Homework: A positive learning experience or a nightmare?

Posted: 20 May, 2016

By: Annemarie Lombard

Section: Education, Parenting

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The third week into Grade 0 has given me just a little more insight into the realities of being a (working!!) mom. Managing the early morning rush (yes, sometimes eating breakfast, brushing teeth, applying sunscreen and make-up in the car!!), the afternoon routine and the preparations for the next day is a mammoth task. A good friend once gave me some valuable advice. He said that the day before usually determines the successes for the next day. Hence, the night before we lay out clothes, put bags and extra-mural equipment in the car, lay the table for breakfast and place all that is needed for making lunches on the kitchen counter. Useful advice ensuring the morning rush runs seamless and smooth, ensuring a happy and predictable day for both child and parent!

Alas, this is only one part of the day …. The best part of my day as a parent is pick-up time from school … Hence the disappointment when the response comes as “Nothing…” upon enquiring about your child’s day!! “And who did you play with today?”(Mom).” No one wanted to play with me.” (huge concern, did my child not have a happy day?)

A child’s day consists of so many different types of sensory input, which will cumulatively affect his or her little mood. Hence the often empty response upon your arrival! Children are often still processing their day and often as a parent we do not get the desired happy response we would like!  It is therefore so valuable to “read” your child’s mood and sensory levels at the end of the day, which will guide you in meeting your child’s needs at that moment, preparing you for the afternoon ahead.

Some children who have low thresholds may first need some quiet time. (Me-time as us moms call it!). Playing calm music in the car on the way home or using a lap beanbag for deep pressure may provide just the sensory input your child needs in order to refocus again. They typically are also the ones who explode as soon as they reach home – as they don the safety net of home, the wheels come off and they fly off the handle. This is the time where you have to count to 10 and allow them “letting go of all that heaped up emotions”. Being in their rooms to just play, lie down or cuddle a favorite toy can do wonders to prepare for the rest of the afternoon. Again, give them space, talk calmly and let them chill for a bit.

Other children may need some movement input in order to modulate their brain levels and will therefore benefit from having a movement break such as riding a bike or jumping on a trampoline (sorry for you if you are tired, mom!!)

Understanding your child’s sensory levels in the afternoon before commencing homework can make homework time a whole lot more productive and meaningful. What are the types of input we can provide?  Herewith some tips for sensory –smart homework time!

Children who have low thresholds, are sensitive and over-responsive to sensory input may need some quiet time before homework, which may include lying down in a quiet corner with soft cushions/beanbags or a tent. The following strategies could be useful:

  • Maintain a fairly quiet and calm atmosphere at home. If this is not possible (because brother may be a sensory seeker!) use headphones or white noise types of background music. Create a workspace that is visually and auditory calming. Carefully consider the color of your child’s workspace, clutter and background noises.
  • Self-calming devices such as a heavy lap-beanbag or a weighted vest could be used during homework time or a rocking chair during paired reading.
  • Create a predictable homework schedule with stickers to indicate when a task is completed.
  • Try to minimize your child’s afternoon activities and carefully consider whether the activities create anxiety, over-stimulation or whether they are calming. Swimming often has a calming effect on children, while a team sport such as rugby will be over-stimulating. This could greatly influence your child’s participation in homework later on in the afternoon!

Children who have high thresholds and are sensory seekers (busy, moving, talking) will benefit from the following strategies during homework time:

  • Movement breaks such as: Jumping on a trampoline after each task is completed, rolling from one end to the other end of the room to fetch a different colored crayon, a climbing rope for breaks.
  • Allow your child to use finger fidgets or play with rubber bands during a sedentary task such as reading.
  • Organize your child’s work-space in a predictable manner such as labeling the drawers or containers and minimize clutter. However, allow change such as a different sitting place at the desk or changing the order in which tasks are approached. On a whiteboard or blackboard, draw a symbol of each task that needs to be completed and let your child wipe it off or spray with a water spray-can as he completes each task.

Generally speaking:

  • Set enough time aside for home and be present, this will speed up the process. Multitasking and doing other stuff simultaneously will make it more difficult.
  • Use a quiet and calm space consistently so that children have an association that this is serious focus time to do work.
  • Sticking with the same time will also help to create a routine – stuff we all thrive by in order to get everything done.
  • Use a timer/watch so that children learn using their time well which will also help them to be focused on the task.
  • While children need chill time after school, don’t leave homework till late at night; everyone is going to be tired and you are going to make it worse.
  • If you as a mom is just juggling too many things and homework turns into a nightmare with fighting, crying and huge emotions, explore alternatives. Can you get someone to help? The stress of having to go into a “teacher-role” is sometimes destroying mother-child relationships and just not worth it.

I don’t know about you, but when we arrive at school in the morning I often have this feeling (after the breakfast, sunscreen, teeth and coffee) that I have just landed an aeroplane!!! (Which is sometimes the only way to get there on time!) However, it is not the best way and may add to anxiety and frustration even before the day has started! So, I would like to wish you a year in which you can spend time with your child doing homework in a calm, controlled and contained manner without the feeling that you have just landed an aeroplane in a war zone!

Happy homework!!