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LD and Homework Woes
Q: We are a blended stepfamily with five children. The ages range from 14 to four. We are concerned about our seven-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. They have both been diagnosed with learning disabilities and have an IEP at school. The difficulties are mainly in reading and writing. The girl was held back in first grade, so both are currently in the second grade. They are about half year behind grade level. Do you have any ideas on how to help with homework? It takes so long, and they require so much help. They get very frustrated, as do we. The boy tends to get lazy, and just gives up, saying it's too hard, and the girl gets very upset or daydreams. They both have a hard time staying on task unless we are right over them constantly. We feel they need to begin doing this work independently, but don't know how to make the change without further frustrating them. We fear they are becoming too dependent on us. They don't seem to be this dependent at school according to their teachers. Thank you.
A: Sounds like you have a full house! I'm sure it would be nice if homework time weren't such a hassle. First, I would ask the children's teachers to send homework, which is clearly within your children's ability range and matched to their preferred learning style. If they are working on material that is too hard, they may balk because they don't want to make mistakes in front of their parents. Also, the school can help out a lot by "priming the pump" a bit; that is, if the kids do one or two homework problems successfully with the teachers at school, they are more likely do the next one at home. If you know that the teachers are using this approach, you can say to the kids: "I know you did these first two at school with your teacher. This one is just the same, and the teacher told me you really understand this."
If the kids are working on specific IEP goals, the teachers might provide you with a packet of materials and activities that would let them practice skills that have been taught at school that day. This way, you'll be reinforcing things taught at school, and doing less "teaching" of new material. Also, think about fun ways to reinforce new skills that don't feel to the kids like homework. Labeling things that you are using to cook dinner, or counting pieces of spaghetti is infinitely more fun than what happens after you say: "OK kids, get out your (ugh!) homework. Keep the focus on home FUN!
Some families get more done at homework time when they set up an incentive program. Offering the children one minute of TV time (or better yet, story time) for every minute of productive homework might help them get on task and keep on task with fewer grumbles (or yawns). In terms of the independence, they may still need you to help them get through the work. If they do the same kind of work independently at school they may just be dragging their feet to keep you by their sides. (If they worked by themselves, would you disappear?) You might try just sitting in the same room, sitting a bit back from them while they do one problem, then two, etc., as time progresses. You can build this independence into the incentive plan. "You've just done this one with me. Then next one is just like it. If you finish it without asking me for help, you get one bonus minute of story time. I'll be right here with you. (This might be a time to quietly read to another child, or move over to check his independent work.)
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.