Handling Homework Hassles with Twins / Multiples

Helpful Homework Tips for Families with Twins or More

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Handling Homework with Twins. kall9 / E+ / Getty Images

When the bus pulls up to the bus stop at the end of a school day, I often have mixed emotions. Greeting my twin daughters and hearing about their school life is one of the high points of my day, but I also dread the ordeal that lies ahead. Homework hassles can turn our afternoons into an exercise in frustration for all of us.

Studies estimate that the average grade schooler spends more than 130 minutes doing homework each week -- and in homes with multiples, that figure only multiplies!

All parents want their children to do well in school, and homework is an important component. With two or more children in the same grade, parents of multiples often have to concoct some clever strategies for handling homework.

Create a Homework-Helpful Environment

Establish a specific place for each of your multiples to do their homework and equip that space with all the tools that they'll need to accomplish their work. Provide paper, pencils, a pencil sharpener and other age-appropriate tools and accessories, such as crayons, colored pencils, scissors, ruler, calculator, dictionary, etc. Make sure the space is comfortable, uncluttered and well-lit. Most importantly, make sure the space is secluded and free from distractions (including television).

Of course, for families with multiples, their primary distraction is each other! Although group homework sessions may seem fun and friendly, it's not conducive to getting work done.

I recommend providing separate stations, in separate rooms if possible. For multiples that share a room that can be tricky, and you may have to set up desks in alternate locations, such as a playroom or den.

Establish Routines

After a school day, kids need to unwind for a bit. They may be hungry and ready for a snack.

Depending on their personality, they may unwind in different ways. Some children may desire some quiet time watching TV or playing video games, while others need to be active and run around. Still others, of the conscientious sort, can't relax until their homework is complete and their schoolwork can be put away. Keep your multiples' individual needs and lifestyles in mind as you establish your after-school routine.

Almost every child will appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with a parent and communicate about their day. With twins or multiples, it can be a challenge for parents to carve out one-on-one time during the busy after-school rush. Twins may compete for a parent's attention, talking over each other and interrupting in an attempt to share the latest news about their school day. I find that my twin daughters get particularly frustrated and competitive with each other at this time of day, jealous if her sister brings home a better grade or breaks the news first about some juicy gossip.

Commit to establishing a period of individual time with each child every day; the consistency will help them feel secure. Avoid competition and rivalry by encouraging them to save their news of potentially touchy subjects.

In addition, encourage habits that promote responsibility. Praise your multiples for writing down their assignments before leaving school for the day, and for bringing home all the required materials to complete their assignments. Reward them for a job well-done when deserved. Teach them ways to organize their notebooks, backpacks and materials. Clearly identify and label their belongings so they don't get them mixed up, and remind them to always put their names on their homework assignments. Encourage them to think ahead; organize backpacks and books the night before to avoid a last-minute search for lost homework in the morning. We have a saying in our family, "Put your eyes on your homework." It's an easy way to remind them to check up on themselves. Just doing the homework isn't enough; it has to make the return trip to the classroom.

What's the Point of Homework Anyway?

As you decide how involved to be in your children's homework, consider what homework really accomplishes. Educators have identified three categories of homework. The first is an opportunity for students to practice the skills that they've learned in the classroom. For example, math problems that reinforce a method that was taught during the school day. On the other hand, preparation assignments such as background research, get students ready for classroom activities.

Finally, extension assignments parallel topics that are ongoing in the classroom by applying knowledge in a broader format.

However, homework also serves a bigger purpose. It helps students develop important habits and characteristics, including initiative, accountability, organization, and motivation. In many ways, these characteristics are even more important than the work itself, which is why it's important for parents to have a balanced role in their children's homework activities. Certainly, you should be aware of and involved with each child's homework. Be available for help. But don't do the work for your child or cover their mistakes. Not only will you undermine the teacher's efforts, but you also prevent your child from establishing these important qualities that he'll need as an adult.

Too Much/Not Enough or "Two" Different

One of the neat things about having twins or multiples it that parents have a constant comparative assessment of how their child stacks up against a peer child -- in this case, their co-twin.

However, when it comes to homework, comparing your multiples can create problems. If they have different teachers, they may have varying levels of homework, which can create some jealousy. While you'd think the twin with more homework would be jealous of the twin with less, many families of younger twins find the opposite to be true!

("It's not fair that she gets to do a report about cougars! I want to write a report!" was my daughter's complaints in first grade. I am certain that she'd hold the opposite sentiment now that she's in fifth grade.)

If you are concerned about the amount or type of homework assignments for one or all of your multiples, approach the teacher(s). Education experts recommend that homework for 5-8 year olds require about twenty minutes to complete. For 9 - 11 year olds, expect that amount to double. In middle school and high school, the homework assignments vary greatly according to student's curriculum and number of subjects.

Finally, expect and accept variances in your multiples' abilities when it comes to schoolwork. Even identical twins have unique strengths and weaknesses. Avoid comparing their work as much as you can help it. (I admit that I always chuckle a little bit when I discover that both of my twins missed the same math problem. However, I keep that information to myself and never bring it to their attention.) Consider their homework private business.

Just as you wouldn't discuss one client with another in a professional environment, respect your child's privacy within the family when it comes to their homework.

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