Month: July 2009

“Go Up To Your Room and Do Your Work”: The Perils

How many households in America each night hear the refrain, “Go up to your room and start your homework?”

Recognizing that each household is set up differently, it is hard to make generalizations about how and where a child should be doing his or her homework.  For the children of concern, the ones that are easily “lost in the woods ,“  these children have great difficulty functioning independently even in a comfortable and functional work-space that has been set up in their room.

As stated in a previous post, an ongoing concern of yours is to find the “just right” level of parental involvement (  Recognizing that these children need greater degrees of structuring, cuing and prompting, having a child go off to his room to complete homework may largely be a mistake.

When left to their own devices, think of these kids as free-floating molecules with little to anchor them or bring them back to the task.  Without some level of structure, there is little to help them get started or to keep them on track.

An alternative that provides some anchoring is getting the child in the habit of sitting within relatively close range of a parent, preferably at a dining room table, apart from any action going on in the house.

Ideally, a parent can be sitting close by doing quiet work of their own (e.g., reading, bill paying, etc.)  Just the presence of an adult quietly sitting close by helps to settle things down for the “lost in the woods” type of a child.

It would also be helpful to establish a household “quiet time” where the tone of the house becomes relatively lower than the norm. This may mean shutting off the television and having other children quietly (if they don’t have schoolwork) in a different portion of the house.    (You may need to spend time training the other kids in the house to practice the quiet time so they know what is expected.)

Many families with whom I have worked have found an hour and a half of “quiet time” to be ideal.  Mind you, quiet time does not mean that house has to be “library quiet.”  It’s just that the tone and energy of the house is lower than usual.

Don’t worry if the deckhands (i.e.,  the kids) start whining and protesting.  Stay firm with your establishment of a quiet time and they will soon get used to it.

Establishing this routine as early as possible as the way that homework is done will pay off dividends later.  Many teenagers that I work with are particularly “free-floating” in their room.   They have a very  hard time getting started and seeing tasks through to their conclusion.

It’s never too late to change the routines, but the earlier you create the tone and the routine for homework the better.

Tags:  Parent Involvement, Struggling Learners, Organizational weaknesses, Executive Function Deficits.


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First Grade Writing Demands Overwhelming

This week I met James, age 7 and a half.   In my assessment of James, I found him to be extremely bright, with excellent higher level reasoning skills and a lively spontaneous personality.  His reading skills were developing nicely, matching his strong cognitive abilities.  Yet, James had a very rough first grade year.  Openly stating how much he disliked school, James was becoming discouraged.  What was the problem?

In a nutshell, James found writing to be an excruciating process and one that he had to face every morning.

For many kids (often the boys) there is a mismatch between their cognitive abilities and their ability to get the words out of their pencil and on to the page.

Open ended writing (e.g., “write about your weekend”) is particularly challenging for these kids.   Getting started on the writing is particularly challenging.

This was indeed the case for James.

Dr. Mel Levine in his many books on learning issues points out how demanding the writing process is for kids (and adults).  I have heard Dr. Levine say in conferences that writing is the single most difficult process of schooling.  Think about it. If you were asked to write about your weekend, consider the many things that would occur for you to complete the task. Some of these would include:

· Visualizing your weekend
· Deciding what aspect of the weekend to discuss (major vs. minor detail)
· Word retrieval
· Word choice
· Spelling
· Fine motor
· Active working memory (concurrently holding information in your mind to act on it)

For young James it was all too much.   James would like school much more if could approach writing in more digestible bites.  He wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed.

Practicing simple sentences (e.g., “Dogs run.”  “People walk) and building on these sentences in a scaffold-like approach would give James a sense of confidence. 

I recommend that you get a hold of Diana Hanbury King’s,  Writing Skills to learn more about the structured, step-by-step approach to writing development.

The School Keeps Saying “Stay Out – They Have to Do It On Their Own”

By the upper elementary school grades, the message parents often get from the school is their child needs to do schoolwork on his/her own without parental support. For many children (those that can do work on their own), that’s exactly what should be happening.

Such children write their assignments down, take out their assignment book at home, do what they have to do for the evening, plan for the amount of time it will take, and stay with the task without too much interruption. When finished, the assignment goes back in the book bag for the next day. The child hands in her work the next day and hands it in without too much strife.

How nice!

Sometimes I feel like I can lead a parade of families of children who are the opposite of what is being described. Such children have tremendous difficulty getting started on a task and sustaining effort. For these children, telling parents that the children are old enough and need to do it on their own, leads to considerable frustration.

Much of my professional time is spent trying to coach parents in understanding how challenged their child is with regard to these issues. Too often, parents will fall to, "she’s just not trying hard enough."

The child’s problems are seen entirely in motivational terms.

The point is not to view the child as overly disabled or handicapped. However, looking at the skills of initiating, organizing and planning, the fact is many kids start to show these skills pretty well by middle school, but many do not. For those who do not, the ritual battles that ensue on a nightly basis can be horrific.

When the child has great difficulty with a sports skill, such as hitting a baseball, the mentality should not be "well you’re 11, you should be able to hit a baseball." The appropriate mentality would be conveyed by a supportive and patient coach – "Hey, let’s take our time. Let’s break this down. Let’s make this simpler for you. Let’s practice this at an easier level, so that you can start to hit a baseball."

The same mentality should apply to children and their organizational deficits.

Tags: learning disabilities, executive function deficits, organizational problems, shut down learners


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