When I was a classroom teacher, it wasn't hard to tell which kids were getting too much outside help from their parents. A project and poster would look like a graphics team had created it, or a homework paper would be perfect, but the student would fail the test on the same material.
Today the urge to get overinvolved in homework is just as great, and perhaps even greater because some experts say that many parents "consumed with overprotective zeal" are coddling their kids through homework, correcting their errors or even doing the papers for them1.
Telltale clues of overinvolvement are when parents say "Our project is taking a lot of time," or "We have so much homework tonight!" Actually, it's the child's project and homework, and even though parents are just trying to help, if they take over, kids start thinking, Why care or put out so much effort? Mom and Dad will do it for me!
What can you do then to support your children in learning and help them take ownership? The first step is to build responsibility. Kids who learn responsibility at home (by doing a few daily, age-appropriate chores and completing their own homework assignments) tend to be more competent and successful at school.
You should provide an organized study area (with good light, paper, and color-coded file folders to keep papers in, and let them choose some of their own supplies) because disorganization causes stress and distracts from the learning process. Children need a break and physical play after school, but then you need to establish a fixed place in your house and a regular time for homework and reading because it helps build a strong "mental set" for studying.
Another thing you can do is show your child how to break assignments into doable bites so the pressure won't be on the night before due date (when you're more tempted to pick up the ball and do the project for him so he won't get a zero) — but then expect your child to do the work. Teach good study strategies that build on your child's learning strengths — but let him or her keep the "ownership" of the homework and school responsibilities.
And if he's done a math problem incorrectly, show him how to work a similar problem but let him be the one to correct it on his worksheet. When parents repeatedly bail kids out if they fail to do their work, the kids don't learn responsibility or use their own abilities. But when you encourage self-reliance and responsibility, you'll be empowering your child with an "I can do it" kind of attitude.