Make Homework Routine

By Guest Blogger, Penny Williams of {a mom’s view of ADHD}

ADHD children do better with routine. It’s a proven fact. In a brain characteristically in chaos, the order routine provides is soothing. They need to know what to expect in advance and have time to make the mental transition as well.

Everything goes more smoothly for my son when he knows what’s coming and when, and everything falls apart when our schedule changes unexpectedly. As parents of neurologically different children, we make their world more comfortable by publicizing the family schedule and sticking to a routine as much as a family can. We have a routine for getting up and ready for school in the morning. We have a bedtime routine. We even have an {unpopular} dinnertime routine. Why should homework time be any different?

It has taken me two years to establish a fairly comfortable homework routine for Luke, my 8-year-old, third grade son who has ADHD and sensory integration issues. Two years of a lot of trial and error. And we aren’t set yet, nor do I predict we will be for many years. As the full extent of Luke’s written expression disorder has been revealed this year, the homework routine has changed quite a bit, but for the better.

Like Clockwork

I’ve experimented quite a bit with the time of day that we do homework. It was quickly apparent that waiting until after dinner (and after medications had worn off) was not going to work for Luke (or for me). We then tried right after school and at 4 pm, which is about 30 minutes after we arrive home from school. I liked the idea of some free time for Luke to unwind and a break from schoolwork that the 4 pm schedule offered. However, it hasn’t always worked out. In 30 minutes time he can get engrossed in something fun and then it’s a battle to get him to stop and do homework. I feel a little like a schoolmarm making him do homework the minute we get home, but he does his best work at that time.

Now sure we don’t always come straight home from school. Sometimes I’m working and grandma picks him up. Sometimes we have afterschool activities or just need to run to the grocery store. But Luke knows that we do homework when we return home from school, whatever time that may read on the clock. He has come to expect it.

Even Homework Needs a Home

Give homework papers and supplies a home and keep them in the same spot. When I say, “time to do homework,” Luke immediately goes to his homework spot. Well, not immediately. Even the best laid plan will not cure the typical resistance to homework. We keep Luke’s homework folder, pencils, etc. on his end of the snack bar. Up until a month or so ago, he sat there or just behind at the dining table to do his homework. We kept all needs there so he wouldn’t have the distraction of getting up to fetch something.

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Consider a Homework Toolkit: The toolkit will be some sort of box or desktop organizer, even an actual toolbox, with every single item necessary to complete homework, prepped and ready to go:

  • pencils (sharpened — sharpening pencils is a favorite procrastination technique of children),

  • pencil sharpener (in case it breaks),

  • pencil grips (if used),

  • markers,

  • colored pencils (sharpened),

  • appropriate scissors,

  • notebook paper,

  • construction paper or blank copy paper,

  • calculator,

  • ruler,

  • dictionary,

  • index cards,

  • highlighter,

  • tape,

  • glue stick,

  • post-it notes,

  • clip board (if not working at a table or desktop),

  • anything else your child may use for homework

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Now that Luke has some technological accommodations for his written expression disability, he does his spelling homework on the computer. When I announce “homework time,” he gets his folder off the snack bar and brings it to my desk to work on my computer. (I am looking for a good place in my office to create a new homework spot now that things have changed.) He’s great with technology, and typing is so much easier for him than hand writing assignments was, so this change has actually allowed me to stop standing over him, constantly nagging, during homework for the first time since he started school. It’s wonderful!

He finishes his spelling assignment and then takes his book to the sofa and I set the timer for reading. If you don’t have a timer or don’t use one with your ADHD child, I super-strongly recommend its implementation. My favorite is the Time Timer, but any household timer will work. When the timer sounds at the end of his 15 minutes, he jumps up, completes his homework log, and then puts the homework folder back in its home on the snack back (with a little prodding and a lot of reminders).


Don’t Make Them Bite Off More Than They can Chew

Homework is designed to prove to a teacher that a child has mastered the subject matter and is sometimes an exercise in repetition for knowledge retention. Every child in the class is given the same homework, regardless of their differences, unless there’s already an IEP or 504 Plan to the contrary. It’s your duty as your child’s advocate and #1 cheerleader to be sure the homework is appropriate for your child. Yes, this is negotiable, either through teamwork with the teacher or through a formal IEP or 504 Plan.

Scaling the amount of homework to your child’s differences and needs is a crucial element in the success of the homework routine. For example, Luke reads for 15 minutes each day while the original 3rd grade homework structure called for 20 minutes. There was a lot of resistance and inability to finish 20 minutes of reading but 15 minutes is just the right amount for Luke. While he is above grade level in reading, he is allowed to have me read aloud to him if that’s what it takes to get the assignment finished. I have found that he often asks me to read to him just to have time together. I agree, but on the condition that we take turns reading aloud by alternating paragraphs. He usually ends up reading most of it himself anyway, just with me alongside him.

Spelling is also a regular homework task. He has 15 words each week and his teacher suggests a list of activities from which to complete three. We alter these activities to accommodate his handwriting issues. He types all activities which means there are some that don’t apply to him (like writing each word in cursive three times). Sometimes there aren’t three on the list that can be typed so I let him pick from activities he’s done previous weeks.

Also, get creative and tailor homework to the way your child learns. Luke is a visual and tactile learner so we make homework visual and hands-on as much as we can – it was easier to do so in the younger grades. Use dried macaroni for math or even spelling. Does your child love to paint? Let them paint their spelling words or their illustration for their writing assignments. Painting letters is actually a common therapy tool for children that struggle with handwriting. What about play dough? I purchased a box of cookie cutters with all the letters and numbers for play dough play. You could do spelling and math with these. It will take longer but make homework more interesting and fun.

Luke’s teacher is perfectly content with our customization of the homework plan. Since they don’t get a grade on homework in third grade, it’s easy to make this change. Similar alterations can be made for middle school and high school homework too though. For instance, a student should be allowed to complete a percentage of the problems on a math worksheet to show they have mastered the content when the entire assignment will take too long or is overwhelming. Shortening the assignments will reduce their anxiety too, making it easier to work and study in the first place.

Don’t Forget Good Study Habits

Good study habits are even more crucial for children with ADHD and learning disabilities. There are some general ground rules that should always be followed:

  1. TV and other distractions must be turned off. However, music in the background actually helps some children focus. It is a distraction for me, but Luke and his sister both do homework better with music on, especially when listening with headphones. Experiment with this and see what is best for your child.

  2. Praise and reward often (typically more often than feels natural).

  3. Take breaks as needed. Who says you have to finish homework in one sitting? Allow your child to get up and stretch, get a snack, jump on the trampoline, etc. Just don’t allow them any screen time during breaks because you won’t likely get back to the homework amicably.

There is so much more than the few ideas I’ve covered here, especially for older children. Take a look at these other resources on the subject of homework with ADHD children:



Penny Williams is the creator and editor of {a mom’s view of ADHD}, where she writes candidly about the everyday experiences of parenting her young ADHD son. In her immersion in all things ADHD since her son’s diagnosis, Penny has published, My ADHD Story: Love Notes, Blah, Blah, Blah!, and Teachers We Love: Learning for All in ADDitude Magazine, the #1 national publication dedicated to ADHD. She has been quoted in Parenting.com’s Family Health Guide on ADHD and The High Desert Pulse, Summer/Fall 2010, When Ritalin Works.

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