Is your 11+ preparation being driven off-course by your child’s intolerable homework burden? How are you supposed to fit extra work around everything else that seems to be thrown at your family-time? Well here are 6 key hacks to help you come up with a plan that works for your family, however overwhelmed you might be feeling at the moment.

  1. Observe after school routines from a distance.

Monitor your own family set-up for a few days. In between arriving home, supper and sleeping there are short bursts of time. Most children need to relax and eat before they work. Don’t let other parents make you feel inadequate when they tell you their child sits down the moment they walk in the door. Even a conscientious, no-push-back student may end up shouty-crackers or weeping when expected to continue a long day without a break and their supper first. Have a look at what your child enjoys doing the most to wind-down. Don’t dismiss their Xbox time on Fortnite but accept it as their favourite part of the day. All you need is a 30 minute window between their supper and the beginning of their bedtime reading routine. Work in a bit of outdoors if the weather is good, and their screen time too.

2. Open your child’s school bag the moment they get home and get a clear overview of what is being asked of them.

Look ahead to the rest of the week and weigh it all up. Have an area (even a shelf in the kitchen) where you have the perfect equipment all ready to go: sharp pencils, a sharpener and a rubber, 30cm ruler, protractor, colouring pens and pencils etc. Make sure the work space they will be using is well-lit, clear of family debris and comfortable.

3. Perform ‘triage’ on the homeworks set. This is the controversial bit.

Try to step into the teaching-brain of the homework-setter. Some tasks are essential to your child’s progression in class – learning vocabulary or science facts for a test. Others are given to consolidate a skill taught that day – written comprehension, maths practice or interpreting geographical data. But every now and then you get a ‘filler’ homework. These include creating a safety poster or finding 5 facts about chameleons. They have their value, but if you knocked them out yourself and simply ran through them with your child in the car on the way to school the following morning, no one would really have lost anything. Shh…

So place work in order by deadline and value – setting up the most challenging ones first (at the fresher end of their concentration-span) and spiriting away the weaker tasks to be done quietly by someone else. Your child will love you for it and more importantly will begin to feel you are on the same team. Aha! This is the beginning of a positive, collaborative homework journey…

4. Understand how children learn.

If learning diagram labels, then print up a blank version from your friend Google so that they can actively label the thing a couple of times from memory. Most primary school learning content can be found at the touch of a button. Because if children don’t engage with a learning task it won’t have gone in. For vocabulary sheets – use the brilliant Sqeebles Spelling app. It is designed for younger children but my own sons have used it well into their teenage years. Type a list of vocabulary into a new test (we’ve used it for French and Latin tests too) and record the words said aloud. You can record the English version if it’s for a French test and then hand over the iPad for them to go off and test themselves. If they really don’t know the content they can do the first couple of tests by reading it off, until it starts to go in.

5. Don’t let drift set in.

Evenings are exhausting for parents so try not to let the time run-away. Use Alexa if you have a voice controlled alarm knocking around, or your phone, to set regular alarms to nudge you into action. The more energy you can muster, the better your child will cope and the less push-back misery you will get out of them. If they do kick-off, remain saintly calm (channel Michael Kitchen in Foyle’s War) and remind them that the ‘it’s so unfair’ chat adds to their homework burden. It’s massively quicker to accept it and plough on.

6. Keep the conversation open.

Your child is likely to be a sensitive, well-meaning smaller person who is feeling the pressure of the longer school day (and exam in the distance). At a good time – possibly over a pizza at the weekend – open up a conversation about how they are feeling about school work in general. Listen properly to their anxieties and don’t try to address them immediately. In a second (carefully-timed) conversation, discuss your thoughts on how you can ease the burden, tighten up their homework timetable so that it doesn’t take over their evenings, and support them fully going forward. Each time you chat, remember to end with how much you value their free time. Every plan needs to have their freedom at its core. Make it clear that you are simply tidying up their week so that work is minimised and freedom maximised.

This great plan will slide – that’s just how life works. But stay positive and re-set it if as soon as you see it slipping away. These days we don’t need carrots or sticks to get our children working happily and successfully. All we need is good communication and a collaborative plan. Simples.