School Homework Routine

Here is the best guide to helping kids do homework successfully that we’ve seen, published by the National Association of School Psychologists on their website, Our thanks to NASP for sharing it with us.

There are two key strategies parents can draw on to reduce homework hassles. The first is to establish clear routines around homework, including when and where homework gets done and setting up daily schedules for homework. The second is to build in rewards or incentives to use with children for whom “good grades” is not a sufficient reward for doing homework.

Homework Routines

Tasks are easiest to accomplish when tied to specific routines. By establishing daily routines for homework completion, you will not only make homework go more smoothly, but you will also be fostering a sense of order your child can apply to later life, including college and work.

Step 1. Find a location in the house where homework will be done. The right location will depend on your child and the culture of your family. Some children do best at a desk in their bedroom. It is a quiet location, away from the hubbub of family noise. Other children become too distracted by the things they keep in their bedroom and do better at a place removed from those distractions, like the dining room table. Some children need to work by themselves. Others need to have parents nearby to help keep them on task and to answer questions when problems arise. Ask your child where the best place is to work. Both you and your child need to discuss pros and cons of different settings to arrive at a mutually agreed upon location.

Step 2. Set up a homework center. Once you and your child have identified a location, fix it up as a home office/homework center. Make sure there is a clear workspace large enough to set out all the materials necessary for completing assignments. Outfit the homework center with the kinds of supplies your child is most likely to need, such as pencils, pens, colored markers, rulers, scissors, a dictionary and thesaurus, graph paper, construction paper, glue and cellophane tape, lined paper, a calculator, spell checker, and, depending on the age and needs of your child, a computer or laptop. If the homework center is a place that will be used for other things (such as the dining room table), then your child can keep the supplies in a portable crate or bin. If possible, the homework center should include a bulletin board that can hold a monthly calendar on which your child can keep track of longterm assignments. Allowing children some leeway in decorating the homework center can help them feel at home there, but you should be careful that it does not become too cluttered with distracting materials.

Step 3. Establish a homework time. Your child should get in the habit of doing homework at the same time every day. The time may vary depending on the individual child. Some children need a break right after school to get some exercise and have a snack. Others need to start homework while they are still in a school mode (i.e., right after school when there is still some momentum left from getting through the day). In general, it may be best to get homework done either before dinner or as early in the evening as the child can tolerate. The later it gets, the more tired the child becomes and the more slowly the homework gets done.

Step 4. Establish a daily homework schedule. In general, at least into middle school, the homework session should begin with your sitting down with your child and drawing up a homework schedule. You should review all the assignments and make sure your child understands them and has all the necessary materials. Ask your child to estimate how long it will take to complete each assignment. Then ask when each assignment will get started. If your child needs help with any assignment, then this should be determined at the beginning so that the start times can take into account parent availability. A Daily Homework Planner is included at the end of this handout and contains a place for identifying when breaks may be taken and what rewards may be earned.

Incentive Systems

Many children who are not motivated by the enjoyment of doing homework are motivated by the high grade they hope to earn as a result of doing a quality job. Thus, the grade is an incentive, motivating the child to do homework with care and in a timely manner. For children who are not motivated by grades, parents will need to look for other rewards to help them get through their nightly chores. Incentive systems fall into two categories: simple and elaborate.

Simple incentive systems. The simplest incentive system is reminding the child of a fun activity to do when homework is done. It may be a favorite television show, a chance to spend some time with a video or computer game, talking on the telephone or instant messaging, or playing a game with a parent. This system of withholding fun things until the drudgery is over is sometimes called Grandma’s Law because grandmothers often use it quite effectively (“First take out the trash, then you can have chocolate chip cookies.”). Having something to look forward to can be a powerful incentive to get the hard work done. When parents remind children of this as they sit down at their desks they may be able to spark the engine that drives the child to stick with the work until it is done.

