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Tips to defeat “The Routine”

Random holiday decorations may still be littering areas of my house, but one thing isn't-my kids. After what feels like a month (okay, it was two weeks, but it felt longer), we're back into the "get up/pack lunch/go to school/do homework" routine. And that's where we're going to have trouble. It's that little word "routine."

From January to June, keeping kids interested and engaged in learning-or, some days, just getting out of bed-is a bigger project than the homework itself. From the school side of things, this is when I expect the "deep" projects to come home: the shoe box dioramas; the infamous California Mission reports (infamous because they involve a lot of Dad time); the book reports with videotaped accompaniment, you name it, it's buried in those backpacks.

After too many years of tackling this Armageddon of homework/project work and layered tasks, I've developed a few tricks that keep it manageable, and help me maintain my sanity, which is, after all, the primary objective. Perhaps they'll help you, too:

  • Big projects are daunting. When your child learns that he/she is responsible for a poster, diorama, video and/or 30-page report, this message is usually greeted by a brick wall reception somewhere in his/her brain.

Help them "digest" these sorts of projects by breaking them into three to four "main" components and multiple little tasks. Have younger kids (up to Grade 4), earn a small reward for each task and main component. Older kids receive a reward upon accomplishing each main component. For example, if the project involves reading a chapter book and creating a diorama featuring one scene from the book, set a completion goal of one week prior to the delivery date. Break up the chapters into one- to two-chapters per week and reward them when they achieve each goal. Then, give them at least one (ideally two) weeks to complete their diorama, with a daily task check-in.

Why the daily check-in? Because there is absolutely nothing fun about creating a diorama in one night. Trust me.

  • Schedule one fun learning-related outing each week. Mine was usually a library run, and to make it more fun (if you live in a large city), I'd take them to different libraries. That way, they learned how to master navigate any library AND they immediately expanded their selection of books.

My other favorites were museums, art galleries and, in a pinch, the grocery store (Target is good, too). Whether it's problem-solving (great for math skills) "we have $20, and this many items to purchase, let's see if we can do it" (note: bring a calculator) to (for younger kids) "Can you help me find Rye bread, Hummus, red bell peppers" to (for teens) "Here's the recipe. Find the ingredients, and please make sure you have enough of each one," even daily tasks can help reinforce basic reading, math, and decision-making skills. Note: for that teen project-it also serves as a great way to ensure your soon-to-leave-the-nest child has basic cooking skills.

  • Create "Study Buddies." If you have more than one child, have your older child help his/her younger sibling once a week. Raising an only child? Get together with a friend or neighbor. Homework helpers do two things: The experience gives the older child the chance to flex their learning muscles, and it helps your younger child enjoy some "peer learning" time.
  • Reach out. Sometimes kids need a little extra incentive. If yours is in a rut, meet with his/her teacher to create a special project just for him/her. Often, the added acknowledgement or incentive is all that is needed to kick-start a sluggish learner.

Need reward ideas? I know from experience that there is a raging debate on the "money for grades" report card experience. Personally, for these types of projects, I found that my kids wished for the gift of time. Whether it was a trip to the park, a special outing, or a one-on-one dinner with mom or dad, time together was valuable enough to encourage forward progress. But chocolate didn't hurt, either.

What's worked for you? Please share! Think of it as community sanity maintenance!

-Lori Wildrick


  • It's really great tips. Thanks for share information