Homework Help for ADHD Children

ADHD and Homework. These very words may conjure images of struggle and suffering in many a child and parent. This is especially true for the ADHD child. After spending hours and hours in school, struggling to concentrate, focus and often to behave, coming home to homework – well, that can be asking too much. For the ADHD child, just getting the homework assignment copied down correctly and choosing the right books to take home can be an awesome task. If the homework makes it home at all, many assignments are misplaced, forgotten and just don’t get done.  Imagine all the energy that the ADHD child must use to understand the various assignments, and then to focus on the boring task of getting it completed after a long school day!

Why is Homework So Important?

You may wonder why your ADHD child needs to do homework at all. Educators agree that homework provides many opportunities for ADHD children to learn and practice the academic skills that they may not have the time to acquire in the school setting. Homework helps a child in the following areas: 1) review of material learned in school; 2) preparation for future class learning; 3) extension homework, which helps the child take general concepts and place them into unfamiliar contexts; and 4) creative assignments, which requires the child to take the known and produce something new and original.[1] These areas are so vital to learning, that effectively assisting children with ADHD and homework can help them to engage more actively in their school work. What the classroom setting cannot provide due to the limitations of teacher time and other distractions, homework can successfully accomplish. This is where parents can really pitch in and assist their ADHD child. The key is to get the struggle and suffering out of the equation by developing homework help uniquely designed for your ADHD child.

Let’s Get Organized

Loose papers, half-written assignments, book bags in disarray – this is most often what a parent faces when trying deal with ADHD and homework. Helping your ADHD child become more organized can be the most important step in achieving homework success. Firstly, it’s important to check and help your child organize their belongings on a daily basis, including backpacks, folders, and even pockets. Use part of homework time to help teach your ADHD child how to clean out old useless items from their backpacks. These items often distract the child, and hinder their ability to find what they need.

Once you have done this, check what is missing and then go shopping with your child to pick out school supplies that are appropriate for organizing homework. Depending on your child’s age, you may need folders, binders, and/or color-coded dividers to help them organize and file their papers. It may be helpful to buy different colored folders, notebooks, book covers and even colored pens. Then match each color to a particular subject. Buy a separate closable folder to use for homework papers. This folder will provide your child with a consistent place to store the homework papers. Then you must teach them how to file and organize themselves What may seem obvious to you is not at all obvious to the ADHD child. Your child can then store these folders in his or her backpack and sort them out each day with your help.   

Here are some other tips for helping to organize your ADHD child. Keep in mind age-appropriate tasks:

  • Speak to the school about obtaining an extra set of textbooks and other materials to keep  at home.
  • Help your child learn to make and use checklists, crossing items off as they are accomplished.
  • Help your child learn to write down homework assignments in an assignment book and then check off completed assignments. Teach your child to break down long-term assignments and projects into smaller parts, writing each part into the assignment book. This can lessen anxiety when they see that they don’t need to do so much at once.
    • Help your child estimate how long it will take to complete each given assignment and help them plan their daily schedule accordingly. Include in this daily schedule study time for tests and other projects. This will help them learn to divide homework and study time effectively.
    • Help your child learn to plan ahead. We all know that it’s much more effective to start working on major assignments or reviewing for major tests well ahead of time rather that cramming the night before.

How Can the School Help Children with ADHD and Homework?

As a parent, you have a great deal of ability to work with teachers in helping your ADHD child with homework. Don’t underestimate how much teachers welcome and appreciate the involvement of parents in the learning process. Meet with your child’s teachers to discuss homework expectations. If appropriate, teachers can lessen the amount of homework assigned to your ADHD child and also give them extended time to complete assignments. This can be done in a way that is not noticeable to other children.

