There comes a point in most homes when a child presents schoolwork to a parent who can’t help. Perhaps you experienced this when your fifth-grader was multiplying fractions or when your senior needed to identify motifs in the novel Crime and Punishment. Although you may have passed middle school and high school with flying colors, those “A”s on your report card mean nothing when your child puts you on the spot for answers that you simply don’t know.

Often when parents are asked tough homework questions, insecurity leads them to respond with, “I was in fifth grade a long time ago,” or “Didn’t you listen to the teacher today in class?” These diversions, although legitimate, don’t really address the root problem: Your child needs help. However, there are ways you can help your child with homework even when you don’t have all the answers.


Print and online help

When your child asks you a homework question, always ask them for the textbook or worksheet that accompanies their homework. These sources typically show detailed explanations and examples. If your child doesn’t have a textbook or reference, identify the skill or topic he or she is studying and check out a textbook or another informational source from your local library. If you aren’t familiar with the library’s search system, you can discuss the skill with the librarian and have them lead you to sources that will help

There are also many online resources you may use to help your student succeed. For help with mathematics and science, peruse the website for Khan Academy. It provides instructional videos to better understand math and science concepts. If your child is a Chicago Public School student, direct them to the CPS Student Resources page. There they will find a wealth of online resources for all academic subjects.


Your child’s teacher

Consulting with your child’s teacher, via phone or email, is another way of helping with homework. Simply email a quick question, like “Where can I find information to help Timmy with fractions?” for education links and other resources that may assist you. You could even ask the teacher if you can observe class. Many parents do classroom observations, either to monitor their children’s behavior, monitor classroom management or to see how a certain concept is taught. Then, you will have firsthand knowledge of the skill or topic, so you can best help your child. Finally, be cognizant of family literacy nights and/or other workshops that your child’s school hosts. These programs are often on the school calendar and school website. Such programs offer guidance on helping with grade-level work. 


Human resources

Parents often delegate responsibility in order to help their children. Like a wise supervisor, you may enlist the services of those who are strong where you are weak. For example, if spelling is not your strong suit, ask a trusted teen or adult to help your child practice for the spelling test. Individuals who are passionate about a specific skill often teach it in ways that children best understand. If you are looking for professional help, you might try finding a tutor through postings at your local library or at a college campus in your area. Enlist the services of knowledgeable family and friends. When you do, be sure to offer compensation for their service. It doesn’t have to be money. A home-cooked meal or a gift card also shows you appreciate their assistance and their contribution to your child’s life.

Always follow up with your child after you have helped or directed them to an electronic, human, or print resource. Ask them to present their completed work to you after the teacher has graded it. Only when you see that your child has successfully solved the problem or used the skill, should you accept that your child has learned and — if you helped or assisted in any way — that you’ve learned, too.

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