Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Homework Buddies

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

With school starting again, we are back to having to help our children muddle through the task of homework.  Although this can be unpleasant for many students, this becomes extremely difficult to tackle for a lot of children who suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, and other conditions.  These are the children that work so hard to  "keep it together" all day at school, that when they come home, sitting down to do homework is the last thing they want to do.  It is common to see these children, who sat and struggled to attend at school, come home with poor behavior, be anti-social, and resort to "down time" on their own. Whatever it is, parents fight this constant battle and want to get it done and out of the way "as soon as possible!  If not, then more fatigue and lack of focus sets in making it worse.  For some parents, this battle causes them to already start counting down the days until winter break!

Our bodies are made to move and children spend so much time sitting throughout the day at school, not allowing their brains and bodies to connect.  Many children are kinesthetic learners, so coming home from a day at school to sit down at the table once again to focus on schoolwork won't work. We are going to take a look at a few strategies that may help to lessen the homework battle.  Although, they will not all work for your child, here's to hoping that a few will help ease the pain.

1.  Break away from the "you don't do anything until your homework is done" mode of thinking.  Allow your child 20-30 minutes of outside playtime to ride their bike, shoot baskets, or even go to a playground.  When this isn't possible, work on some indoor ideas, such as a mini trampoline, doing some exercising, or running a few errands that encourage some walking.

2. When choosing after school snacks, try to make sure they are "feeding" your child properly for focus on attention.  It has been found sometimes that chewing gum, having crunchy or chewy snacks, or having a sucker help maintain attention when doing work.  Allow children these supports at home where it is easier to carry out than in the school environment.

3.  Have a space that works for your child.  Based on your child's needs, does it matter after sitting at school all day whether or not they are at a table or desk?  Allow them to work in prone or a small tent, whatever fits their needs.  However, make it a space that is free from a lot of distractions and more importantly, make sure they have a caddy with all supplies they are going to need.  Breaking their focus and attention to get up to obtain supplies makes it more difficult to keep them on task once you get them there.  Use tools such as weighted lap pads, ball chairs or seat discs as needed.

4.  Work with the school and teachers to try and "adapt" some of the homework.  Kids need to fit a mold when at school to complete work because they are part of a class.  Find out if your child's teacher will allow you to work on spelling or math facts by playing games, utilizing ball activities, etc. but then allow you to complete the worksheet if your child mastered the skills..  This is more difficult and time consuming on your end, but if you can provide evidence and get the school team on board, it will enhance your child's learning in the long run. In addition, be on top of the game.  For longer projects, upcoming tests or things that need a lot of attention, ask for extended deadlines, but not after the fact.  As a team, we all want our children to learn, so it is not always important when the assignment gets done or that it got done, but whether or not the child learned.

5.  Giving your child work breaks is crucial.  Their attention spans of true focus only last about 20 minutes on average.  So, break work up into chunks.  Allow them some time to get up and move, but reel them back in after about 10-15 minutes max until all the assignments are done.  Find what your child needs to re-group and provide it.

6.  Visual prompts are very helpful for many children.  Using a small dry erase board to list what needs to be done, showing them the breaks help them maintain focus once they get started.  Also, using a visual timer when they are doing independent work helps keep them on track.

7.  Get creative on setting goals/motivation.  Earning video game time, a treat, or even to the point that each day they get so many pieces to a puzzle, Lego set, etc. working hard to complete the toy.

It is in known that for many utilizing these strategies come with a lot of constraints, siblings, work, and other activities.  Therefore, they cannot be done all the time, but when possible setting up a routine that works will offer your child success and take stress off of you.  Think about what can be done "on the go", such as when you are driving in the car or when you are waiting at a sibling's practice. Carry along the visual and oral supports. And work to integrate homework into the hectic after school schedule.  In the end the battle will lessen, and keep the stress lowered for you.

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