Homework Time: Setting Up for Success

Published on: March 08, 2020


Play Therapist Abhasiri gives parents a few tips for supporting our children with their homework without driving one another crazy.

By Abhasiri Chutikul

Helping your child with homework can be a nightmare for so many reasons. Many parents may realize that the approach to learning has evolved since the time they were in school or some things we have just simply forgotten. Some parents may also feel the time pressure given their child’s busy schedule plus the traffic so that by the time they get home everyone is exhausted. Having to sit down and do homework can be a real chore for all parties involved.

As a play therapist, I believe that the most learning occurs when the brain is relaxed and having fun. Now if we think of things that are enjoyable to us, we have very fond and usually very detailed memories of that experience as opposed to the introductory lectures in our university days. For this article, I would like to give you some tips to adjust some things at home in order to adjust your child’s attitude towards homework.

First, observe your child and see how they learn. People have various learning styles and that’s ok. Some children learn better through listening, some learn better by looking at images or having clear visuals and some learn by doing. I would recommend you to spend some time observing your child and how they interact with the environment. Do they like to look around and notice things, do they like to do ‘experiments’ with things around the house or do they remember the most when they listen to bedtime stories? These things will guide you to help tailor your child’s homework experience as not every child learns by reading and writing in homework books.

Preparing a positive homework space

It is good to be aware that the area where your child does their homework is very important. Having a designated space for them to do homework will give your child a physical structure and boundary. They would have somewhere that is permanent and predictable to put their bags, stationery and somewhere they can leave unfinished work without worrying that someone will touch their stuff.

Things to consider when finding a workspace for your child: 

  • A quiet space where your child can focus with minimal distractions. Sometimes for children who get distracted easily, having their desk facing a blank wall may help. 
  • A space where there is enough light.
  • Allow your child to be a part of the process of finding a space and maybe go shopping for stationery together. 
  • Have a wall clock nearby to help you and your child be aware of the time. 
  • If your child is still quite young, remember to find space for yourself to be able to sit next to them when they need help. 
  • Children strive in predictable and structured environments. Therefore, set a clear routine of when homework time is. If your child can’t tell the time yet, use times of the day such as before dinner, before shower or right after school to help them have a frame of reference of sequence of events. A visual timetable may help with some children. Some parents may prefer to tell their child that they have a certain amount of time and to do as much as they can. Whatever is left, they can finish the next day. Or if it is due tomorrow, parents can write a note to the teacher that their child has spent this much time on their homework.  
  • Incorporate your child’s sensory needs into setting up the space. For example, if your child moves around a bit, maybe add a cushion on their chair. If your child is sensitive to certain types of light, make sure you are aware of that and provide the appropriate lighting.

If having a permanent space/ table for your child to do homework is an issue due to space limitations, things can be adjusted to make sure that your child still has that structure and boundary. For example, you may find a box to put homework things which you can decorate with your child to help them create a sense of ownership of that box. When it is homework time, you can bring out the box and try to find an appropriate spot in your home or wherever you are that is quiet and has enough light.

Folders of finished and to be finished work can also be made together to help your child organize their work in a more systematic way.

Tips on how to handle homework time  

Given that my recommendations are on the basis that a happy learner is a successful learner, I would like to give some tips on how you can make homework time a more positive experience. 

  • Remind yourself before homework time that the purpose of homework is for your child’s teacher to see how much they understood in class. Therefore, if they don’t answer it correctly, it’s ok. 
    • If they don’t know the answer, you can support them by reading through the question with them again instead of saying “It’s wrong” or “do it again.” If they insist on that answer, then leave it to their teacher to correct. Learning from mistakes can be helpful to build your child’s resilience as well. 
  • Once the homework time is established, you can remind your child it’s time for homework. If you feel that your child can do their homework independently, you can let them know clearly that “mummy/ daddy will be working right in the kitchen/ living room. I will come check on you in five minutes to see if everything is okay.” 
  • For younger children, you can sit down with them to list out the homework given in simple and clear bullet points in checklist form. This will allow them to see what they need to do clearly and allow them to check off their finished task independently. For younger children, homework should not take longer than 30 minutes. If it does, then you know you have lost their attention. 
  • Some older children may enjoy different coloured pens and highlighters to notate their work. This may help them with organizing their thoughts without you sitting there with them. 
  • If your child is struggling with their homework, don’t give them the answer straight away. This is where you can be a little playful. If the question is 5 x 3 = _____ and your child is struggling, grab some crayons with that amount or even healthy snacks and get them to do the maths with these. 
  • Take a peek at the topic your child is learning and help them to generalize their learning by doing everyday life activities to promote those skills. For example, if your child is learning about fruit and vegetables, take them to the supermarket and do a visual shopping list for them to help you shop. You can even add quantifiers such as three apples, two oranges to help them with numeracy skills. This can help when they do homework as you can give reference back to “remember when we went to the supermarket and you got me X apples and oranges, it’s similar to that. Let’s pretend these numbers are numbers of oranges and apples.” 
  • Use positive words to reinforce your child. Try to use positive words to describe their actions such as “I like it when you try hard” or “Great focusing!” rather than “that is beautiful” or “good boy/girl” as you want to reinforce the actions rather than the results. Sometimes when parents or even teachers say “good boy/girl” the child isn’t aware of what they did that was right and wouldn’t know to repeat that action again. 
  • Create games out of the topic in their homework. For example, if they have to learn vocabulary, you can try to make a word search for them as a game before/ after they finish their homework. Flash cards that have different points on the other side can be a fun game. The person who can spell the most words correct will be the winner and get a prize such as a snack, five minutes of game time or whatever you feel motivates your child. 
  • Sometimes your child needs a break. Try to notice when they are looking restless or resting their heads on the table. You can help them be aware of the body by noticing it with them and giving them a ‘mini-motor break.’ It is essentially a small functional task that helps to get your child moving a bit. You can say “Ooh, looks like you are a bit tired. Do you want to go grab a drink? Or “Looks like someone might need a cookie to recharge, can you please get me one from the fridge as well?”

I hope that you find some of these tips useful and applicable to your family. Every child is unique and may need some adjustments to the strategies. As a parent, you know your child best. Just believe in your instincts and have fun! 

About the Author

Abhasiri (Oom) Chutikul is a Play Therapist, Early Intervention Specialist and Filial Coach. She has been working with children and teenagers with social skills, emotional and behavioral issues in Thailand since she graduated from Australia in 2012. In 2016, she became a certified play therapist through Leeds Beckett University, UK. In 2019 she completed her Master’s thesis on the effects of play therapy in siblings of children with Autism. She also supports families through coaching parents on attachment, behavioral and emotional management.

Photos by Element5 Digital on Unsplash and Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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