Good study habits start at home in a designated area where students can hit the books after the school day ends, experts say.
"Kids like structure. They need structure," explained Jim Gault, assistant superintendent of secondary education for Toledo (Ohio) Public Schools. "By having a designated (study) place and time, it conditions them to take their work seriously, and also to make it a priority."
Added Todd Cramer, director of instruction and technology for Springfield Township, Ohio, Local Schools: "Anytime you can have a designated area for any activity, including homework, it creates an opportunity for children to establish a routine and a comfort level for the task that they're going to need to complete."
The basic elements of that space are good lighting, a flat surface to spread out notebooks, worksheets and books, and a comfortable chair - but not so comfortable that they might fall asleep, cautioned Daniel Fasko, a professor of educational psychology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.
He favors scheduling homework time right after school. "My opinion is that homework is first, and play afterwards," Fasko said.
For latchkey kids whose parents are at work when the school day ends, Fasko suggested setting up a schedule for calling mom or dad for homework help, and requiring that assignments be completed by the time they get home.
Supplies for a home study area will depend on the student's grade level and type of assignments. Those might be scissors, glue and markers for kids in primary or elementary grades and a calculator, thesaurus and computer for their big brothers and sisters.
A computer will be a necessity at some point, Cramer said, "but I always suggest that the screen be visible to another person."
Parents don't have to make a costly investment in furniture for a home study area - a dining-room table or kitchen counter will do, as long as the location is one that allows children to focus and keeps parents close enough to monitor their work and be available to help.
A child's bedroom, while apart from household hubbub, can have distractions such as a television, sound system or cell-phone calls and text messages. And a student working in isolation might be less likely to ask for help.
Balance those potential negatives against the distractions that can exist in the mainstream of a home, said Fasko, who leans toward the bedroom location.
"If they're doing algebra in the kitchen and there's two or three other siblings running around, I would say that's more of a distraction than that adolescent or pre-adolescent doing homework in their room," he said.
He advised having the child leave the bedroom door open so parents can easily check on them.
Middle- and high-school students should have a say about where they study, Cramer said. "At that age they begin to learn their learning modes and style. Some might work better with some background noise while others may need a more quiet, isolated space," he explained.
For children who have trouble staying on task, it helps to break assignments into segments and allow brief breaks in between, suggested Sharla Fasko, Fasko's wife, who is an assistant professor in school psychology and director of the school psychology program at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Otherwise, "All they see is huge amounts of work, and they just shut down."
A general rule is that children should have about 10 minutes of homework per grade, said Sharla Fasko. "If your child is having to spend much more than that, it could be they're getting too much homework, or it could be they're struggling or missing a prerequisite skill."
Problems with math homework, for example, might indicate weakness in basic math facts.
Kids should have daily study time even if they don't have specific assignments, educators say.
"Even if there's no homework, there are still spelling words to study, there are always tests that are coming up or you could just sit down with the child and read a book. Make it an education time," Gault suggested.
For junior-high or high-school students, "there's always something on the horizon" that they could be working on rather than delaying until the last minute, he pointed out.
Getting your children to tell you what they're doing in class - or what's going on in school in general - is always a challenge.
"You almost have to trick your children into telling you," Gault said.
He shared one of his tricks: "We play 'high-low.' My children have to tell me what the high point of their day was, and what their low point was, and then I start asking questions. You really gotta dig in there."