Setting Limits on Study Time
Ask your child's teacher how long she expects her students to spend on homework each night. One good rule of thumb is ten minutes for every grade in school — so a fourth grader may have forty minutes of homework, a sixth grader an hour. Your own child's teacher may expect something more or less. If the teacher gives you a time range that you feel is reasonable — tell her how much time your child is actually spending. The teacher may be stunned to learn that a routine assignment that she expected would take twenty minutes actually takes three hours to complete at your home.
Ask for Modifications
Explain what aspects of the assignments cause difficulty for your child, and ask if the assignments can be modified to better meet your child's abilities and eliminate sticking points. For example, some teachers may insist that children copy out the questions in a book as well as writing the answers. A modification to allow your child to provide answers only may immediately cut homework time in half.
A teacher may object to revising homework assignments on the grounds that it is not fair to other students. Remind the teacher that your child has a disability that makes it harder for him to do the same work as the other children. Fair doesn't mean giving every child the same thing, but giving every child what he needs. To be fair, you have to treat a child with learning differences differently.
An easy timesaver is simply to reduce the number or length of assignments. If there are thirty multiplication problems on the page, perhaps your child can do ten. If the teacher wants a five-paragraph essay, perhaps your child can write two paragraphs.
Set a Time Limit
Whatever modifications you can agree on, also include a time limit. Tell the teacher that you will monitor your child to make sure he puts in effort on homework, and if he is unable to complete the assignment, you will send a note indicating how much time was spent. Ask the teacher to accept partially completed homework if a minimum agreed time has been spent, to give your child credit for doing his homework, and to at least give your child a passing grade.
At home, make sure that your child has a place to do his homework that is free of distractions and where all materials he needs (pens, pencils, paper) are at hand. This should also be a place where you can observe and monitor your child to make sure he is focused on homework. If he is working with a computer, make sure you can see the screen; otherwise, you may find that your son has achieved record high scores with
Reach an agreement with your child about the total time to be spent on homework, including the time he will start and the time he must finish. Use a kitchen timer to keep track of how long your child has been working. If your child has a hard time sustaining attention or sitting still, break up the session with opportunities to relax, stretch, and move around; stop and restart the timer as needed to keep track of actual time worked.
When your child has worked for the requisite time, tell him that his time is up and you are ready to write the note to the teacher. If your child wants to continue working and he seems to be working at a good pace without frustration, allow him to do so — but remind him that he is allowed to quit at any time. However, do not allow your young child to work beyond the hour that is your family deadline for completing homework, usually the time when your child must start getting ready for bed. Give your child a warning about 10 minutes before that time, and suggest that he set his alarm early to complete work in the morning if he protests. Your child's bedtime should be age-appropriate, but it should also be firm.
Sleep is essential to learning. During sleep, information and experiences learned during the day become integrated into long-term memory. Thus, it is counterproductive for a child to forego sleep in order to study; he may finish the assignment, but he will weaken his ability to remember and understand the content. Rest is particularly important to children with dyslexia, as their performance deteriorates markedly under conditions of stress or fatigue.
There is one exception to the bedtime rule: If your child ever becomes actively engaged in a task that has always been difficult for him, don't fight success. There may come a time when something seems to click for your child, and for the first time in his life he becomes absorbed in reading a book or excited about a poem or a story he is writing. If and when this happens, rejoice. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” — don't get in the way of the inspiration when you see it. You can reinstate the rules later on.