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Homework Helpline

Supporting the Complex Learner’s Homework Experience

HomeworkHelplineYou know the drill. Kids don’t like homework. They want to come home and eat and play and zone-out and see friends. Homework is not on their list! But most students see homework as a necessary chore and they figure out how to get it done. Often by themselves, without help.

If you are a parent with a child who experiences learning and attention difficulties, this may sound like a pipedream or a downright lie! Homework in your house is a struggle at best, an all-out battle at worst. And not just once in a while – it happens every night. Without you at his side, helping with the work, cajoling, giving consequences or rewards, dealing with tantrums, explaining everything or even doing the project yourself, the homework would never get done.

There are many parents, and teachers as well, who want to get rid of homework altogether. They feel it is “busy work” that wastes time. They say it is unnecessary, punitive, and obsolete. But homework that considers a child’s strengths, difficulties and needs can reinforce academics, give students a sense of accomplishment, and provide learning opportunities for executive function and important life skills such as time management, independent work habits, follow-through and use of strategies.

There has been a lot of research on homework for students with learning disabilities; none of it is conclusive or able to provide a perfect solution. However, a consistent factor influencing success is parent involvement. This includes providing structure and a conducive environment for school work at home. It also includes partnering with teachers and communicating what was difficult (too much work, the concept wasn’t taught in class yet, lack of strategies) or what worked (hands-on project, high-interest materials). Many teachers have experience with adapting materials and individualizing plans. Working together you can find ways to make assignments meaningful yet manageable.

While it’s true that the homework struggle can be exhausting and a constant source of conflict for you and your child, it can also be an opportunity to have open conversations about his specific learning difficulties and the strategies and supports that can help. You can observe his attention, fatigue, organization, processing and memory challenges while he does homework, and then collaborate with your child and the teacher to come up with strategies that support the problem areas. Eventually, the insights into his learning and attention struggles and the use of strategies and support systems to overcome them can give your child a sense of efficacy and control.

Often it is just easier to do things yourself than teach others how to take care of a task. However, your job as a parent, with homework and most things, is to help your Complex Learner gain the strategies and confidence to be independent. It takes understanding, positive feedback, and encouragement. It takes a lot of time. But if you respect your child’s unique strengths and challenges, emphasize the positive, provide strategies for the tough stuff, and collaborate with his teachers early on, it may get to the point where your help is seen as an intrusion and his homework gets completed independently. The pipedream will be a reality!

It will be strange, to be less involved, to not have to supervise or organize or hover. It may be harder than you think. You will have to reign yourself in and learn when to let go. After all, you too play a role in the homework equation. But if your child can adapt, so can you! There’s a whole world out there beyond homework. And you want your child to be ready.

Check out this previous blog post for more information and tips for managing homework.

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