Teach your child how to focus on homework with these easy tips, ideas, and strategies so you can stop the nagging and daily battles over getting it done!
You feel guilty, you should be looking forward to seeing your kid after a long day, but you know what’s about to walk through the door with them, and that it will be the same battle that ensues as every other day: homework.
And, you get it. Your kid has been learning all day and wants to do their own thing before they’re back at it tomorrow.
But, the homework has to get done and no matter what you’ve tried, your kid refuses or takes forever to get it done. It takes over your whole evening!
Does any of this sound familiar?
If so, then you’ve found yourself in the right place because you’re going to learn how to take a step back, think outside of the box, and help your child focus so they can get it done quickly and without any drama!
Why is Homework So Hard for Some Kids
Do you ever feel envious of the neighbor who’s kid finishes his homework in lightening speed as soon as he gets home from school? It’s hard not to when you’re in an epic battle or your 987th reminder to get it started.
There are lots of reasons kids have a hard time focusing. Let’s talk about a couple of the most common:
1. It could be a phase: As parents, we never really know the dynamic and possible pressure our kids could be feeling in a classroom during the day. They also could be going through a little bit of a rebellion phase! It’s possible that their difficulty will be short lived.
I remember when my oldest was in first grade, it was a huge battle because he was used to half day Kindergarten. He couldn’t express this to me at the time, but in hindsight I could see the transition to all day school with a strict teacher was about all he could handle at the time. Homework was too much for him. In the years that followed, he had no problem being that kid to get his homework done as soon as he walked in the door.
2. Sensory needs: We all have sensory needs or preferences. You know preferring dim lights or loving loud music. Or, maybe for your child, they love to move and be active? Maybe, they get overstimulated when lots of people are talking or there’s a lot of noise? If so, school itself can be hard. They’re struggling all day to keep their sensory systems regulated, and when they get home, they often need some other activities to balance them out.
That could be in the form of movement (jumping, running, bike riding, etc.). Or, it could mean a chance to retreat to a quiet soothing place. When homework is added to the equation, it can push them over the edge causing a total meltdown or shut down. Head over to Sensory Red Flags to learn more.
3. Poor attention: While sensory needs have a huge effect on a child’s ability to focus, some kids naturally have an active mind that has a hard time staying focused on one thing at time. There’s often a genetic component to this. Here are some tips for the child that has a hard time attending to one thing for a long time.
4. Homework is too hard: Some kids aren’t learning at the appropriate skill or age level. Some schools are ever pushing higher standards and with that means some kids aren’t getting the support they need. It’s always a good idea to think about how your child is managing their school work in general and if you need to have a talk with the teacher.
First Steps: How to Focus on Homework
The good news is that no matter what the reason is for your kid struggling to focus on homework, there are ways to help them. The actual “trick” or solution that helps will be different for every kid. But, there are a couple of general guidelines I want you to keep in mind before we get into some of those specific tricks:
- Think outside the box and be open to the idea that what might work for you, may not be the best solution for them.
- Be open to the idea that how and when homework gets done could change from day to day.
- Make a plan in advance with your child, talking about it when neither of you is upset. Ask them for their own solutions.
- Make homework a priority, and once your child gets settled after school, review your plan and make sure they acknowledge that plan.
- Follow through on what you decided. Your child may need some reminders or help in the beginning.
- Consider a reward or incentive that they can work towards for following the plan you created together. This doesn’t have to be a bought item, it could be as simple as choosing a movie for Friday night. Personally, I like to use this as a last step, if nothing else is working. Incentives can be extremely motivating for some kids though. Of course, avoid bribing in general or rewarding with food. You can read why in this Picky Eating Tip.
Getting Homework Done Right Away VS. Waiting til Later
Before we move on, we’ve got to talk about the two big options to getting homework done. Is it better to do homework first, so it’s out of the way? Or, is giving your child a break first, and doing homework later, better for them?
To be perfectly honest, both of these options can work. And, sometimes we have to put aside our own preferences as parents so that our child can do what works best for them. For instance, I love to have homework done right away. I don’t like keeping track of it through the evening. BUT, right now, that’s not what works well for my kids, and they don’t complain when we do it later. If I press them to get it done as soon as they come home though, I’ll have a lot of nagging and complaining to manage.
If you aren’t sure what your child will respond best to, step back and think about who your child is.
Do they seem to need a break after school?
Do you get resistance when you encourage them to get it done right away?
