Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Homework Takes Hours Every Night

Sometimes parents need to become their own scientist and understand why homework is taking longer than you think it should every night. Why is your child always avoiding homework, why do they constantly seem off task or unfocused? I like how Stowell Learning Center explains a common homework problem with students:

Imagine how you would feel if you struggled with something at work day after day.

Now imagine how your bright child feels to struggle with homework night after frustrating night.

As parents, it is confusing to see our bright child struggle with things we think they should get, isn't it?

So before your student shuts down entirely earning him labels like "lazy" and "unmotivated," let's look at what might be causing these unnecessary struggles.

Homework Tip
Homework Problem:
Takes hours to complete every night

The first step in discovering why your bright student struggles every night with homework is to look for hidden causes.

And the reasons for their struggles can be high in number and quite varied

  • Nightly struggles could simply mean that they don't have time in school to finish their class work and must bring it home to then be done on top of assigned homework.

  • Perhaps your child has perfectionist tendencies which translates to fear of committing anything to paper lest it be less than perfect.

  • Maybe the homework is just too hard and that is what takes them so long.

  • Sometimes, they could truly be assigned too much homework.

  • Finally, their struggles may be symptoms of underlying processing weaknesses.
Homework Solution:
Discover the Why of Repeated Struggles
Whatever the reason, it is important to know what they are so that you can work with your student, their teachers and other perhaps outside resources to stop the hours of homework.
  • If your child is bringing classwork home on top of homework, it could be because they are dawdling or distracted. If you see this seems to be the case, make sure the outside distractions are kept to a minimum during homework time...TV is off, NO texting, etc.

  • For those kids who have perfectionist tendencies which cause them not to get their homework done in a timely manner, give them a time limit to help them along. Unless there are major issues with the finished product at the end of the time, assure them that it is good and done perfectly fine for homework. In addition, reach out to the teacher and share with them your child's perfectionist personality and ask for their support in work being completed well, not perfect.

  • Sometimes, the homework is simply too hard. And trying to do work they can't do can extend a 30 minute assignment into 3 hours! Ask questions of your child to see if they really understand the work including the directions and the expectations of the teacher in the final product. If they don't understand the work, and you are unable to get them to understand it, write the teacher a note explaining what your child doesn't understand. Depending on the age of your child, encourage them to also speak with the teacher about what they didn't understand and to ask for help.

  • Yes, students can be assigned too much homework...especially in this era of testing! To aid you and your child in addressing this with their teacher, a rough guideline to follow is 10 minutes per grade, give or take 5-10 minutes on any given night. If your child consistently gets more than this don't hesitate to contact their teacher to see how you can work with them to help your child learning, without overwhelming them.

  • If none of the above seems to be what's causing your student to struggle night after night, the next thing to look at would be a weakness at  the processing skill level. Here are a few things to consider in determining whether skill weaknesses are present.
    1. Does your child learn something in school and they seem to get it, but then it's gone the next day?
    2. Does your child struggle to retain information?
    3. Does your child stop and sound out a word every time they see it, even though they've already seen it five times on the page?
    4. Does your child really, really resist a task? Even though they many not say "I don't get it," it's important not to brush off their resistance as just not wanting to do it! Many times, resistance has something to do with the way they're learning...or not learning.
Once you have a basic understanding of what is causing your student's struggles, be honest with yourself about whether you think it's something you can handle at home, if it's something that you need help with from the teacher, or even if you need additional outside resources to help stop the struggling routine. 
Does this sound like homework time in your home?

"Jenny,  please get started on your math homework."

"Ok, Mom."

Ten minutes later:

"Jenny, I asked you to start your homework."

"I am, Mom, in a minute."

30 minutes later:

"Jenny, are you done with your homework yet?"

"Not yet, Mom, I'm still working on starting it."

"You said you were starting it 30 minutes ago."

"Yes, but I've been texting with Tommy...it's called multi-tasking, you know."

All students are distracted from getting their homework done for various reasons.  And for bright students who struggle in school, we KNOW how much harder homework can be.  We KNOW it often takes longer and requires more energy.  Of COURSE they are going to find ways to distract themselves.

No matter what the reason your child gets distracted, there are ways to help keep them on task and focused.

This week's homework tip will work for any age student.  It won't solve learning problems, but it will help keep any student "on track" during homework time.  (Oh, and if used properly it can help you stay on task too!)
Homework Tip

Homework Problem:
Staying On Task

Many students are able to start their homework by themselves, but then have trouble staying on task. It may be because they are tired, hungry or simply just brain dead from their school day.

We understand that they need to do their homework, though, and having some ways to keep them focused can help the work get finished easier and quicker.

Homework Solution:
Use a Task Jar

This is a great activity to do with your child so they understand how it will help them stay on task. Grab a medium-sized jar, box, bin, etc., and fill it with the 6 items listed below. (You can even decorate it, if you'd like.) In this task jar are 6 small items that will help your child stay on task during homework.

Item 1: Medium size baggie
This is used to collect those "things" that help pull kids off task...cell phone, iPod, etc.

Item 2: Task List
This is simply a reminder to have the student review all the work he needs to get accomplished and to list them in one place, if helpful, before he begins. By seeing what work needs to get done, a student can sometimes feel better about starting. And encourage crossing off completed items so they are able to start feeling their accomplishments.

Item 3: Timer
Many students feel overwhelmed by the amount of time they think their homework will take them to complete. By setting the timer for just 5 minutes at a time they will begin to see how little time much of their work actually takes. When staying focused for 5 minutes becomes easy, add another 5, up to 30 minutes.

Item 4: Small bean bag
Once your student is able to stay on task for 15 minutes, set the timer for 60 seconds and take turns tossing the bean bag back and forth to help rejuvenate the brain and the body to be able to tackle the next 15 minutes. (With older students, just tell them to "go long!")

Item 5: Small water bottle
Staying hydrated is crucial to help the brain and body stay focused and on task. Taking small drinks of water at least every 30 minutes can make the difference between homework taking an hour, or hourS to complete.

Item 6: Task Tokens
These can be small tokens that are used to visually represent the student finishing their work for the day.  A poker chip, a quarter, a wooden nickel, etc., are all fun things for the kids to collect for a bigger treat at the end of each week.  Be sure to work with your child to develop a list of items the tokens can be used towards.  (For older students, it might cost you a little bit more!)

While students need reminders of staying on task, there is no reason those reminders shouldn't be fun and helpful. This task jar will become a positive way to remind them to stay on task while also reinforcing those times when they are able to focus for longer periods of time.

And it's so rewarding for students to know that they stayed on task, all by themselves.

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