Oh, homework. There is little else in school that is more controversial. Does it benefit the students or not? Research indicates that homework at the high school level has a positive effect on student achievement, but the effect is much less at the elementary level. Elementary teachers, however, often report that they assign homework to develop responsibility and effective skills for college and life – skills such as planning, organizing, managing time, making choices and problem solving. 

Unfortunately, that list includes the exact executive functioning skills that many students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD struggle with. So how can parents help set their children up for success with homework?

For most children, it is beneficial to set up a consistent homework routine. Students with executive functioning difficulties need consistency and structure in order to develop a habit or routine. 

  • Find a location in the house where homework will be done. Be sure that the place is quiet and free from distraction. For some students, their bedrooms may not be the best place for homework if there are a lot of toys or gadgets available. For other students, the dining room or kitchen table may not be the best place if there is a younger sibling running around and playing near that area. Talk with your child to find a place that will work for her. 
  • Be available for questions. Some parents may be able to make themselves available for questions on an as needed basis; other parents may need their children to skip questions and have a set question session every 15 minutes. Decide what works for you, and set the structure at the beginning.
  • Be sure the child has all the necessary materials in the homework location so he does not need to leave the location multiple times. Provide multiple pens and pencils, markers, scissors, etc., depending on the age and needs of your child. Creating a homework crate or bin that has all the necessary supplies will help him stay focused at the homework location.
  • Establish a time for homework. When the schedule is the same each day, this will help your child establish a routine. Some children will need to have a break and a snack right after school, and some children will do better if they start homework as soon as they get home from school. Whether or not the child has a break right after school, homework should be done as early as possible in the evening so that she does not get overly tired before starting homework. 
  • For older children with more homework, a timer system may help. Depending on the age and ability of your child, you can set a certain amount of time for him to work before he gets a short break. For example, if your child gets about 30 minutes of homework each night, it may be helpful to break that session into chunks. Set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes, and let your child know that he will get a five minute break to exercise, eat, or play before starting the second 15 minute chunk, if he focuses and gets homework done. 
  • Consider incentives if homework becomes a battle. If the academic work and requirement to stay focused on homework is very difficult for your child, offer a menu of special privileges she can choose from when homework is done. Easy options include an extra ten minutes of playtime or TV before bed, a special snack, an extra book before bed or 15 minutes of one-on-one time with mom or dad.

Homework can present real struggles for many students with learning disabilities and ADHD. Prepare your family with a plan so that the structure is set before school gets rolling this fall.   

Blogger Stephanie Dunne, Ed.S., is the Center Director at Springer School and Center. Prior to coming to Springer, Stephanie practiced as a school psychologist in public and private schools for ten years.

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