Here are other ideas that you as a parent, and the teacher can implement to make homework a success for your child:

  • Ask the teacher to say the homework assignment out loud in addition to writing down all the steps necessary to complete each assignment.
  • Give assignments one at a time to avoid work overload.
  • Increase the quality instead of the quantity of time spent on homework:
  • Give fewer and shorter homework assignments.
  • Allow the child to stop practicing an activity once he/she has demonstrated the mastery of that particular skill.
  • Reduce assignments into manageable sections with specific due dates.
  • Give the child only the amount of work that can be done at one sitting.
  • Have the teacher check the child’s assignment notebook at the end of class to make sure it is accurate. If possible, try to get a schedule of the week’s assignments so you can have them at home as a backup.
    • For the ADHD child with poor handwriting, which is very common, reduce the need or amount of handwriting required.[2]
  • Set up a homework procedure at school: establish a place where the student can easily find his or her finished homework and pick an appropriate and consistent time to hand in work to the teacher.

Let’s Sit Down to do Homework!

After you have helped your ADHD child get organized (and this may be required on a daily basis) and become a partner with the teachers in establishing homework expectations, now it’s time to sit down and provide homework help!

Establishing a Set Homework Routine for your ADHD Child

Most children come home from school and need to unwind for a bit, be it with a snack and a book or to go outside and play with their friends. For the ADHD child this is especially true. You as the parent can figure out what time works best for your child to do homework and then create a daily routine that will support this decision. Stick to this routine so your child knows what to expect. If your child is on medication, it must be taken into consideration.

Children with ADHD may not be able to sit still for a long periods of time. You can give your child breaks after a predetermined amount of time so that your child can stretch or do brief exercises before resuming homework.  For example, set a timer for 15 minutes for a younger child, and allow a 5-minute break to stretch, run around, or play with a pet. The child’s work time in shorter segments will be more productive.

Designated Area for Homework

Next, you need to locate a designated area for your ADHD child to do homework. The homework area must be free from distractions, but close enough so that you can monitor and provide homework help as needed.  Also, make sure that your child has all the materials at hand. A child with ADHD who has to wander off to find a pencil will have a difficult time settling down to concentrate again.

It is also important to consider the noise level. Some children do best in quiet. Some do better with a little background noise or music. You and your child can work out which environment is most productive and then stick to it. Make the homework routine predictable and stress-free. After homework is done, check it over. Then help your child put the completed assignment in the homework folder and return all appropriate items to the book bag, zipping it up securely when done.

Positive Feed-Back

Positive feedback is extremely useful in trying to provide homework help to your ADHD child and help them remain relaxed. Check your child’s work often and compliment their efforts. Remember to point out the things your child is doing well and give reward points whenever you can. For example, it is important to tell your child the value of accuracy over speed and point out   their efforts rather than what they haven’t yet completed. These comments will motivate the child to continue to do try to more.

Some Additional ADHD Homework Help Strategies

  • Allow your child to stand if sitting makes him/her jittery. Moving around may help your child to concentrate. Use a square of tape on the floor to make a box for his/her feet if he wanders too much.
  • Provide textures to aid in productivity. Attach some adhesive velcro strips (soft side) to the desk for the child to rub his/her hand on, or make some stress balls of balloons filled with flour, rice, or sugar for the child to play with while they are thinking.
  • Studies have shown that certain scents may aid in concentration. Try to experiment with basil, pine, peppermint, or citrus scents to see if any of these help.
  • Keep your child’s mouth busy. For some children, chewing gum, or snacking on something crunchy like an apple or a cracker can help productivity. [3]

Mom’s Take:

ADHD and homework doesn’t have to cause anxiety and stress in either child or parent anymore. An ADHD child can be successful and productive during homework time with the homework help that their parents can provide. When you teach your child organizational skills, and combine that with teacher input and cooperation – and of course a positive and routine homework environment — successful homework help can produce enormous results both at home and at school.

[1]Homework success for children with ADHD: a family-school intervention program, by Thomas J. Power, James L. Karustis, Dina F. Habboushe

[2] Andries, Darcy, Homework Help for ADD, Suite101.com, August 27, 2008.

[3] Wilson, Laura, Homework Help for a Child with ADD, Suite 101.com, Feb. 22, 1010.