School is in session and homework woes may already be an every day occurence in your home. Children with poor executive functioning struggle to organize (where did I leave that paper?), plan, manage time, and initiate tasks. This makes homework especially difficult…for them and you! Want to ease the frustration of homework? Try implementing these five strategies.
Create a Homework Space
Create a designated, distraction-free space for your child to do homework and use it every day. Make it the one and only space for them to do homework. While you are instilling good homework habits, try to have this space in close proximity to you (a desk in the kitchen, the dining room table). This allows you to monitor their attention to task.
Have everything your child may need to complete homework such as pencils, erasers, paper, pens, and calculator. Having all the tools handy, keeps your child focused on the homework and not on finding what they need. To eliminate distractions, be sure the TV is off, talking is minimal, and computers or phones are only present if absolutely necessary.
Designate a Time
Kids often have multiple after-school activities, but it’s important to make homework a priority. Clearly post a weekly calendar of after school activities with homework scheduled in as well. If every Tuesday your child knows he will go to drum lessons at 3:30 and do homework at 5:00, he is more likely to stick to the committed time. Making homework an appointment in the schedule commits your child and you to that time.
Prioritizing is another key executive function. Each day, have your child prioritize her homework assignments by ordering them first, second, third, and so on. She should have a planner with her assignments listed. Most schools now implement planners and planner checks in the classroom (middle schools and high schools may have assignments listed online). Encourage her to do more difficult tasks first, saving the easy or fun tasks for last. It’s easier to persevere through homework if she is looking forward to the tasks at the end. We all know, how good it feels to cross off a task on a list, so encourage her to do so as she completes an assignment.
Use a Timer
In elementary school, most homework assignments should take 15-20 minutes. Using a timer is a way of keeping your child focused on the task and not spending too much time on an assigment. If it is taking him longer, sit with your child to see what might be the cause. Maybe he’s getting distracted or maybe he’s struggling to read. Perhaps the assignment is too difficult. If you provide him with help and keep him on task, do not take more than 30 minutes for an assignment. If it takes longer, discuss the problem with his teacher.
In middle school, assignments should not take more than 30 minutes. If a sixth grader is spending more than an hour a day on homework, that is too much. In high school, assignments may take even longer, but even high schoolers should limit homework time to 2-3 hours a day on average. Remember, they’ve already been in school for 6 hours. Even we only work 8 hour days.
Do a Daily Backpack Check
It’s a pain, but if you do it daily for a few weeks, you’ll instill a habit of organizing belongings. Remember, building executive function skills takes time and commitment, but if you put in the work, you will see the results. Use a pocket folder, designating one side for assignments to do and the other for assignments to hand in. If your child has a binder, have him go through it to make sure everything is where it needs to be and any old papers are tossed. Then have him go through the rest of the backpack getting rid of trash and checking that no unnecessary items are in there (no toys to school). Finally, he should be sure he has everything he needs for school and put his backpack near the door for the next morning. Once he learns what is expected for an orderly backpack, he will be able to do it independently, with you checking it only once a week.
*Note from the author: These suggestions can work, but they require time and consistency. My youngest child struggled with executive function and it took 2-3 months of daily consistency to instill the habits he needed to be a better student. At each new school year, he needs a refresher, but it takes only a week to get him back on track.