End the Homework Wars: Secrets From an After School Expert

Ready to stop fighting about homework? Here, an expert in the field of, yes, homework, offers her best tips for getting it done.

By Katie Femia

Happy boy doing homework
When you sit down at the table with your kid, the dogs hide … and the mood turns cloudy with a chance of tears. Why? Everyone knows it’s homework time.

You want your kids to have fun after school, and you don’t want to battle with them to get their homework done. One solution to both dilemmas: Consider enrolling your child in an after school program that offers both homework help and a fun activity, such as after school tae kwon do or art classes. (If you’re sold, read no further and start seeking some of these options in your local area!)

Also a great option: Use the following tips and tricks from a former teacher I interviewed who used to run this sort of program. She knows just how to help kids focus … and when it’s time to take a break and have some good old-fashioned fun. Here, her best tips.

1. Create — and Post — an Agenda

Getting the child to understand the process of settling into their homework is key at many after school centers. Posting a clear agenda (times for play, snack, and homework) for children to see and consult upon arrival can help them anticipate the afternoon and understand what needs to be accomplished. Some children may even benefit from having a checklist to use each day, so they can best stay on track and have a successful session. You can use the same approach at home: creating a schedule, agenda, and/or checklist and posting it on the fridge or where kids typically do their homework.

2. Schedule a Pre-Homework Break

After a long day at school, kids need to unwind, refuel, and refocus. The trick is allowing them just enough time to do so without becoming so wrapped up in the activity that they have trouble sitting back down. In most cases, 30 minutes is sufficient for a bathroom break, a healthy snack (like turkey and crackers or apple slices and peanut butter), and about 20 minutes for physical activity or play (like climbing on on a jungle gym, jumping rope or playing basketball with friends). Prior to beginning any of these activities, set the expectation that homework time will begin in 30 minutes so the child knows what to expect and anticipate. Also give a 5-minute warning when recreation time is almost up, so the child prepare to transition between activities.

Find after school programs that help kids with homework > >

3. Do a Supply Run

Many after school centers have designated homework stations that are equipped with everything the child may need to complete their work. At home, gather together any supplies your child may need at homework-time, such as pens, pencils, markers, crayons, rulers, scissors, and a calculator. Ask your child what else might come in handy to have in his or her workspace! Having all of these supplies within easy reach helps the child avoid wasting time going and searching for, say, an eraser, and then becoming sidetracked. Be sure to allow your child to organize the bins of supplies. When the child arrives at the station he or she can then simply sit down and get to work.

If you would like, you can designate a bin for completed work and a bin for extra “fun” work. When a child completes an assignment they can place it in the completed bin for the adult to check. While waiting, they can get a piece of extra “fun” work (such as a crossword puzzle, word search, or word scramble) to enjoy while their work is being checked. This way, the child isn’t given the opportunity to get distracted or bored while waiting.

girl sits at desk doing homework

4. Create a Homework Station

At after school centers, homework stations are often located in an area that is quiet and away from distractions such as TVs, kids playing, or windows (a surefire draw for daydreamers). If you wish to create your own homework station at home, you certainly can! The trick is to enlist your child’s help in designing and creating it. This means they’ll be more apt to like the space — and use it regularly and without fuss.

Choose an area of the home that gets little foot traffic and that is quiet and free from distraction. It should have a comfortable chair and sturdy table, then add the supplies you and your child have gathered.

If you still find distractions to be an issue, many tutoring and homework centers use “blinders” to help create more privacy. You can make your own blinders by taking a piece of poster board and tri-folding it so it stands freely on the tabletop creating a privacy wall in the front of the child as well as on the sides of the child. While it might feel like you are secluding the child, many children actually prefer the privacy and comfort of a smaller, more controlled space.

5. Maximize Kids’ Motivation

Most children respond well to incentives and positive reinforcement. While homework is expected out of them as students, they may work harder and be more motivated if a reward is in place. A reward chart is an excellent way for the child to track their own progress and daily accomplishments, with a reward being available to them at the completion of a week. Rewards can be extra recreation time, a special snack, stickers, a ribbon, or whatever you feel is an appropriate motivator and reward. In after school programs, instructors need to get to know each child to understand what motivates them. Even parents aren’t always tuned in to this, so asking your child for some suggestions — reasonable ones! — might be a good idea.