Is it challenging to transition them to another activity?
If you’re not sure, then test it out a few times. And, also remember that your child’s need for a break when they get home can change from day to day.
What’s most important is that you think about (or ask your child) if some quiet time or maybe some physical activity would help them BEFORE they do their homework. Either of those activities can be very calming and naturally promote focus!
Easy Ways That Help Improve Focus for Homework
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty here and talk about some specific ways to help your kids focus on their homework. You may want to write all these ideas down in a list or make flash cards that have one idea below on each card. Or, write them on popsicle sticks and place them in a jar. Direct your child to the cards, sticks, or list for inspiration when homework time comes.
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Other kids will like the routine of doing the same thing everyday, in that case, stick with what works! Here are some out of the box ideas to improve focus:
- Use a clipboard and do homework anywhere!
- Give your child the option to do homework while walking around (assuming it doesn’t get too messy), while relaxing on the couch, or sitting on the floor instead of in a chair. Not only does this feel fun, but the change in scenery can help with focus.
- Get moving with an obstacle course, jumping jacks, running, or a trampoline
- This isn’t possible with all forms of homework, but it can work really well for studying or practicing spelling words for instance. You can also set up an obstacle course with one of the obstacles being to stop and do a math problem or answer a section of their homework! Moving can be extremely beneficial for improving focus, especially for wiggly kids!
- Do homework in a fort or tent
- Throw a blanket over a table or let them climb into a pop up play tent to get their homework done!
- Have a snack, make a drink
- A crunchy, spicy, or sour drink or snack can make all the difference in getting homework done. Avoid high sugar snacks and drinks, so they don’t have sugar crash 20 minutes later and have no focus. Serving drinks through a straw, especially thick ones like a smoothie, is a great way to increase focus.
- Choose an organized spot
- Set up an area where your child can do their homework clutter free. For some kids, this can make a huge difference. Think about putting away loose papers, art and craft supplies, and toys to eliminate distractions.
- Get a special homework pen/pencil/eraser
- Having a special pencil to use ONLY for homework can help some kids sit down and get it done. It’s got to be extra special though. My kids have gotten these smelly pencils before, and they come in their own case making them feel extra-important.
- Be available
- Kids can get distracted or get confused when working through their homework. While you definitely want to encourage independence, you also want to be around for any questions, and probably want to be monitoring them in case they start to show signs of being stuck and aren’t asking for help!
- Make sure they’re seated well
- Your child may focus best while seated at the table or a desk. But, often adult chairs are too big and make it difficult for kids not to fall all over the place or get up a hundred times. If you’re child isn’t seated with their feet on the floor and their arms well above the table top, you may need to get a booster seat or an old phone book for them to sit on top of.
- Sit on a wobble cushion or yoga ball
- If you already have an appropriate chair for your kid and they’re still super wiggly, giving them a small inflated disc cushion to sit on can allow them to get small movements while they stay seated. A large yoga ball is also an option. They can bounce while they do homework! Both options can have a dramatic effect on focus for some kids. Click here to read everything you need to know about wobble cushions.
- Eliminate distractions
- It seems obvious, but sometimes we overlook the most obvious reasons that focusing can be difficult. Is the TV on? Is there noise from someone else watching a tablet, playing, or listening to distracting music? Take a moment to step back in your environment and look and listen for anything that could possibly be stealing away any of your child’s focus. What you realize might surprise you!
- Be careful with screen time
- Many kids are wired AFTER screen time, even if it’s only 20 minutes. While it helps some kids relax, your child may have a hard time moving from 30 minutes on the tablet to doing homework. There body will want to get up and move first!
- Play music
- This will help some kids and make focusing harder for others. You’ll have to experiment and not be afraid to try different types of music, anything from classical to rock could be helpful. Most often rhythmical instrumental music works though!
No matter what tricks work for your child, remember that giving them a chance for physical activity or some quiet calming time before homework can make all the difference in their attention and focus. Have you found any homework tricks that have worked in your home?
Tell me in the comments below. I LOVE to hear from you and get more ideas!
Want to Learn More About Sensory?
I mentioned “sensory issues” a few times in this post. That may be a totally new concept to you, but it’s a major factor for a lot of kids with poor focus. If you’re wondering if your child has any other sensory red flags you could be missing, you’ll want to grab this popular printable checklist. I’ll send it right to your inbox!
More Calming and Focusing Activities
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.