Elaborate incentive systems. These involve more planning and more work on the part of parents but in some cases are necessary to address more significant homework problems. More complex incentives systems might include a structure for earning points that could be used to “purchase” privileges or rewards or a system that provides greater reward for accomplishing more difficult homework tasks. These systems work best when parents and children together develop them. Giving children input gives them a sense of control and ownership, making the system more likely to succeed. We have found that children are generally realistic in setting goals and deciding on rewards and penalties when they are involved in the decision-making process.

Building in breaks. These are good for the child who cannot quite make it to the end without a small reward en route. When creating the daily homework schedule, it may be useful with these children to identify when they will take their breaks. Some children prefer to take breaks at specific time intervals (every 15 minutes), while others do better when the breaks occur after they finish an activity. If you use this approach, you should discuss with your child how long the breaks will last and what will be done during the breaks (get a snack, call a friend, play one level on a video game). The Daily Homework Planner includes sections where breaks and end-of-homework rewards can be identified.

Building in choice. This can be an effective strategy for parents to use with children who resist homework. Choice can be incorporated into both the order in which the child agrees to complete assignments and the schedule they will follow to get the work done. Building in choice not only helps motivate children but can also reduce power struggles between parents and children.

Developing Incentive Systems

Step 1. Describe the problem behaviors. Parents and children decide which behaviors are causing problems at homework time. For some children putting homework off to the last minute is the problem; for others, it is forgetting materials or neglecting to write down assignments. Still others rush through their work and make careless mistakes, while others dawdle over assignments, taking hours to complete what should take only a few minutes. It is important to be as specific as possible when describing the problem behaviors. The problem behavior should be described as behaviors that can be seen or heard; for instance, complains about homework or rushes through homework, making many mistakes are better descriptors than has a bad attitude or is lazy.

Step 2. Set a goal. Usually the goal relates directly to the problem behavior. For instance, if not writing down assignments is the problem, the goal might be: “Joe will write down his assignments in his assignment book for every class.”

Step 3. Decide on possible rewards and penalties. Homework incentive systems work best when children have a menu of rewards to choose from, since no single reward will be attractive for long. We recommend a point system in which points can be earned for the goal behaviors and traded in for the reward the child wants to earn. The bigger the reward, the more points the child will need to earn it. The menu should include both larger, more expensive rewards that may take a week or a month to earn and smaller, inexpensive rewards that can be earned daily. It may also be necessary to build penalties into the system. This is usually the loss of a privilege (such as the chance to watch a favorite TV show or the chance to talk on the telephone to a friend).

Once the system is up and running, and if you find your child is earning more penalties than rewards, then the program needs to be revised so that your child can be more successful. Usually when this kind of system fails, we think of it as a design failure rather than the failure of the child to respond to rewards. It may be a good idea if you are having difficulty designing a system that works to consult a specialist, such as a school psychologist or counselor, for assistance.

Step 4. Write a homework contract. The contract should say exactly what the child agrees to do and exactly what the parents’ roles and responsibilities will be. When the contract is in place, it should reduce some of the tension parents and kids often experience around homework. For instance, if part of the contract is that the child will earn a point for not complaining about homework, then if the child does complain, this should not be cause for a battle between parent and child: the child simply does not earn that point. Parents should also be sure to praise their children for following the contract. It will be important for parents to agree to a contract they can live with; that is, avoiding penalties they are either unable or unwilling to impose (e.g., if both parents work and are not at home, they cannot monitor whether a child is beginning homework right after school, so an alternative contract may need to be written).

We have found that it is a rare incentive system that works the first time. Parents should expect to try it out and redesign it to work the kinks out. Eventually, once the child is used to doing the behaviors specified in the contract, the contract can be rewritten to work on another problem behavior. Your child over time may be willing to drop the use of an incentive system altogether. This is often a long-term goal, however, and you should be ready to write a new contract if your child slips back to bad habits once a system is dropped.

Click here to download the homework planner and incentive sheet.

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Make Homework Routine

test_adminDecember 4, 2010ADHD, InterventionsComments Off on 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.


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


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’s Family Health Guide on ADHD and The High Desert Pulse, Summer/Fall 2010, When Ritalin Works.

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