An education expert has some advice
Getting kids to do their homework can be difficult, from kindergarten all the way through high school.
Can a dedicated workspace at home – a homework “nook” – help students succeed? And if so, what do parents need to set up a space that fits their student?
We asked education expert Wendy Taylor, founder and executive director of Learning Essentials in the Washington, DC, area. She has a Masters Degree in Education and is “passionate about helping students of all abilities, especially those with learning differences and disabilities, attain their academic goals.”
Taylor says that the best solutions consider the student as an individual. “Students learn at different rates. How they understand and interpret language and meaning can vary significantly based on their learning needs and preferences.”
Taylor notes that children have different learning styles. They may learn best from auditory signals, visual stimuli, hands on techniques, through movement… or most likely a combination. Approaches to the homework station should be tailored to the student. Taylor’s advice: observe your student’s learning habits as much as possible and then experiment. Try the strategies or products below, see what works and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly.
LANDING & LAUNCHING PAD
Creating a “landing & launching pad” routine can provide a great foundation for homework success, says Taylor. When your student arrives home, she lands on the pad and places all her school related belongings – backpack, forms to sign/return, homework, lunch money/tokens, etc. – in dedicated spaces. Parents can readily see everything and check when assignments are complete. In the morning the student launches from the pad by retrieving her belongings.
Although the “pad” will differ by student, “Everything has a place,” says Taylor. “That can be something as simple as a small square on the floor or something identified on the wall. So it doesn’t really have to be in a large home, it can work easily in a small home, as well.”
Seating is a big deal. Younger students may find a table and chair combo too confining. Older kids may be fine on a bed or a floor. Wendy notes that since school life often can be sedentary, getting kids moving – even when doing homework – can help.
- Rather than slinking into a traditional chair, a plastic exercise ball can challenge your student’s balance and keep him active.
- Sitting stools that wobble or rock back and forth (they typically look like tall plastic mushrooms) also can help keep your student on his toes.
- An inflatable sensory cushion – basically a blow up plastic cushion with little nubs on it – challenges your student to balance and stabilize himself and can help improve posture.
- Tying two exercise bands around the front legs of a chair can provide fidgety kids with an outlet and some exercise.
- Even simple disc chairs that that swivel side to side can enable some active movement.
- Some students are following the standup desk trend, using adjustable height desks that take them from grades 3 to 12 and beyond. Some have a tough, long-lasting plastic surface and some even have a swinging pendulum footrest bar to redirect fidgeting tendencies.
Taylor says organization is universally helpful: “Everyone including the parents knows where everything is.”
- Containers or caddies are the lynch pin of organization… and there’s a lot to choose from, typically affordable plastic boxes or bins. Taylor suggests thinking outside the lines a bit, such as using a plastic shower caddy or bucket coupled with smaller containers to carry homework supplies.
- An erasable plastic white board is an invaluable resource for organization in the homework station, particularly useful for creating and tracking an after-school check list. Taylor says it can really alleviate stress because everyone knows what needs to be done, and the student can track progress by erasing items when completed. They also are used today for creating math equations in class that can be readily checked by a teacher and then wiped clean.
- Stackable plastic in and out trays can play a role in the launching and landing pad design: a tray for parent stuff, a tray for unfinished homework assignments, a tray for finished homework that parents can review… whatever works for the student.
- Timers are handy for clarifying the parameters of homework time. Taylor suggests using timers to break up the tasks: homework for thirty minutes, update the after-school list, ten minute break time with the wifi turned back on, and repeat.
Nearly all of these supplies are readily available online, at variety stores, or even at discount dollar stores. And for the organizationally obsessed, there’s an entire store dedicated to “containers” and the like.
Teacher: “Show me a group of five.”
That’s a lot easier for some young students to do with a set of plastic beads or disks that can be “manipulated” by hand, rather than using written numbers, Taylor notes. (This can be particularly helpful for the students with an identified or unidentified learning difficulty – one-third of U.S. school kids.)
Magnetic plastic letters and numbers on a board are a classic learning device that allows young students to visually manipulate their written world. Even fidget spinners fit in this “manipulatives” category, allowing kids to redirect extra energy. Older students may benefit from an algebra scale that allows them to move numbers around to balance equations, rather than doing everything on paper.
What should students and parent avoid? Distractions. Loud noises such as a TV blaring in the background are obviously distractions. Many students find classical music in the background drowns out other sounds and helps them focus, says Taylor. (Think Mozart piano sonatas, not Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.)
But even a mismatched space can be a distraction and take your student off track, says Taylor. “If they’re highly distractible students and you place them in a nook that’s downstairs and out of the way, and you can’t hear or see them, and they’re really not using time management effectively and getting assignments completed… then I would say that’s a hindrance.”
While electronics are being incorporated earlier and earlier, students of any age will need the capability to toggle back and forth from online to offline, a learned skill that initially may require parental guidance. In addition, Taylor advises that various apps can disable certain aspects of the online experience to help students stay on task. And breaking up homework time (use that timer!) with a positive “distraction” – music, snack, brief wifi freedom – can help students make it through homework time without undue disruption.
Your six-year old will not always need you close by, mom and dad (sniff, sniff…).
- It may be helpful for your first grader’s homework nook to be nearby (say, the kitchen table), says Taylor, when she may need parental engagement.
- That may evolve in middle school to an alcove or desk near the living area where you can check in occasionally (and see what she’s actually doing online!).
- Your sixteen-year old likely will need near constant online access and may be happy sitting in a beanbag on her bedroom floor, with little parental supervision.
Nevertheless, the evolving space can continue to serve as the landing and launching pad… with minimal organizational aids.
Homework can be a slog, a point of contention, and a frustrating experience for you and your student. Or it can be a well-oiled machine that prepares your student for success. For most people, it’s likely to be something in between.
Regardless, educational experts like Taylor encourage parents to actively “learn how your student learns” and organize homework life accordingly. Wendy even runs “brain camps” to find out how a student learns and then translates that to school and homework life to enhance the student’s potential.
“It’s incredibly helpful for the student as they get older so they can advocate for their learning styles and needs, regardless if they have learning difficulties or challenges, so they can maximize what their potential can be.”
Good luck, parents…