Remember, a reward chart shouldn’t be used to track “perfect” or “error-free” work. A reward chart can track all sorts of variables, such as the child’s effort, time spent, motivation, preparedness, attitude, and then the mastery of the skill. All of these items play an important part of the homework process and should be praised when they are evident. And while individual efforts are noted, it is also important to praise kids when they work as a team. If you see them helping each other out, encouraging each other, or using teamwork to solve a problem, celebrate it! Even having a group song, cheer, or chant you sing can be a lot of fun for children and help them feel success.

6. Know the Signs of Burnout

Many times children simply don’t “feel” like doing their homework. They’re suffering from burnout or simply are having trouble getting in gear. But other times, they might actually be struggling with the subject, and that’s why they’re avoiding getting started. So how can you tell what the issue is? Many times, starting a communication with the child is key. As the adult you can say, “I understand you are tired, but it is important that I know you understand these math facts. Can you show me that you understand?” In most cases the child will then complete the task. If a child is struggling with the subject, you may notice the child exhibiting additional signs of frustration, such as shutting down, becoming emotional, acting nervous or anxious, or making repeated errors. In this case, it is important to take a step back. Allow the child to feel some success by showing off a skill that you’re sure they do know. This can help them regain their confidence. Then let them know you’re there to help, and begin to break down the “frustrating” skill into smaller pieces so the child can slowly master it.

after school teacher helps child with homework

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Homework Help

As new teaching techniques are introduced and testing standards change, homework is going to change too. Many parents are finding that their child is bringing work home that they aren’t familiar with and can’t assist with. Parents shouldn’t feel embarrassed or helpless if this happens. You aren’t, after all, trained to be a teacher! Even in after school programs, sometimes different instructors help with different subjects, because each person has different strengths.

If you feel “in over your head,” it might be time to ask your child’s school or your after school activity provider if they offer homework assistance. These programs are designed to explain current educational concepts in a way that helps the child can learn best. Also consider this a “teachable moment” for your kids: If you feel good about asking for help when you need it, you’re showing your children that they should do the same. This may encourage them to ask for help in other places, too, such as the classroom.

Have you ever heard the saying that children behave worse for their parents than for strangers? The same might be true for homework time. Children may perform better for a homework buddy or tutor than they would at home, which can make the time they spend more effective and productive. It may also take that burden (of homework buddy) off of your to-do list, leaving you free to enjoy your time with your child when their work is completed.

If you are ready for the nightly homework arguments to end, try implementing these ideas that many after school homework programs are using. Or look for such a program in your area.

Find after school programs that help kids with homework > >


Clever Crafts to Showcase Old Pointe Shoes

If you were once a ballerina, maybe it’s time to see if your kids want to follow in your footsteps — and dance steps. Get them interested by digging out your old costumes and shoes and letting them play dress-up … or sort through your piles of retired pointe shoes and work together on one of these simple-yet-clever craft projects. Have a daughter with her own worn-out toe shoes? Use these ideas to preserve them — and her memories of favorite performances.

By Katie Femia

Clever Crafts for Old Pointe Shoes
Once upon a time you may have just tossed those old pointe shoes into a closet or storage box, but many dancers today are finding ways to turn their toe shoes into works of art. Crafting with your old pointe shoes is not only a great way to repurpose these items (because as you know, they weren’t cheap!) but also a wonderful way to start a conversation with your kids about your own dancing days.

If you have some pointe shoes in your closet — or perhaps your child has a few pairs of outgrown or worn-out pointe shoes of her own — take a look at this roundup of ways to showcase them. Whether you are looking for something to decorate your child’s room or add some charm to your home, you are sure to find an idea that appeals to you. Oh and don’t worry: You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to do these projects. In most cases all you need is a quick trip to the craft store and a little time at your “crafting table.” So let’s get started!

