At this point, your teen has probably established his favorite place to do homework, so your main role at this point is to stop nagging. If you were to visit households of some “grade A” high school students, chances are you'd catch one doing homework with MTV blaring in the background; another talking on the phone while completing a history paper; another working in the kitchen with his feet on the table; and yet another sprawled across the family room floor keeping up her A average. If you looked really hard, you might find one actually working at a desk in a quiet bedroom, but boy, is she the exception.
Despite that, get a desk for your teen's room—be it a hand-me-down from Grandma's house or something from the unfinished furniture store. Why? Because whether or not he uses it for study, it represents a concrete family commitment to schoolwork—and provides an excellent place for storage, too.
If the desk doesn't have a file drawer, visit a stationery or office supply store and buy a file box (they cost under $20) so your teen will have a place to store the current year's papers. A simple, accessible filing system will let your teen find previous notes, tests, and reports quickly and easily.
Items you want to save for “posterity” are best stored in accordion file folders with elastic wraps. Place the best-written papers or projects in them, label them with your teen's name and the year, and store them somewhere out of the way.
Tools of the (Homework) Trade
Just as cooking is a drag when you find you don't have the right ingredients, homework is tough without the necessary tools. At the beginning of the year, ask your teen what school supplies she needs. Don't be surprised if she mentions paints, nails, or textiles; with the new emphasis on experiential learning, many middle and high school students have to create, cook, or fashion something for class.
Be flexible. If the plastic protractors he uses for math keep getting broken in his backpack, do the smart thing: buy two and tell him to keep one at home and leave one at school.
Stock your home library with a dictionary, thesaurus, and possibly an atlas. A good dictionary is worth the $30 price tag for hard cover; and thesauruses are available in paperback.
Consider whether you can afford a computer. If you can't add one to your household, investigate other ways your teen can work on one. Some communities give access to school computers during specified evening hours; some schools are investing in laptops that can be checked out like a library book; and many public libraries feature computers that anyone can use.
Homework Made Easy
By the time your teen enters middle or high school, your teen has almost certainly established some type of pattern for the way she does her homework, so you may feel your job is done.
Not so fast. Even a bright, well-organized student may have trouble pacing herself for long-range assignments and juggling the work of six or seven classes every night.
As a parent, you want your teen to get homework done without having to impose rules; you want your teen to assume responsibility so you don't have to stand over him menacingly with a ruler (just kidding!).
To help, you might begin each year with a discussion of your teen's upcoming schedule. If she plays soccer or has a role in the fall play, then talk about when it makes the most sense to do homework. When she gets home? After rehearsal? Or maybe after dinner is the best time for her to buckle down to work. To help establish this pattern, you might pick an amount of time—say, 30 to 45 minutes a day—and state that even if she has no homework she's expected to read or do mentally challenging work during this “homework period.”