Homework time is hard. Kids are tired, parents have a thousand things to arrange and oversee, and insisting that homework is done often starts a meltdown. Kids with low muscle tone, difficulty with handwriting, concentration difficulties and learning delays especially have trouble getting it done. But anyway, do any of us like coming home from work to do more work?! What can we do?
First teach responsibility
Encourage your child to be independent. They may need help to complete the work, but they can check the calendar, get out their books and get started. So if homework is always a fight, minimise it to 1 task of 5 minutes for a time and spend your energy setting up the routine. This may take a few weeks. Once your child knows when, where and how to get started without your constant insistence, gradually increase the tasks they need to complete. Of course, you will need to let the teacher know your plans so the child is not reprimanded for incomplete homework during the independence learning phase.
Be realistic with the teacher
Communicate about your expectations for your child’s learning and wellbeing so that structured homework is balanced with reading, free play, outside activity, extracurricular opportunities and your family’s sanity. Ask about the critical curriculum areas and focus on consolidating these at home. Gain permission from the teacher to leave out tasks that are not essential to save concentration, patience and energy for core spelling, maths and writing tasks.
Negotiate a homework plan with your child
This is a fantastic opportunity for modelling the lifelong skills of planning and time management. Do they want to do it all at once, or spread across a few days? What matches their learning style? Which days work with your family routine? How will they remind themselves to get it done? Some kids might like to set a notification on a device, or decide to do their homework while waiting at a sibling’s extracurricular lesson. Have your child draw a picture of the plan on a desk calendar, poster or with reminder stickers on the family calendar. Set a date for a homework review.
Warm up the body so it is ready to sit and concentrate
The body calms and readies itself when the proprioceptive system is activated. Proprioception is our body’s sense of its position in space. When we know where we are, we feel safe and can focus our thoughts on the task at hand. How do we do it? Try 10 minutes of fun activities that push or pull a range of large muscles in the body. For example, carrying/ lifting heavy things, pushing friends on a swing, swimming, jumping, monkey bars, bike riding or yoga. My recent favourite is Cosmic Kids Yoga, a free Yoga session for kids. The hands can always do with a warm up too, especially if the homework involves handwriting. Try playdoh, construction tasks, peeling veggies or a clothes peg race on the edge of a container.
Add In some fun!
Neuroscience tells us that if we couple together worrying tasks with fun, we are more likely to engage in them. Our brain LOVES fun and will do almost anything to get it! Think about what your child loves. Do they crave ‘together time’? Play a board game or read together at the end of homework. Do they love physical play outside? Give them unstructured time outside, and every now and then introduce new playthings (bubbles, balloons, a bucket of water or a sheet with pegs). Of course, they almost all love game time on devices. If that’s their preferred follow-up activity, make sure they don’t have free access to it before their responsibilities are complete.
This post is written by Rebecca Khan B.OccThy,GradDipDiv, a Paediatric Occupational Therapist in Brisbane and mother of 3 kids.