For students who struggle, homework can be a daunting task for child and parent alike. Few of us like to engage in tasks that are extremely difficult for long periods or have the tenacity to do so, but for a child who has a learning disability, that can be exactly what homework requires. There are strategies to make the process of homework a more positive experience.
First, work with your student to make a homework routine. Your routine should include having a designated space for students to complete their homework. The homework space needs to be in a quiet location, away from distractions, well lit, and well organized with all necessary supplies. A time is set aside for homework each day. The set time for homework offers the advantage of reinforcing the routine, and it allows time to revisit subjects with which the student struggles, even when there is not an actual assignment. Distributed practice reinforces the skills instructed in a subject and promotes success. Again, working with your student to develop the homework space and routine will increase the buy-in to the process. Once you have established a space and routine that you and your student will follow for homework, it is important to stick to the routine. If homework time has been a struggle with episodes of tantrums or crying in the past, try the following strategies to keep the experience positive. Start the homework session off with some relaxation exercises—deep breathing and light stretching promote a calmer state of mind for both parent and student. This will help you interact positively with your student and help your student tackle the challenges of homework. Take frequent planned breaks. Agree to the intervals between breaks as part of your routine. For example, after we work on the assignment for 30 minutes, we will stop and take a five-minute break.
Breaking up the study session into smaller chunks of time will be less stressful and gives the student definitive information about how long they will have to work. In addition to the planned breaks, if frustration levels start to rise for either of you, stop and take a break. Five minutes spent stretching, getting a drink of water, or having a snack will allow both of you to come back to the homework space with a better perspective. Stick to the length of time you’ve scheduled for the homework routine. If you’ve agreed upon a two hour window, stop for the evening when the time is up. Again, this reduces the stress on both of you by defining the amount of time you will spend in this process.
Find a positive activity to incorporate with the homework session. A wrap up cup of hot chocolate, a book read together, or a walk together with the family dog can serve as a positive reinforcement to the routine and a light at the end of the tunnel (that is not an oncoming train) for parent and child.
Finally, if your student isn’t able to finish the homework in a reasonable time frame, reach out to your student’s teachers and administrators to begin a conversation about homework practices. Students with learning disabilities may receive accommodations to assist them in accessing the curriculum, and these accommodations are also helpful in overcoming homework struggles. Accommodations are specific to your child’s educational needs, and it is important to secure the correct accommodations to allow your student to acquire and demonstrate mastery of class content. For example, a student with dyslexia who reads slowly and effortfully benefits from having an audio version of the textbook available at home. This allows the student to access the information in the text, despite having difficulty reading. A student with dysgraphia benefits from ways other than writing to demonstrate knowledge. This may include oral responses to homework questions, completing a verbal or visual presentation rather than writing a paper, or using technology to support drafting the paper. Reducing the amount of homework assigned to a student may also be an accommodation provided to students with learning disabilities. It is important that the learning expectations for the student are not reduced along with the homework reduction. For example, a student with dyscalculia may be assigned fewer math problems as an accommodation. If all of the problems require the understanding of the Pythagorean theorem to solve, then five problems would be as sufficient as 50 problems. However, if the problems deal with both linear and quadratic functions, it is important that the reduced homework assignment contains problems of each type to allow the student to practice both concepts and achieve mastery of both concepts.