the country are no doubt using the service. See what your library offers, either this service or something similar.

—ASK THE TEACHER: If you're lucky, you might have a teacher like Tara Crewe of Red Cedar Elementary School, who goes out of her way to help her students succeed. Crewe does something not too many teachers do. She gives her phone number out to her students in case they need help with homework.

When Timothy Grey could not find answers to homework questions in Crewe's gifted and talented math class last year, he called her for help.

Crewe said she gets a call every two or three weeks from students. She received many more calls when she was teaching a combined fifth-/sixth-grade curriculum for her fifth-grade Gifted and Talented math students.

"It was really hard for them," Crewe said. "Parents were frustrated because their kids were frustrated."

She told her students that she'd rather them come in with the work done incorrectly than not done at all.

"But for kids to come in with a completely blank paper, it frustrates me to no end because it doesn't show a whole lot of effort on their part," Crewe said. "And on top of that, it doesn't give me any ability to be a better teacher the next day. If I have the whole class come in and everybody has everything wrong, then I know that I need to back up and reteach that. But if everyone comes in and it's just blank, then that doesn't tell me anything."

That's when she started telling her students to call for help. She said she was a little leery at first. She thought she might be getting a lot of prank calls, but much to her surprise, she got none.

Crewe placed a sticker on the front of each student's agenda that reminds them to call her if they are having trouble with math work. But before making that phone call, they are told to check their books, look online and ask a parent for help.

"If they come in with blank papers, I'll say, 'You didn't call me last night.' This doesn't work for me. You can't show up without it done and expect me to be OK with that, when I have given you every ability to get some help with that."

—TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SCHOOL RESOURCES: Students at Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School have a new option for getting help with homework. The school recently launched a YouTube channel that allows students and parents to view lessons online from home.

Principal Celeste Lavan said the school, like many other in the district, holds math night, literacy night and STEM night to show parents what the students are learning in school. But it's difficult to get parents there because of their busy schedules.

"We want to meet the students where they are, and we should do that for parents," Lavan said.

She said the YouTube videos make learning pleasant, and they take away barriers so parents don't feel guilty if they can't come to parents' nights.

—TURN TO A CLASSMATE: Another technique Grey said helps is for kids to have classmates to call in case they need help. Timothy often does homework with his neighbor friend because, well, two heads are better than one.

Now that Timothy is in middle school, he is more independent. He uses the website Edmodo to ask his teacher questions. Edmodo is a form of social media similar to Facebook that allows students to connect with classmates and teachers in a safe venue.

—FIND TUTORING: If your child needs one-on-one help with homework, check out your local tutoring options. For example, the Neighborhood Outreach Connection in the South Carolina Lowcountry area offers after-school tutoring at various locations, including several housing communities on Hilton Head Island and apartment complexes in Bluffton. Students do not have to live in those communities to receive assistance.

Dr. Narendra Sharma, founding chairman of the organization, said standardized tests have shown that students who get help from NOC score higher than the average Beaufort County School District student.

—ENCOURAGE THEM TO JUST ASK: Grey offered this final piece of advice to parents.

"Encourage your kids to ask questions," she said. "(Tell them), 'If you don't understand, go talk to the teacher. See if you can go before school starts or stay after school a few minutes.' "


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