explaining the benefits of homework to children
explaining the benefits of homework to children

Homework – why it’s a battle and how to help

Homework is one of the biggest areas of tension between parents and kids.

  • Need to know: Homework help
  • Homework tips and advice
  • How to keep homework organised
  • Does homework improve learning
  • Explaining the benefits of homework to children

Homework is one of the biggest areas of tension between parents and kids. From a parent’s perspective, their child can appear to be unmotivated, lazy and combative, when in fact their struggles are underpinned by how their brain is wired.

For most neurodivergent children, their weaker executive functions can hold them back from being able to complete homework without significant challenges.

Why it’s important

Executive functioning is like a conductor of our brain orchestra: modulating, adjusting, regulating and redirecting the situation changes. The key components of executive function fall under the following groups:

Frustration tolerance & problem solving – is your child able to deal with small frustrations? 

Imagine: they are pressing down on the page with their pencil and it breaks. Do they have the skills to deal with that frustration? Can they think about different options to solve the problem 1. Get a different pencil 2. Ask for help.

Emotional regulation – is your child able to feel big emotions and regulate their behaviour depending on the situation?

Imagine: you’ve asked your child to turn off the TV and go do their homework. Are they able to temper their anger and disappointment? Can they easily move on or do they get stuck in those emotions? 

Planning & organisation – is your child able to do work that is made up of other smaller tasks that need to be done in sequence?

Imagine: they are asked to write a text. Can your child organise their ideas and plan their text to include a beginning, a middle and an end? Have they got writing scaffolds to help them work through each section?

Self-motivation & sustained attention – can your child do a task that is boring to them and takes more than 5 minutes, without getting distracted?

Imagine: your child has to read a text and then answer questions. Can your child get started on reading the text? Can your child sustain enough attention to complete the two parts of the homework?

Prioritisation & time management – is your child able to identify which parts of an assignment need to be done first?

Imagine: an assignment with three parts with three different deliverables. Does your child know which part they need to start on first? Can they figure out which one will take the longest?

Working memory – does your child have difficulty remembering all the steps to complete a task?

Imagine: a maths calculation needs your child to hold several numbers in their mind. Does your child struggle with word problems? Can they work through small calculations in their head?

Homework help: Tips & strategies

Stick to a routine

  • Timing is important – if your child has many activities on a particular day it is probably best not to expect them to have the focus to complete homework. Choose mornings or afternoons when they aren’t exhausted and spread the homework over a few sessions.
  • Location is important – find a spot that is free from distractions and away from temptations like TV or gaming consoles.
  • Good habits – help your child get into the habit of reviewing assignments or homework on a daily basis and writing down the due date on a calendar.

Set them up for success

  • Visual planner – find a monthly planner that is “write & wipe” and place it above their desk so that they know what is due when.
  • Coloured stationery and folders – at the beginning of every year/term, assign a colour for each subject so it is easy to find. Highlighters can also help create a priority hierarchy. 
  • Identify how your child learns – there are many ways to learn and different kids are more likely to retain information using one or multiple strategies such as writing, listening, reading or manipulating. Once you know how your child learns best, be open to audiobooks, counters for maths, and story planners for writing tasks.

Reduce distractions

  • Headphones – use them to play Binaural or 8D music, both have been shown to help the brain to focus. 
  • Ear defenders – reduce audio sensory input that can distract your child.

Help them notice the passing of time

  • Pomodoro timer – you can use a simple physical visual timer or make use of a website that displays time and tasks e.g. https://pomofocus.io/. Being aware of time is a great skill for parents to work on with their kids.
  • Set alarms and notifications – an old-style alarm clock is as effective as Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or similar. The idea is to create short blocks of work with reminders to help your child get started and finished.

Leverage success and motivation

  • Start easy – if your child pushes back against homework it is very likely that they don’t feel confident in doing the work. Get them to do the easy stuff they know first and slowly increase the challenge. With each task completed successfully, your child increases their motivation. Give them something beyond their skills to begin with and it is over before it has even started.
  • Start with something enjoyable – you want your child to be engaged and in a positive state of mind. If your child loves art, get them to start homework time with a ten minute art challenge. 
  • Break down tasks into small achievable chunks– smaller tasks are easier to complete and your child gets the satisfaction of ticking them when done, a powerful motivator! 

Let technology fill the gaps

  • Speech-to-text apps – are handy for kids who have difficulty writing down their thoughts and ideas because of difficulties with working memory or because their writing speed can’t keep up with their brain.
  • Type it out – kids with hypermobile hands or dysgraphia can benefit from typing up their work rather than being held back by their ability to write with a pencil.
  • Task management system – Trello is just one program that provides a simple and visual interface to prioritise and manage tasks without keeping track of pieces of paper. 

Homework help: Collaborate 

  • With the teacher – depending on the school your child attends or the teacher they have, the expectations around extra work vary significantly. Agree with the teacher on how much your child needs to do, which tasks are necessary, the homework format, and when they have to hand it in.
  • With your child – talk to your child about what they find difficult with their homework. Be empathetic and dig deeper until they can be specific about the subject, format, timing, etc. This process sometimes highlights underlying learning disabilities.

Support & recognise

  • Be the body double – body doubling is a productivity strategy used by people with ADHD to complete tasks. Having someone near who is working simultaneously provides motivation to start and finish work.
  • Recognise effort – immediate recognition in the form of authentic praise and encouragement is important. Neurodivergent minds often have to work harder at doing standard homework.
  • Support choices – there are going to be days when your child simply can’t do what is asked of them. They need your support not pressure. Instead, help them find a workable solution that takes into consideration their concerns and external expectations.

Homework help: Make it fun

  • Change the location – although we say that it’s important to have a regular location for homework, sometimes moving outside or getting moving helps change the scenery and help with learning. Experiment with this before deploying on a regular basis.
  • Get physical – ensure that your child has regular breaks to help reduce mental fatigue. Make the short break fun by jumping on the trampoline or playing chase.

Note: some kids are better off not doing homework because of the negative impact on their mental health and family dynamics. If this is your child, go ahead and advocate for their needs.

References

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