How to Win the Homework Battle (part 3)

7) Feeding the Brain for Thinking

  1. Drink Water! – Did you know that the brain is thought to be 85% water?  The brain works by transmitting electro-chemical signals that control our thoughts, movements, and everything we feel or do.  Since water conducts electricity, good hydration (plenty of water) supports faster transmission, which, in turn, supports faster thinking and learning.  When we dehydrate our brain with soda and coffee, we make our thinking slower and less productive.  Teachers and parents should encourage students to have water bottles at their desks. 
  2. Include Protein in Snacks – Nutrition has an important influence on learning, attitude, motivation, and productivity. The high sugar content of many of today’s snack choices results in fluctuating blood sugar.  This can cause high energy followed by low energy and sleepiness, making it difficult to focus, learn, organize, and think.  Not a good recipe for a productive homework time.

Children use a lot of energy at school.  This combined with all the growing that’s taking place, will likely mean that your child will do best with homework if she’s had an after school snack. 

Your child’s mood and productivity and your sanity will be greatly helped by providing a snack that includes some protein and is very low in sugar.  Some fruit along with some nuts or cheese works well.  Juices, energy drinks, sodas, and (I’m sorry to say) Starbucks drinks are often very high in sugar.  Get your child in the water habit instead!

8)Take Individual Learning Needs and Attention into Account

Help them Organize

Some children have trouble getting started on homework because they are not sure what to do first.

  • Help your child look at all of the homework he has.  Together decide about how much time is needed for each assignment.
  • Prioritize the assignments in order from hardest to easiest.
  • As assignments are completed, teach your child to check them off. Seeing one’s own progress (checking off the assignment) is very motivating.
  • Help your child develop a habit of putting their completed assignments in an appropriate place in their folder and backpack. Habits don’t develop without practice, so lots of monitoring and praise is needed here.  

Get Them Started

Some students struggle to get started because they are unsure about what to do.  They often fail to read or understand instructions.  Some really need to be shown as well as reading or hearing the instructions.

We want students to be as independent as possible on homework, but getting them started and reassuring them that they are on the right track can alleviate a lot of wasted time.

Once you have gotten your child in the habit of reading instructions and looking at the examples, try using some “getting started questions” to foster independence:

  • Determine with your child some key questions or steps that seem to help him get started. (For example: What do the directions say? Is there an example I can look at? Do I need to ask for help?)
  • Write the questions on a card.
  • Direct your child through using the questions on several assignments.  Then have him try to use them independently.

Staying On-Task

Use a timer – If your child has trouble sticking with a task, try using a timer.  Let her set the timer for 5 minutes.  Her job is to do as much as she can before the timer goes off.  When the timer goes off, reinforce her for staying focused and on task.  Set the timer again and go for another 5 minutes.  Gradually increase the amount of time.

Take a Break

Recognize the limits of your child’s ability to concentrate on homework before becoming unproductive.  Maybe it’s 15 minutes, maybe it’s an hour.  Whatever it is, learning the limits of our attention and learning how to take a short break and return to task is very valuable.

  • Again, a timer can be really helpful here.  Set the timer for an appropriate amount of time. 
  • “Plan” what the break will entail before starting.  It may just involve getting a drink.  It may involve something physical, like shooting 10 baskets or running around with the dog for 5 minutes.
  • When the timer goes off, set it again for the amount of break time and take the planned break.
  • Praise your child for coming back on-time and ready to work.

Reducing noise distractions

Some people are highly distracted by noises and talking.  Try using a pair of noise cancelling headphones and some soothing background music (classical is often a good choice) to block other sounds.

Make It Fun, Physical, or Novel

  • When studying spelling or math facts, try using a white board or sidewalk chalk on the cement to make it different and fun.
  • Set up little contests – “You got 3 right all by yourself in this row. Do you think you can beat your score on the next row?”  “You finished this section in 6 minutes.  Do you think you can beat your time on the next section?”
  • Act out ideas, characters, plots, or events to help with understanding and remembering information.


9) Practice Makes Perfect

Kids do not learn new habits by being told.  They learn by doing the same thing, the same way, over and over.

As you develop new strategies for getting homework done, you must guide your child through the process many, many time in order to be sure it is being followed correctly and in order for it to become a habit.

Taking time up front to develop good habits will lead to independence and save you time in the end.


10) What if My Child Has a Learning Problem?

If your child has a learning or attention problem, everything about homework will be harder and take longer.  Use the strategies discussed above.  These are helpful for all learners.  But, you must also address the underlying cause of the learning problem.

Just as a carpenter needs a set of tools to build with, students need a set of mental tools to think with.  These include such things as:

  • Memory – being able to take in enough information at a time and hold onto it long enough to store it or use it
  • Attention – being able to focus on the important information, and stick with it long enough to get it all
  • Auditory processing – getting a clear and complete message when listening, and being able to process, or think about that information
  • Visual processing – how we take-in and understand information that we see
  • Processing Speed – how quickly we can take-in, think about, and respond to information
  • Executive Function – a complex set of thinking skills that helps us organize and make decisions about information and behavior.

When a child is having trouble learning, whether it’s a diagnosed learning disability or an undiagnosed but inefficient learning pattern, chances are there is something in the underlying processing skills that is not supporting him well enough.  This will interrupt expected academic development and make the task of homework much more difficult.

In order to make real changes in a child’s learning, we must explore and develop the underlying skills critical to academic and social success.  For this, you will probably need to seek outside help.

At Learning Foundations, our individualized programs begin with an assessment that helps us understand the child’s learning skills, attention, and basic academics.  We want to see what is keeping the child from learning as easily as she should and exactly how that looks for her in her life. 

Our focus is to uncover and eliminate the root causes of learning problems.  Current brain research along with over 40 years of our own professional experience tells us that the brain can learn new, easier ways of processing information.  As the brain gets more complete and accurate information to think with, the learner can learn with less effort and a better result.

Most learning problems, even diagnosed learning disabilities, do not have to be permanent.  If your “Homework Battle” is the result of a learning problem, part of your solution will be to address the underlying processing skills.

For information about how we can help you assess and build your child’s mental tools, or processing skills for learning, call Learning Foundations at (210) 495-2626.


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