Education Occupational Therapy Sensory Integration

Home work time

Tips to limit the homework struggles

As an Occupational Therapist, I meet many parents and children who dread the time of that time of the day – HOMEWORK TIME. Parents want children to sit still and work, while the children want a break and play, play and play. This often results in a daily power struggle.

Here are some occupational therapy tips to help you and your child out during homework.

Choose the best time

Many parents assume that homework is best done as soon as the child comes back from school. However, for some children school can be very tiring. Start by discussing with your child the activities that need to be done after school. This will help them understand the task routine. It will also help them understand that both homework and play are chores that need to be set into the after school routine. You and your child need to find a common time when to carry out the homework tasks. Although this should be decided together, you might need to help out by choosing the time that your child is mostly energised. Some children  might feel too tired after school while others might prefer to finish it off as soon as they are home. As parents, we need to respect our children’s thresholds which for children who have sensory processing difficulties will be harder to regulate and control.

Visual aids, timers and rewards

Children who are under responsive to sensations might need auditory and visual cues. This will promote their processing and prompt them towards task completion. A timer can be used for the individual homework tasks, following which your child can be given a movement break.

The use of rewards and timers will work well with Sensory seeking children. They crave novelty so these strategies will motivate them to work harder towards finishing their homework. However you need to keep in mind that for some children a timer might cause anxiety. You need to use other strategies such as the use of a checklist. This will work as a visual reminder of the pending tasks.

Sensory friendly homework spot

Some children work best in a quiet, distraction free environment while others need to change positions frequently, have alternative seating options or have the radio on. As a parent, you need to find the best homework spot depending upon your child’s needs. Make sure you cater for those sensory needs so you can help your child regulate and cope better with such tasks. These include adequate lighting, using visual aids, controlling noise levels, allowing movement breaks or using fidget tools. You might need to consult with your occupational therapist to help you find the best sensory strategies.

Try to make the homework spot a place where the child wants to be. Doing the homework at the dining table or in the living area is not an ideal handwriting spot. Those spaces have specific functions and are suited for other family tasks such as leisure or mealtime.

Set Brain Breaks

Children need to move. Short brain breaks during work time will reduce frustration and increase attention and productivity. These need to be timed and set into your child’s schedule. Make sure to use a timer.

During brain breaks allow for movement activities which need to be set with a purpose. These will stimulate your child’s movement centres in the brain to promote attention, level of alertness and motivation to learn. Some ideas include: bouncing on a therapy ball at various speeds, bouncing while throwing and catching, wheelbarrow walk, tug of war with a parent, jumping on the spot, jumping jacks etc.

Liaise with teacher

Children can refuse to do homework for many reasons. Some children might be struggling with understanding the content or tend to fatigue easily but don’t know how to tell you. We need to avoid putting high expectations on them. Try to have a healthy discussion about what they are feeling during homework and school work. You can also reach out to their teacher and discuss in further detail their literacy and academic abilities. If there are issues with these aspects, discuss with their teacher the best way to address this. Some children would benefit from a decrease in homework load and would benefit from repeating previous lessons. If your child is struggling in such areas you might need to seek specialist advice from an educational psychologist or literacy specialist. 

Mum and me playtime

Keep in mind to reward your child after they finish off their work. Find the time to do an activity with them after they finish off their work. Our busy routines might get in the way and we forget to acknowledge the importance of play. We can simply reward our children by having fun together. If your child is a sensory craver, carry out activities with intense sensory input while if your child has a sensory sensitive profile engage in more sedentary tasks. You will surely give your child a break from the home and daily chores if reward your child with a visit to the local playground.

A word of Advice

If homework struggles are related to issues with attention, fatigue, pencil grip difficulties, writing quality or heightened activity level do contact an Occupational therapist. If on the other hand issues are related to literacy seek advice from an educational psychologist or literacy specialist.

At WonderKids paediatric Centre Malta we can help.