Friday, September 3, 1999

Little Fools Go Back to School

By Tony Miller (TMF 2Aruba)

It's that time again when the sounds of crashing waves and backyard barbecues get replaced with the brake squeals of school buses and the ringing of school bells. With schools around the country beginning a new year, many Fools will be taking one eye off their investing long enough to face the trials and tribulations of getting the little Fools off to a good start in class this year.

Here at the The Motley Fool, one common theme investors learn is how important it is to do their homework. We know that doing our research and homework provides us with the knowledge and empowerment to go forward. Well, the same is true for our school-bound kids, but one of the most frustrating things that seems to face so many parents is just how to get them to do it.

As a teacher, this is the number one question I'm always asked, so I'm sharing what I believe to be the four most important tips for this common problem.

First, you'll need to get yourself some heavy chains and... okay, just kidding. Actually, you probably don't need much more than you already have.

  1. Establish Routine: The wrong question to ask is, "Do you have any homework?" This just sets you up for the wrong answer, as homework needs to be a regular routine set up after school, perhaps between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Of course, the amount of time would be adjusted for the needs of the particular grade level and workload. If there's no specific assignment to be worked on, the time should be spent reading over notes, or simply reading. Role modeling is very valuable here and can do wonders in encouraging the routine. Imagine everyone doing "their homework" at the same time. Mom can be researching a latest stock interest, and Dad can be (sorry Dad!) paying the bills. Heck, someone's gotta do it, right?

  2. Be Around: Guiding along the way is important for encouragement and support, and sends the message, "I'm here if you need me." But don't end up doing the homework for Billy and Sally. Too often, we think we're helping them out by providing answers or rewriting the paragraph, but in truth it sends a poor message, implying that when you feel "stuck" you can just have someone else figure it out for you. Billy's teacher wants to grade Billy's work, and it's impossible to track his needs when Mom's work is handed in.

  3. Learning Styles: Provide a comfortable place for homework to happen, but don't get too hung up on where and how it happens. Everyone learns differently, and if that means lying on the floor doing math problems while listening to the latest Backstreet Boys CD, that's cool! Some future world leaders may need a quiet desk away from everyone, while others are very comfortable at the kitchen table with several conversations happening in the background. Celebrate the fact that we're all different and we all learn differently. And don't forget the snacks!

  4. Rewards: Finally, avoid bribing the kids to do their homework. There's a difference between rewarding outcomes and bribing to get the homework done, and the message will come through loud and clear by teaching responsibilities, self-respect, and feelings of accomplishment that will become the foundations for success.

By providing an established routine right off the bat, guidance along the way, respecting learning styles, and rewarding outcomes, the only problem you'll have to face is what to pack for lunch!

[Click here for more back-to-school Foolish basics.]

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