By Jennifer Aceves, Director of Communications, M.Ed Special Education, Noble Academy

Homework Strategies for Students, including tips for those with with AD/HD

Although spring fever has hit, we still have an entire quarter left in this school year!  Once mom and dad act like the year is over, children quickly follow suit.  So, let’s show our children that they still have a lot of learning left to do and support them as best we can!  Today’s guest blogger shares tips on helping students with homework. Feel free to leave questions or comments at the end of the post!  … Rachel H.

Ahh, homework…the bane of every child’s existence. Many families face a struggle each day when it comes time for children to do their homework. However, if you have a child with AD/HD or other learning difference, you know that issues and frustrations with homework are magnified to the nth degree, often causing stress to the entire household. Since homework isn’t going away any time soon, let’s explore some strategies that can help ease those homework blues. These strategies work especially well for students with AD/HD but may be useful for everyone!

Feed the brain!

By the time your child gets home from school, it has probably been several hours since he last ate. Choose good brain foods that will give your child energy to focus. Offer snacks that combine protein and fiber but avoid refined carbohydrates for the most benefit. Try these ideas: apple slices with peanut butter (we personally prefer almond butter in my house), cheese and whole wheat crackers, guacamole with whole grain tortilla chips, trail mix, or whole grain waffles with nut butter. Get creative – you could even make some healthy cookies by finding a recipe that uses whole wheat flour, oatmeal, nuts, and cuts down on the sugar. For some children, especially those who are on stimulant medications, healthy eating is a battle. Definitely don’t make snack a power struggle, but try to keep healthy options in the house instead of unhealthy ones.

Relieve some stress!

A school day is packed with a LOT of learning and probably a lot of that time is spent sitting still and trying to pay attention. For a child with attentional difficulties, trying to meet these expectations takes a lot of energy and can be very draining. Allow your child some time to blow off steam after she gets home from school. Encourage outdoor physical activity, but do not force it. If your child has trouble transitioning from one activity to another, be sure to make your expectations clear at the beginning, and definitely employ the use of a timer. The use of a timer allows it to be more of a “bad guy” than you. “You can play outside for 15 minutes but when the timer goes off, you will need to come inside and start your homework.”

Set the stage (physical organization)

Now it’s time to get started! Set your child up for success at home. Create a designated location for homework, a place that your child doesn’t usually play. Stock this location with all of the supplies your child needs – pencils, erasers, highlighters, notebook paper, etc. Having everything in one spot reduces the time spent searching for these things during homework time. Ideally, this location is not used for anything other than homework. Who am I kidding, very few of us have that luxury! But do try to at least keep a box of supplies that can only be used for homework so that no one runs away with all the pencils! Keep the location as clutter-free as possible. The brain of a person with AD/HD has a hard time filtering the important from the unimportant. Keep the area free of distractions (no tv, no window to overlook the neighborhood kids playing, etc). A well-stocked homework station isn’t going to be a lot of help if all of the necessary materials don’t make it home from school. Disorganization is definitely one of the characteristics of AD/HD, so this is probably an ongoing issue for your child. Work with your child’s teacher on ways to ensure that he puts homework in a designated location in his notebook and brings home everything needed for that night. Some parents find it helpful to purchase another set of textbooks to keep at home.

Create a plan (organization of tasks)

Ok, you’ve got your child sitting at her designated homework location. Now what? Create a plan. Hopefully, your child’s school already has a good planner system in place. If not, write a list of all of that day’s assignments. Work with your child to come up with a logical plan. Since attention is a known hurdle, schedule harder/lengthier tasks for when you know your child has more energy, attention, and/or medication still in her system. Don’t be afraid to break longer or more difficult assignments up into smaller pieces. Is your child overwhelmed by the 5 page social studies packet? Schedule one page at a time, broken up by easier or shorter assignments. Or schedule homework in blocks of time – work on social studies for 20 minutes, then math for 20 minutes, etc. We’re all motivated by success, so you may find it helpful to schedule a quick, easy assignment first, then your child can cross it off of the list (the physical/visual act of crossing something off of a list is extremely satisfying).

Break time!

When developing a schedule, be sure to include breaks. The frequency and length of the breaks should be determined by your child’s needs but at least every 20-30 minutes, provide some means of a short break that includes activity, even if it is just walking to the mailbox to get the mail.

Engage the whole body

Build as much activity into your child’s homework routine as you can. I use this strategy in my own classroom with a lot of success. If I’ve got 10 math problems I want my students to do, I know they are going to be much more engaged if I can turn those problems into a game instead of just handing out a worksheet. Here are some ways you can use this strategy at home. Memorizing multiplication facts? Create an obstacle course where at every station, you ask a fact before your child can move on. Studying spelling words? Get on the swings beside your child and call out the words as you swing together. Learning dates for history class? Pull out a board game – every time your child takes a turn, ask a question from the study guide. Did you know that dry erase markers work on glass? Have your child stand in front of a large mirror or glass door and write facts really big – the more muscles involved in the activity engages more of the brain and helps with memorization.

What if nothing’s working?

Have you tried all of these strategies and things aren’t getting better? Here are some other ideas to try:
Meds check
(I am not advocating for or against medicine for AD/HD, that is a decision that should be made on an individual basis) Several of my students were able to be more successful on their homework in the afternoons when their doctor added a lunchtime or afternoon dose. I know that is not a solution for every child, but it may be something to consider.
Talk to the teacher
Even if your child doesn’t have an IEP or 504 Plan, it may be worth talking to the teacher about homework difficulties. Your child’s teacher may not have any idea that it takes your child 3 hours to write those 5 sentences. He or she may be willing to shorten the assignment or allow your child to set a timer and accept whatever amount of work was done in that time. Does your child not understand the assignment? Find out if there are notes (a teacher copy) that can be sent home. Many schools are using online course management systems for posting homework and other classroom materials so make sure you are utilizing this resource if it is available. Understanding the way the teacher taught the material, especially if she used a certain strategy or memory trick can help with consistency at home.
Get outside help
Sometimes the power struggle that exists between parents and their kids is extremely difficult to work around. If the frustration level in your house is reaching an all-time high, turn to someone outside the home. There are a variety of different after-school care programs in the area that might fit your child’s needs. If you consider this option, be sure to look for a program with a low staff-student ratio, one that uses lots of smaller rooms during homework time (instead of having a big group of kids all in the same room), and one that is willing to make accommodations for your child’s needs. Tutoring may be an even better option. Even if your child isn’t struggling in a specific academic area, hiring an “academic coach” a couple of times per week can help with organization and study skills. This type of tutoring doesn’t have to be expensive. Maybe the high schooler down the street is a very organized student and would be a good homework mentor for your child. Or, you probably know a friend who already has a well-oiled homework machine happening at her house every afternoon. It might work out to send your child to her house every once in awhile if you make an agreeable trade (cooking dinner, keeping her kids for date night, etc).

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that can banish the homework monster. But hopefully you are able to tame it a little bit by using some of these tips!