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Being an Efficient Homework Helper—Part I: Turning a Chore into a Challenge

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, September 19, 2019

parent and child doing homework at table.

By Regina G. Richards
This is the first installment of a multi-part series about helping children manage homework. The second post covers strategies, organization, and dealing with fatigue, and the third motivation and tools. This article originally appeared in LDOnline.

"The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882, U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer)

Homework is a constant for most children — it is always there. And for many children, it is often a chore. Just the concept of "homework" can cause multiple anxieties and negative feelings. To assist parents and students, this series of articles presents some tools to help turn this chore into an enjoyable challenge. It focuses on some general preliminaries, basic strategies, and motivation.

To begin, we must keep in mind the characteristics of our own children, because each child has his or her unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs.

When embarking on any project, there are first some questions we need to ask ourselves. These apply whether the project is a page of math facts or a full report.

  • We need to make sure we understand the project: what is the child trying to do?
  • We need to assemble our tools: what materials will be needed for this project?

Working successfully with our children on schoolwork requires respect, and respect begins with understanding. If a child struggles with and/or resists homework, ask yourself, "Why?" As you discover the reasons, share them with your child so he or she better understands the issues. Doing so takes the mystery out of struggles or frustrations. Pediatrician Mel Levine calls this "demystification," which he describes as eliminating mystery by explaining the child's strengths and weaknesses and guiding them to develop more accurate personal insight.

"Working successfully with our children on schoolwork requires respect, and respect begins with understanding."

Students may struggle with and/or resist homework for a variety of reasons. These may include any of the following:

  • Your child is experiencing some aspect of a learning disability or learning difference.
  • Your child is inefficient in a skill needed to establish a solid foundation related to the concept and/or task.
  • Your child struggles to process one or more components of the task.
  • Your child lacks or is not using the appropriate strategies or tools.
  • Your child is experiencing fatigue, either processing fatigue or general fatigue.

As parents, we should attend to how our student approaches the task. Help them identify and sort through the different components and determine the needed sub-steps. You can delineate these using a concrete chart or graphic organizer.

Many students express the idea that homework is "stupid" or a "waste of time." Even if you do wonder about the value of the given task, it is critical to communicate an optimistic belief that homework positively affects achievement in school and teaches many valuable skills critical for success throughout life. For example:

  • Following directions
  • Independent work habits
  • Time management
  • Use of strategies
  • Follow-through
  • Responsibility

Keep in mind that you and your child are laying an important foundation that will guide their routines for years to come. Starting in early elementary school years, each child begins to establish habits for time management and task completion.



Establishing a consistent workspace is a critical beginning. The precise location for doing homework does not matter as long as it is free from distractions. For example, trying to read a chapter in the middle of the kitchen while a parent makes dinner and siblings run in and out creates a recipe for failure. In the early grades, you and your child should select the homework location together, identifying a place where you can be close by and available for help. As the child matures, she can be more independent in selecting his own workspace.

"Establishing a consistent workspace is a critical beginning. The precise location for doing homework does not matter as long as it is free from distractions. "


At the beginning of each school year, help your child create his own Homework Survival Kit with the necessary supplies. If the child receives accommodations for learning disabilities at school — such as a particular pencil grip, a type of paper, or an electronic speller — try to allow their use at home too. Children should learn to take care of the supplies in their Homework Survival Kit, therefore sharing is not advisable. Your child, even at age five, should have a large calendar with enough space to note assignments. This is a critical habit that students will need to use through high school and college.

Lighting and posture

Use of an appropriate writing posture should be encouraged. Therefore, a desk and chair of appropriate size are necessary. The desk should have adequate lighting. Some children enjoy reading in a different position, such as in a beanbag chair. Ensure that there is also adequate lighting by that location.

General environment

Keeping in mind that each student may have different needs and preferences, following are some ideas to help students enhance their ability to focus while doing homework:

  • Quiet or soft background music
  • Silence
  • Small crunchy snacks, sour candy, or chewing gum
  • Carbonated beverages (preferably without sugar)

About the Author

Regina G. Richards, MA, is a board certified educational therapist and former director of Big Springs School, specializing in multidisciplinary programs for language learning disabilities. She teaches regularly at University of California Riverside Extension.  She’s written several books, among them The Source for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia; The Source for Learning & Memory; Eli, The Boy Who Hated To Write; LEARN – Learning Efficiently and Remembering mNemonics, Visual Skills Appraisal2; and Classroom Visual Activities2. She is active in her local IDA branch, is a past president, and is the parent of an adult son who experiences dyslexia and dysgraphia and is currently successful in business, working with computers.


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Tags:  homework parenting language-based learning disabilities organization Executive Function

The Best Way to Explain Learning Disabilities to Your Child

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, February 12, 2019

son and father talking

By Rick Lavoie, M.A., M.Ed.

