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How to Reduce Homework Havoc for Children with Learning Difficulties

By Renee Irving-Lee, Children’s Book Author
© 2019 Learning Links

It’s homework time again and there’s nothing but tears, refusal, arguments, tantrums, meltdowns or complete avoidance and procrastination. Grrrrrrrrrr!!!!! Why does homework have to be such an epic battle every night?

Sound familiar?

Homework can be challenging, difficult and down-right painful in some households, especially for students with learning difficulties. So, why does even the smallest amount of homework have to be such a big problem? Firstly, let’s look at some of the possible reasons as to why your child is reacting in such a challenging way. One of the most compelling explanations is that they are totally and utterly exhausted after school. The self-regulation required to maintain composure over a full school day can be both emotionally and physically draining for all young children, and even more so for those with learning difficulties. Schoolwork in itself is a big challenge for children with learning difficulties as they often see, hear and understand things differently. They can experience problems with math, reading, writing, reasoning, listening and speaking and generally have to work harder to keep up with their peers. By the end of the day children with learning difficulties are totally exhausted, so they really don’t have much emotional energy left in the tank to invest in doing homework.

Also, for children with learning difficulties, there is a high chance that they have not completely understood the work itself or the actual instructions to complete the homework. This can be distressing for them and can escalate matters even more so when they have to explain it to their parents. If your child already needs extra time to complete work, takes longer to process the task, or is a slow writer – it’s no wonder they are protesting about doing additional work at home.

Children with learning difficulties may also have a lot of pent up anxiety over their perceived lack of academic skills at school and as a result, homework becomes a huge source of stress for them. Many children with learning difficulties often have poor self-esteem and low confidence and experience high level of stress and anxiety. Sometimes this anxiety is only compounded by unrealistic expectations and stress from parents at homework time.

Why do we have to do homework?

Doing homework is important in establishing life-long learning skills and study habits. It requires self-discipline, independence, organisational skills and time management. Completing homework can give children a sense of responsibility and plays a vital role in developing a strong work ethic. It is also important for practicing, extending and consolidating work done in class.

The NSW Homework Policy states that all schools should have their own policies regarding homework. These policies are made after schools consult with their teachers, parents and the community and should be:

  • appropriate for students age and ability
  • flexible to allow for different circumstances of all students
  • purposeful and designed to meet specific learning goals
  • varied and challenging, but achievable
  • built on knowledge, skills and understanding developed in class
  • clearly stated and requirements made explicit during class time
  • supported by strategies for students having difficulty with homework.

Tips for parents to support their child with homework

Regardless of your own belief about whether children should be doing homework or not, if your child attends a school with a homework policy that states that homework must be completed; then it is vital that you play a supportive, and positive role in ensuring they complete it. Children shouldn’t believe that home and school are on opposing sides of the fence as this alone can cause stress and anxiety around the issue.

Some tips to ensure homework time runs as smoothly as possible:

  • The most important aspects for children with learning difficulties are to find out from their teacher how long they are expected to do homework for, and which tasks are essential for functioning in the classroom. If they are required to do only 20 minutes, then set a timer and do only 20 minutes. If your child still wants to keep working after 20 minutes, then by all means let them keep working, and if not, it is really important to stop.
  • Find out the purpose behind the homework task. For example, your child might be given a passage of work to read and then required to write about it. Sometimes reading the passage isn’t the main task, but the writing about it is. If this is the case, having someone read the passage to your child would be very helpful, so they can then get on with the main job.
  • Break down the homework into smaller, manageable tasks and focus on one task at a time. Most teachers assign homework over a period of at least one week. Support your child to plan their week ahead so they know when they will do which tasks.
  • Work out the best time of day that suits your child to do their homework and create a routine around this. Children crave routine, so if homework is part of the daily/weekly routine, it makes it easier to do.
  • Ask that homework adjustments be included into your child’s Individual Education Plan, if they have not already been done so.
  • Know and understand the homework policy of the school, and if you have any issues or questions, don’t hesitate to make contact as soon as you have a concern.
  • Clarify with the teacher if you are unsure about how to help with the homework. Children are doing very tricky and difficult work at school and parents often struggle to help, particularly if they themselves haven’t done that work since they were at school. When you have a child, who hasn’t fully grasped the concept, and a parent who can’t remember how to do the work– it can be a complete recipe for disaster.
  • Remember that the parent’s role is to support the child to complete the homework. Homework is for practicing skills learnt at school, not for teaching new concepts or skills. If your child hasn’t fully understood the work at school, it isn’t up to the parent to teach it to them. Maintain open communication with the teacher and let them know if your child hasn’t grasped the concept – or even better yet, empower your child to talk with the teacher themselves when they haven’t understood work at school.
  • Children work best when they are happy and calm. Ensure that your child has had some downtime, is in the right headspace, and has had something to eat before attempting homework.
  • If your child is overscheduled with after school activities, and doesn’t have any down time in the afternoon, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate and reconsider their worth.
  • Stay close by and be available to help if needed.
  • Ensure they have a quiet area for homework that is well stocked with stationary supplies.
  • Don’t do the work for them or give them the right answers. Help them with the problem-solving skills required to do the work. For example, you can ask questions like, “If you don’t know the answer, where can you look for help?”. “What do you do at school, if you don’t know the answer to a question?” “Where could we research this?”.
  • Remember that homework is a contract entered into by the teacher and the student. The process should be supported by the parent, but ultimately it is the teacher’s job to deal with homework that is not done.
  • Talk to your child about the consequences of not doing homework. Not just the immediate consequences actioned by the teacher, but the overall consequences relating to academics, school, study habits and behaviour.
  • Give a lot of encouragement and praise all efforts.
  • When they do well or improve in a certain area at school, refer back to homework tasks that have helped them to make this achievement happen.

There is no question that homework for children with learning difficulties can be extremely challenging, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the end of the world. With careful planning, communication and collaboration between the teacher, parent and student; the homework experience can grow to be positive, manageable, and possibly even enjoyable! By making just a few tweaks to the homework routine and embracing a positive mindset can make the world of difference in your child’s life. This alone has the potential to positively impact their future study habits in ways you can’t even imagine.

Where should I go for more help?

Learning Links:

Educational Support programs

Homework: A guide for parents

Call our Customer Care team on 1300 003 900.

 

NSW Government: Homework Policy Guidelines

All Means All: Your Child’s IEP – Guide for Families

LD Online: Homework Help