How to get organized for school homework
Written by C. Stéphanovitch (neuropsychologist)
Excellence Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Reference Center for Learning Disorders, Early Childhood Unit
Robert Debré Hospital, Paris
To do homework in a peaceful atmosphere, it is important to help your child get organized and to let him choose some aspects so they can feel completely involved in their work. Here are some easy and practical guidelines that you can apply.
1. Work space
It is important to separate the space for working from the space for playing. Choose with your child a place dedicated to homework that you can tidy so it is practical for working.
Tidy school material close to it.
Avoid distractions such as games and screens: they must not be easy to access and must not be visible.
2. Work time
Organization: each week, make a schedule including work times and remind your child that it is going to be work time a few minutes before. Do it every time. When it is time, ask your child to tell you out loud what they have to do, what tools are needed and ask them to take them out.
Make them active : ask them what do they want to start with, what will take the most time according to them, what they assume will be the easier, what do they prefer to do …
3. Promote concentration
If it is important to avoid distractors such as screens, games etc … it is good to let a few distractors in sight. Indeed, some children need to touch or manipulate objects (ball, pen …), to move on their chair, to move their legs, to put some music in the background. This is not an obstacle to concentration, it can actually help your child stay focused on their work. Have a try with your child, let them move and see if it has a positive impact on their attention and their efficiency.
4. Manage time
Organization: We stay completely focused during 20 minutes maximum, whether you are an adult or a child. You can organize work time as such: 20 minutes of work, then 5-minute break, then 20 minutes of work etc.
Make them active: Before each lesson, ask your child to evaluate how long they think they will need to learn it. This is a very difficult exercise for children, as their evaluation of time is different to adults. Let them make mistakes, put a timer on and at the end, ask them if it took them the time they thought it would.
Moreover, the use of a timer/hourglass/stopwatch can help children who have issues getting to work, those who tend to daydream and those who like challenges.
At primary school, homework should last from 30 to 45 minutes. At middle school, homework should last from 45 minutes to 1hour15 and at high school, from 1hr15 to 2hrs.
5. Help your child to understand the instructions
Organization: always ask your child the following questions:
- How many tasks are you asked to do?
- In what order are you supposed to do them?
- Do you know how to achieve the task?
Example: find and circle in red all the verbs, then express them in future
- How many tasks are you asked to do?
2: I have to circle the verbs and then express them in future
- In what order are you supposed to do?
I have to find the verbs first, then circle them and then express them in future
- Do you know how to do it?
I know how to find the verbs, but I don’t remember how to put them in future. I must read my lesson before doing the exercise.
Make them active: ask your child what do they have to do (to make sure they understand the instructions), if needed with their own words. To answer the 3 previous questions, your child can use visual tools, like colours (for example: underline in colour the different steps in the instructions, put a number of order etc.)
Encourage your child so they read all the instructions carefully and then split a long sequence into several steps. This will help your child to understand the instructions and to adopt efficient work strategies.
6. Memorize throughout several learning skills
- Learning while hearing: your child read their lesson out loud and repeat it out loud (if they read in their head, the ear canal is not activated). They can also learn their lesson with a musical tune. They can record their lessons on a Dictaphone and listen to them several times.
- Learning while moving: you can let your child move while they are learning (manipulating a pen, swinging on their chair, walking …). This allows them to associate body movements to what they are learning, making memorizing easier.
- Learning with visuals: it can be hard to learn on a black and white support. To help them appropriate the lesson, you can encourage your child to modify it so it becomes easier to them: write it down, use colours, mark key phrases or important notions, draw sketches, do sum-up sheets (for the older).
7. Praise your child and bring them to judge themselves
Even if your child does not succeed in a task, it is important to praise them (for their behaviour for example). Your child will associate homework with pleasure and not with success. This allows to lower the stress level that some children can show when it comes to school results.
You can praise your child for their calm attitude, their focus, the fact that they started their homework quickly, and the fact that they didn’t show opposition.
Make them active: Ask your child to find a positive aspect of today’s work time. This strengthens their self-confidence, makes it easier for them to identify their feelings and allows them not to focus only on academic success (which is important for children facing learning difficulties). You can make your child say, draw, write … today’s positive aspect.
8. How to face refusal
If your child tend to refuse to work, show opposition, avoid homework … You can set a reward contract.
Organization: before homework, tell your child they will earn a reward if they follow objectives you will have settled. If your child doesn’t achieve the objectives, do not give them the reward but do not punish them.
Make them active: choose the objective with them (1 for the younger, 2 or 3 for the older) and the reward.
To go further, you can look at this sheet: https://www.debrechildpsychiatry.org/post/how-to-keep-my-child-motivated-during-the-lockdown-token-chart-or-token-economy-system
9. Reinforce what your child has learnt
To reinforce what your child has learnt and to show interest in what they are learning, use their new skills in daily life and games:
- When cooking meals (e.g. convert measures)
- When shopping (e.g. calculate budget and stick to it)
- Map reading (e.g. finding your way around a map and planning a route)
- Use films or series as examples (e.g. in what continent does the story take place? can you show me the mammals you can see in the cartoon?)
- You can also use educational games.
Translated by C. Landel (psychiatry resident), helped by Mr W. Lapworth