How to Tidy Up Your Pointe Shoes Before Crafting

You may want to spot-treat your pointe shoes to help remove stains or grime prior to crafting. Use a soft cloth and a gentle cleaner such as Dawn dishwashing liquid to work on any unsightly spots. If frayed ribbons are a concern, you may want to recut them with a sharp fabric shears and then apply nail polish or glue to the new ends to prevent future fraying. Some people have been known to use a lighter, gently running the frayed area over the flame to burn off the loose strings and form a seal.
Now that your pointe shoes are in better shape, you can start crafting with them. Here are our picks for some pretty projects:

1. Fill Them with Flowers

fill-them-with-flowersHere is a simple and elegant way to create an homage to dance recitals gone by. Tie the ribbons of your pointe shoes together and hang them from a hook. (An over-the-door hook works, if you don’t want to mar the woodwork.) You can then arrange some faux blooms directly into the toe of each shoe. Or, should you wish for fresher flowers, make use of floral foam to prolong their life. First, tuck a piece of plastic wrap or a small plastic container into the toe of each shoe (to prevent the shoe from becoming soaked). Next, cut a piece of floral foam to fit inside the plastic, and set both foam blocks in a container of water for a few minutes to soak up moisture. Last, insert the foam into the “prepared” toes, then add a few of your favorite fresh blossoms.

Think beyond just decorating your ballerina’s bedroom with this craft. It would be a beautiful addition to a wedding or graduation party where a ballerina is being of honored.

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2. Turn Them into 3-D Art

frame-pointe-shoesThis super-easy project makes a creative addition to a powder room, guest room, or the college dorm of a dancer. To make it, purchase an antique or vintage-inspired frame at a local thrift shop, garage sale, or craft-supply store. Remove the glass insert, if there is one, as you will need only the frame itself. Paint the frame the color of your liking, or gently rub a few spots with sandpaper for a distressed look. Tie the ribbons of the shoes together and hang them from a nail or hook, then hang the frame atop it.

For a real pop of color, try framing multiple pairs of shoes in a variety of frames and arranging them into a wall collage. You can also spray-paint or dye the shoes prior to hanging so that they match the color scheme of the room.

3. Embellish Them By Hand

embellish-pointe-shoesThere are many ways to paint your pointe shoes. You can use henna paint, fabric paint, water colors, even permanent markers. Make some abstract art, add some inspiring quotes, or even have your favorite ballerinas sign them. This is an easy way to give the pointe shoes a pop of personality.

Want to make this craft even more fun? Don’t forget the inside of the pointe shoe as well! Consider painting the inner sole of the slipper, which is sure to catch the eye. Or line the interior with a pretty piece of patterned fabric, cut to fit and attached with glue.

4. Decoupage Them with Memories

decoupage-shoesGrab some Mod Podge and pick your favorite sheet music to embellish your pointe shoes. Cut or tear the music into smaller pieces and strips, and dip them into a shallow dish of the Mod Podge mixture. Apply to the slippers, following package directions, and taking care to smooth your fingers over the paper to remove air bubbles or excess solution.Tie a piece of tulle (perhaps from an old tutu) or the ribbon from a recital bouquet to the shoes to add fluff … and memories. To make this craft even more personal, use the sheet music from a recent performance.

5. Turn Them into a Knickknack

turn-them-into-knickknacksFind a large Mason jar with lid (available at most craft supply stores) and fill it with memorabilia such as dance programs, production tickets, dried flowers, and bun decorations. Tuck these tinier items around the edges, and slide the pointe shoes into the center for the finishing touch. Top the lid with a bit of lace or another favorite fabric scrap, perhaps from an old costume, then label the jar with the dancer’s name or a favorite dance quote.

This would be a wonderful gift to offer a dancer at the end of a recital or a special performance.

Are you inspired yet? If so, head to the craft store, then dig out those old pointe shoes. Making these DIY projects sure beats storing them in a box. And pointe shoe crafts are an excellent way to highlight and remember the many pirouettes performed in them!

Is Your Child’s Interest in Dance Piqued by These Pointe Shoe Crafts?

Check ActivityHero for dance classes near you for all ages and abilities and in styles that include ballet, hip hop, jazz, tap and more. It also might be time for Mom to look for a dance class for herself! You deserve some me-time, too, and many studios offer adult classes as well as ones for kids and teens.

After-School Activities

The After School Bully: What to Do, When to Leave

By Katie Femia

Dealing with a bully can be a stressful and even frightening situation, and it’s one that’s not limited to the school yard. It may not be common, but it’s possible for kids to encounter bullies in after school programs, too.

While all bullying situations are different, approaching them with reason as well as a sense of urgency can help calm and diffuse them, allowing your child to better focus on the tasks at hand. Here are some tips that I have adapted from the anti-bullying protocol that was followed at school during the 10 years I served as a teacher. They are designed not only to help you solve the bullying issue for your child, but also to give your child the inner resources and information they need so they can solve future bullying situations on their own.

