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For parents: Homework help without "helicoptering"

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The Multnomah County Library and its branches offer great resources to help with homework, and they just got even better as the homework page on its website (HYPERLINK "www.multcolib.org" www.multcolib.org) launched.

Many parents know that simply mentioning or pointing out a good resource might not be enough to encourage their kids to try it. Complicating things is the growing need to help students evaluate their online information sources: Why isn’t it OK to rely just on Google or Yahoo or Bing or Wikipedia?

What makes resources trustworthy? At a glance, it’s not always easy to distinguish among personal web pages, reputable databases (such as collections of magazine articles), and solid reference books in e-book form.

Here are some tips to help you engage with your children as you explore some of the wealth of online tools the library offers.

So – by yourself, go to the library’s website (HYPERLINK "www.multcolib.org" www.multcolib.org). Click on “Research” on the blue bar, and then “Homework Center” in the drop down menu. Take a few minutes to get familiar with the home page – note the different ways to contact library staff.

Then, click on Homework Databases, and scroll down to the list of resources beginning with AP Images. Each resource has a brief description of what it includes. Don’t be put off by the word “database”! It’s just a collection of information on a certain topic, arranged so that it can be searched and retrieved when you want it.

Try clicking on a few that look interesting. It’s hard not to fall in love with the wonderful online version of National Geographic, or to see the value of Opposing Viewpoints for high school students.

Now you’re ready to find ways to share these with your kids. Some ideas:

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  • If the family is talking about a famous person, take a minute to look him up in Biography in Context.

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  • If you're planning a vacation, look up the destination together in National Geographic Virtual Library.

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  • If a younger child has questions about a news topic she's heard about, try looking it up on Kids InfoBits.

    After a few of these experiments, children will start to make their own connections with these resources and will more naturally think of them as useful for homework, and parents will have established a way to suggest, "Shall we see if the Homework Center can help?" This empowers students to take charge of their own research.

    Just imagine the advantage of having a trained tutor available via HYPERLINK "www.tutor.com" www.tutor.com to help with a sticky math problem!

    Final tips for homework help, no matter what kind of resources you and your child decide on:

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  • Have a conversation about the assignment. Use open-ended questions to encourage your child to describe the project.

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  • Help clarify exactly what the teacher expects by asking the child to go over any handouts carefully. This step is easy to skip, but it's a real timesaver.

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  • Any homework project goes easier and better if the child can connect with some point of real interest or enthusiasm. Your conversation can help identify those authentic connections with the material.

    ...And when you come to your nearest branch library, help shy children ahead of time by rehearsing how to ask their own questions, if they can (yes, this can take time).

    Knowing where and how to ask questions is a valuable homework skill in its own right! By asking questions, they will learn that library staff is ready and willing to help.