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How parents can best help with homework

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Parents can make things easier on the homework front by taking on a little assignment of their own: Set up a designated homework area where your kids will be happier and more productive. Here's what Nicole Anzia of Neatnik recommends:

Choose the right location. For kids in elementary school who need assistance with assignments, choose a space that is centrally located so you'll be able to help them while you're chopping vegetables or stirring the soup for dinner. Proximity is less crucial for middle- and high-school students, but limiting distractions is important. If possible, involve your kids in the decision of where they'll do their work.

Regardless of the child's age, the homework station should have plenty of surface space. Kitchen and dining room tables often become default homework stations because their size gives children room to spread out their supplies and paperwork. This isn't recommended, however, because you'll need to clear the clutter each time you eat, and because competing needs for the space can become a disincentive to start homework.

Find and organize supplies: Once you have identified a sizable space, begin thinking about the supplies your child will need and how best to store them. Although the size of the homework station is crucial, a fancy or expensive desk with built-in storage is not. A portable folding table will suffice, or if you would like to create a simple desk, companies such as the Container Store and Ikea allow you to mix and match table legs and table tops to create your own individualized work space without spending a lot of money.

For young children it is best to have supplies visible and easily accessible. Pencils, erasers, scissors, glue sticks and other accessories can be kept on the desk's surface in recycled glass or plastic cups. Extra paper and ongoing or past assignments can be stored in vertical desktop files or in portable file drawers beside or beneath the desk. Other essentials include a trash can, clock, calendar and a pencil sharpener. To create a sense of ownership for the space, ask your kids to help choose and organize their supplies.

Create a go-to spot: Electronic gadgets allow middle and high school students to be more mobile than young kids; however, a permanent homework spot is still essential. Even though teenagers might prefer to sit on the couch or in bed with their laptop, sitting at a desk helps promote concentration and alertness. Additionally, a desk will provide a space to store supplies, spread out papers and keep a docking station for chargers.

Another advantage of a designated homework space is that you can have a set surface where you and your kids can post scheduling reminders and deadlines. You could hang a magnetic board or bulletin board, or use stick-on chalkboard or dry-erase boards that can be easily removed in seconds, without damaging the wall. A comfortable desk chair will make homework more tolerable and concentration more likely. Likewise, the work space should be well lighted. At the end of each night, your child should be expected to straighten up the workspace and put supplies back in their proper places.

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