Need a better after school program? Search ActivityHero now >>

1. Gather plenty of background information

The first step in dealing with bullying is to find out who is involved. You should know the names of the perpetrators as well as all of the children being bullied. You might find out that your child is not the only victim. It is also important to know where the bullying is taking place, such as in a restroom, locker room, hallway, or classroom. This information will be helpful when you talk to the supervisor of the program. So how do you find this out? Encourage your child to talk to you about what is happening. Wait until you are in a space where they feel safe, such as their own home or a favorite restaurant. Gently encourage them to tell you what is happening, who is involved, and how they would like to see the situation resolved.

Also ask what your child has done to solve the issue so far. For example, ask which adults they have spoken to and what actions they have already taken. This can help you best decide where to start when approaching the issue with the after school program’s supervisor. Be sure you take notes as you speak with your child so no detail is missed or overlooked.

2. Give your child options

Even before you are able to discuss the issue with the adult who oversees the program, it is good to give your child some options to use when dealing with bullies. Let your child know that they deserve to feel safe, to be safe, and to enjoy the program — just like the rest of the students. Encourage them to find friends they feel comfortable with and secure with, so they are never alone. (Being alone gives bullies a chance to move in on them.) Make sure your child reports any physical confrontations to an adult staffer immediately and continues to report other bullying behavior as well.

If the bullying is more of the verbal kind, let them know it is okay to walk away. Tell your child that they don’t have to tolerate the behavior. Also work with your child to build their self-esteem: Encourage them to tell you what they love or enjoy about themselves; kids with self-confidence are harder targets for bullies.

3. Meet with the program director

Take the information you now have and meet with the director of the after school program as soon as possible. The staff needs to be made aware of the situation and how it is interfering with your child’s experience in the program. Ask what other complaints about the child have been brought to their attention at this point, and what the director has done to deal with such complaints. Once the information is provided to the director, arrange for a follow-up meeting so you can discuss the progress. This lets the director know you are serious about remedying the situation, and that you wish for there to be not only accountability but also a resolution to the bullying.

4. Observe the after school program

If your child is telling you they are being bullied, it is sometimes wise to spend time observing them at the program. This lets both the staff and the bullies know that you are keeping an eye on the situation. It also gives you a chance to see how the program is operating and how your child is operating within it. Observing can also help you identify children that your child may consider a friend or ally, which you can then encourage a friendship with.

5. Be sure to follow up

Decide when you think a sufficient amount of time has passed after your meeting with the supervisor, then follow up on the situation. First and foremost, meet with your child to see how they feel things are going. Ask if they notice any changes in the bully’s behavior, if they feel more comfortable in the program, and if the bullying has lessened or stopped. Now is also the time to talk to the directors of the program and see what changes have been made to ensure the safety of all of the children in the program.

Hopefully, you will see changes that you are pleased with and your child will decide to continue on in the program. If the bullying is not resolved and the after school provider does not seem to be invested in remedying it, you may want to find another program for your child. If this is the case, it is important to let the staff know the reason for your decision. If they are made aware that people are leaving the program as a result of bullying, they may finally realize how serious the issue is and, at last, take more serious steps to address the problem.

When It’s Time to Leave

Kids find new after school activities for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they don’t mesh well with the group, perhaps they’ve outgrown the program in age or ability, or sometimes they just want to try something new. Whenever you find yourself at this kind of after school crossroads, be sure to let >ActivityHero help you check out the hundreds of options in your area!


The Dance Class Dilemma: Should I Drop My Kid Off … or Stay and Watch?

Do kids do better with their parents in the wings, on the sidelines, or on the other side of the observation window? A former childhood ballerina tackles this tough question by taking a good look at her past — and how it relates to her own ballerina-daughter’s experience today.

By Katie Femia

Every time you take your kid to class, you’ve got a big choice to make: Should I stay or should I go? The Dance Moms show serves as a cautionary tale for some moms, but others want to see every fan kick. So the question is, which mom are you? Do you fear leaving your child for safety reasons? Or perhaps you just want to see everything she is working on. Are you more comfortable sitting out in the hall? Or maybe you know your child can learn better if you aren’t watching. When your child is a dancer, soccer player, singer, or even a Java programmer, you will have to figure out which sort of mom you are. And while no decision is better or worse than the other, my recent run as a dance mom has given me the chance to ask myself this very question: Should I stay or should I go? And if I did stay, how much should I watch? Before I could answer these questions, I had to rewind to my own childhood.

