My children are very competitive and dedicated to their respective sports. My son plays travel baseball with practices 4 days a week and games and tournaments on the weekends and my daughter is on the competition team for her gymnastics studio which means she is in the gym 3-4 days a week and has meets on the weekends. As any parent who has kids in sports or any after school activity knows, it is a challenge to squeeze in increasingly time-consuming homework assignments as well. Education is the main focus in our house and we frequently discuss future college plans. The kids would love to be able to do their respective sports in college, but they also know that the grades have to be there if they want a chance to. We have worked out a relatively effective system and developed some tips for making sure that school comes first and still making it to all of the after school practices.
First and foremost, realize that homework isn’t “fun” and that kids don’t like it. The sooner that you realize that fact and let your kids know that you understand it, the easier it will be to explain to them the necessity of homework. I have frequent conversations with my kids about how, yes, homework is generally “busy work” and not super “educational”. But, it is a great tool to teach them time management skills and responsibility. We discuss how the older they get in school, the less school work is done in the classroom. In college, most of your work is done outside of the classroom and this is great practice on learning how to manage your time and prioritize your responsibilities so that you will be more successful in the future. I think that simply admitting that you realize this work isn’t essential to their grades or their understanding concepts for tests isn’t enough. You must then give them another explanation as to why they are having to do it to help them get past the “it’s boring” and “I already know this stuff” phase.
Create priorities and boundaries. In our house homework has to be completed before practices or games. Period. Generally, our system consists of coming home from school, grabbing a snack, and taking that snack back to their desk to get started on their homework. They know that if they don’t start on it right away it won’t get finished in time to go to practices or games. The hardest part about this is making sure that you stick to your guns and DO NOT let them go to practice until it is completed.
- Tip: have a designated spot for homework in the house that is fully equipped with any supplies they might need to limit the wasted time of looking for supplies or trying to get situated and set up in a different location each day. My kids each have their own desks in a quiet room of the house that have all of the supplies they might need ready to go.
Make them responsible for their actions (or lack of actions). If they do not complete their work in a timely manner, it needs to be their responsibility to let their coaches know why they are missing practices or games. Do not make excuses for them and make them explain to their coaches exactly why they are either late or not there at all. I also don’t constantly remind them of how many minutes they have left before we have to leave the house to get to practice on time. They know what time practice is and when we have to leave by, so they have to manage their time accordingly to get homework finished and to get dressed in the proper attire. I make it a point to simply give them one 15 minute warning before we have to leave just in case they are sucked into their work and they lost track of time.
Create a Plan B. Sometimes practices or games simply start too early to be able to finish their homework before going no matter how hard they try. When this happens we implement the “Travel Homework Kit”. First off, reading can be done in the car driving from one location to another so that you can still satisfy the “reading logs” and I tend to stretch their reading logs over the weekends too so that we have a little extra time on weeknights. For example, if they are supposed to read 30 minutes a night I will make it 20 minutes a night and then make up the rest of the time having them read over the weekend. Second, pack a homework kit that includes everything they may need to complete their homework:
- colored pencils/crayons
- clipboard for a hard writing surface
- a drink and a snack (That way the “I’m too starving or thirsty to focus” excuse won’t work)
Also, if your kid gets distracted easily by noises around them, pack an iPod loaded up with instrumental music and some headphones so they can tune everything else out.
On occasion, when it is completely unavoidable, my kids do have to sit at each other’s practices with headphones on getting their homework done. My rule is that they must use ALL available time in a productive manner in order to make it to practice, as long as they are constantly focused and working I will occasionally let them finish the rest of their work after practice is finished. As a side rule to this, if this causes any unnecessary problems later, they will not be allowed this privilege any more. Some unnecessary problems that may arise include: being difficult to wake up in the mornings because of staying up a little late to finish their work after practice, being too tired or distracted after practice to get the work completely without me nagging them, or making it a habit to push off work until after practice (it must be a rare event). They know that if I have to fight with them over getting it done I will simply cut out the sports because “School Comes First”.