A parent once called my special education school to request an admissions visit for her and her son, who was struggling mightily in school. She asked a strange question in her initial phone call: “Does the school have any signs or posters displayed that identify the program as a school for kids with learning disabilities?”

I asked her why she wished to know this. She replied, “My son doesn’t know that he has a learning disability and we don’t want him to know.” He knows, Mom. Believe me, he knows.

I have long been puzzled by a parent’s reluctance to discuss a child’s learning disability diagnosis with him. The knowledge that he has an identifiable, common, measurable, and treatable condition often comes as great comfort to the youngster. Without this information, the child is likely to believe the taunts of his classmates and feel that he indeed is a dummy. The truth will set him free!

If a child does not have a basic understanding of the nature of his learning challenges, it is unlikely that he will be able to sustain his motivation in the classroom. Because he is puzzled about the difficulty that he is experiencing at school, he is unlikely to be able to commit to his studies.

What Learning Disabilities Are and Are Not

When discussing the child’s learning problems with her, it is critical to explain what the disorder is — and what it is not. You may find that the child holds many misconceptions about her disorder (“It goes away at middle school”; “It means I’m stupid”; “I’ll never be able to read”), and it is important that you clarify and correct this misinformation.

During these discussions, emphasize her strengths and affinities and do not simply focus on her weaknesses and difficulties. Express optimism about her development and her future.

Remind your child that she can indeed learn, but that she learns in a unique way that requires her to work hard and participate in classes and activities that are different from those of her peers and siblings. Emphasize the fact that this situation exists through no fault of the child’s. Explain that learning is a particular challenge for her and that it may take longer for her to master skills than it will take her classmates. Remind her that she will “finish the race,” though she may have to take a different route. Let her know that the adults in her life are solidly on her side.

Draw on learning struggles and challenges that you faced and outline the strategies you used. This information can be comforting for a child. I do not find it useful to cite famous people with learning problems as a means of inspiring and motivating a child.

A more realistic approach might be to cite people whom the child knows as inspirational examples: “Did you know that Uncle John also had trouble in school and he had to repeat third grade? It took him forever to do his homework and he still has difficulty writing. But he has a terrific job at the hospital. He enjoys cooking, just like you, and nobody makes a better chili!”

Demystify your child’s daily struggles. One of the most valuable and important roles that a parent can play in the life of a child with special needs is that of a demystifier. The parents should explain the disability to the child, thereby making sense of the child’s daily struggles. The youngster often feels greatly relieved once he realizes that his difficulties actually have a name and that others have similar problems and challenges.

It is important that these explanations be made in a sensitive and age-appropriate way. This important information should not be communicated in an intense “let’s discuss your learning disability” session. Rather, you should discuss the child’s challenges with him in a gradual, informal, and sequential way.

Look for and take advantage of teachable moments. When a child asks a question related to his disability, remember to answer his question honestly and sensitively, and be wary of providing more information than the child can handle or understand. As an analogy, imagine that the child is an empty cup devoid of any information about the nature of his disabilities. You are represented by the pitcher, filled with data, reports, information, and knowledge about the disability. Slowly “pour” your knowledge into the cup until the vessel is full. Always end the conversation by assuring your child that you are eager to have discussions with him.

The demystification process is a crucial step in the child’s journey toward self-advocacy. As an adolescent and adult, she must know how to explain her difficulties and needs to teachers, coaches, and employers without parental intervention.

How to Connect with Your Child About His Learning Disability

If your child runs into problems — say, setting the dinner table — caused by his disability, you might use that opportunity to explain his sequencing and directionality problems in the following way:

“Carl, I know that this is difficult and frustrating for you and I really appreciate your willingness to stick with it. It’s tough for you to remember the order you should follow when setting the table, but it will be easier if you refer to the checklist that we made last week. Remember? We keep it on the shelf near the dishes. After you have used the checklist for a while, we will begin phasing it out and I’ll bet that you will be able to set the table by yourself within a few weeks. We followed that process when you learned to make your bed, and you do that chore really well now.

“Remember that the knife and spoon go on the side of the hand you write with, and the fork goes on the other side. These problems that you have relate to something called sequencing and directionality. The skills will always be a little difficult for you, but you are doing much, much better. All of your hard work with Mrs. Carter in your OT class is really paying off. The extra lessons that Coach Simons is giving you in soccer should help your directionality, too.”

About the Author

Rick Lavoie

Excerpted from The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Turning On the Tuned-Out Child, by Rick Lavoie. 

Rick Lavoie is a lecturer and consultant who has more than 30 years experience working as a teacher and headmaster at residential schools for students with learning disabilities. He consults on learning disabilities to several agencies and organizations, including PBS, the New York Times, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Child magazine and WETA.

He holds three degrees in special education and has served as an adjunct professor or visiting lecturer at numerous universities, including Syracuse, Harvard, Gallaudet, Manhattanville College, University of Alabama, and Georgetown.

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Tags:  learning challenges parenting dyslexia learning differences social emotional issues
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