The Ghost of Dance Class Past and Present

At the age of 6, I began lessons in classical ballet — a passion I pursued for the following 15 years. In that time, the studio always operated on a closed-door policy. Parents were not permitted to watch classes, and instead they were encouraged to watch their child’s progress at the yearly recital and predetermined observation days. As a young dancer, I was always pleased with these guidelines. After all, I was a preteen still getting comfortable with myself and my body, so the idea of practicing my dance moves in my leotard and tights in front other parents wasn’t exactly appealing to me. The closed-door policy allowed me to focus on my craft and the instructor … rather than worry about eyes watching me. I was able to focus, and that was important.

Twenty-five years later, I am now a mother and raising my own ballerina. The studio where she dances implements the same closed-door policy as mine once did. For the comfort of all of the dancers, parents are asked to wait in a common area until class is over. For as much as I would love to watch my child’s class, I know that I would only serve as a distraction to her, and my presence might intimidate other students. That would never be my intention, as I know how important this rehearsal time is … as well as how important it is for the dancers to be comfortable.

One might ask if I feel any safety concerns with not being allowed into the room. My answer is no. The door to the studio remains unlocked during rehearsal, and there is window on the door that makes the room viewable at all times. Should my child need me, I am just a few yards away. Should I have an urge to quickly peek in, the door window allows me to do that without drawing too much attention to myself.


Perhaps a More Important Question…

For me, I think this is an issue that comes down to trust. Do you trust the instructor and staff that has been put in charge of the care and training of your child? If so, respecting their studio and the other students who use it is important. One of the best ways you can do this is to step outside of the studio and allow them to do their job without the distraction of your presence. And while most parents would insist that they wouldn’t be a distraction, you would be surprised. In a wide-open studio where every sound echoes, your smallest movement is amplified. Even if you should manage to sit perfectly still like a statue, you can’t be guaranteed that another student won’t feel uncomfortable with you watching her in training.

If you can’t answer yes to this question of trust, you might want to find a studio and instructors that you do trust. That sort of relationship is vital whenever anyone is teaching your child a physical activity, and your child can best learn when all adults — you and her instructors — are working cohesively as a team. The instructors you pick to train your child are the professionals, and just as you wouldn’t want them to come to your job and observe and intervene, they respectfully wish the same from you.

Waiting in the Wings Lets Kids Find Their Wings

Dancing is a very personal craft, and one that requires the participant to feel their movements deeply and put heart and soul into their steps. A dancer can only indulge in this way when they feel comfortable with their surroundings and the instructor is allowed to teach without distraction. Waiting in a nearby hallway or common area is a great way to still be available during the rehearsal without being intrusive. In the case of emergency, you are available … yet at the same time you are still allowing space for your dancer, as well as privacy to other students.

I am lucky in the sense that my daughter’s dance studio has made this decision for the parents. But I would have to say that even if the choice was my own, I would still choose the same way. It truly is a wonderful experience to watch my child dance on observation days and during performances, when she is ready to perform and has perfected her steps. She never ceases to surprise and inspire me.

So when rehearsal is about to begin and you are faced with the question of should you stay or should you go, think about yourself at that age. How comfortable would you be rehearsing in front of peering eyes? Sometimes, it is best to let the professionals do what they are trained to do, while you stay in the wings and dream about the beautiful performances to come.

Let Us Find the Perfect Dance “Partner” for Your Kids!

ActivityHero connects you with a variety of local dance studios and workshops right in your own backyard. Check out our providers’ offerings in classical ballet, hip-hop, Irish folk dance, and other unique forms of dance expression.

Calling All Dance Moms (and Dads): Do YOU Stay or Drop Off … and WHY?

Is there a reason you love to watch your child’s dance class, in spite of what our author says? (Maybe it helps you learn key dance terms so you can “talk dance” with your child?) Or do you have a different reason to drop off and go run errands? Maybe you’re in a studio where everyone’s parents watch. What do you do if you’re the only parent not watching? We want to hear from you in the comments below!