Daniel Rhoads is a Clinical Fellow in Speech-Language Pathology who works in the Salem-Keizer School District. He is the father of two young children, one of which is a child with Autism. As a young kid, his family faced poverty, drug addiction and alcoholism. Attendance was always a challenge, and homework was never turned in on time, if ever. He attended five different schools as a result of homelessness and frequent moves. He graduated from Chemeketa’s (Oregon) alternative high school program in 2000 with a diploma and a cumulative GPA of 1.86. In 2004, Daniel enlisted in the Navy and served honorably for almost six years. With help from the G.I. Bill, he was able to graduate from Chemeketa Community College. He then transferred to Portland State University (PSU) as a Speech and Hearing Science Major where he graduated with honors, and was accepted to the graduate program at PSU the following year.
Homework has always been a part of the American school system. In most classrooms, teachers assign grade-level reading, writing and math with an expectation that all students complete the work on time, with support from parents if needed. For children with disabilities and their families, this is asking quite a lot. Many parents work diligently to support their children in achieving academic goals with good success. However, there are many who find that this task becomes a power struggle. This type of “learning environment” can quickly damage the most important relationship a kid has, the emotional bond with their parent or caregiver. The bond that reassures them that after a day of very challenging work - a safe, positive and loving environment awaits them.
The greatest fear of parents/caregivers in the realm of academics is that their child won’t make it to college. I’m here to tell you that they have every opportunity to grow into brilliant scholars. But first we must allow them to develop a positive attitude towards school, and even homework. We also shouldn’t undervalue their opportunity to learn about their world, family culture and develop peer relationships outside of school. These experiences are vital to whole-person development and will benefit them for the rest of their life.
While it seems a bit premature to worry about college for our very young learners, it’s a very valid concern. As such, there are still several positive and supportive ways that we can help our kids learn and grow without the struggle and strife. So here’s what I recommend…
Step 1: Foster your children’s interest early on in literacy materials. This could mean letting them mangle some board books as a toddler or color on pages in regular books. While this sounds ridiculous and expensive, it’s not. This allows children to develop an affinity towards the learning materials they will be expected to use and allows them important practice in manipulating them (turning pages, grasping the pencil/crayon, ect.). Cheap, “disposable” materials can found everywhere. The ads in your mailbox, garage sales and thrift stores are all great places to begin.
Step 2a: Provide early exposure to education within their natural environment. Morning shows, such as Sesame Street or Super Why offer a nice exposure to elementary concepts and also emphasize exposure to print which is essential for reading and spelling.
Step 2b: Select toys and games/apps that are educational. These should be of interest to the child but should also require some amount of critical thinking/interaction that is at or just above child’s ability.
Step 3: Keep learning fun. This is the most important thing to remember.
For the homework-ready student and family…
Where to Begin
Parents have access to the important information needed to begin working with their kids on homework. A quick call to the teacher will give you an idea of where to start and can possibly provide you with some materials. There are also several materials you can use in your home to support the visual learners (e.g., counting with beans, drawing letters in shaving cream, etc.).
Foster the Motivation to Learn Through Success
Students with disabilities have individualized family service plans/education plans (IFSP/IEPs) that are in place to accommodate them and allow for growth at their level. This includes the right to have homework modified or reduced to meet the student’s ability level. For example, a child who struggles to compose one or more paragraphs should not be sent home with an assignment to write a report. Bring this up at the next meeting if you’re interested.
Note: If you are currently experiencing this, remind your student’s teacher that he/she is on an Individualized education plan and politely ask that they individualize their workload to make it realistic and achievable. The child will feel more successful and willing to engage work if they know they can do it!
Play Your Position: The All-Star Parent
Creating an environment where children are loved and can relax is the most important thing a parent can do for their child’s development and learning. The presence of stable and supportive relationships in their life will carry them through hardships and support their resilience. As your child continues to grow and learn in this positive and successful fashion, they will become more independent in tasks and be more accepting of the failures.
If there’s any takeaway from this advice, it should be that it’s ok to say “no” to homework and be a parent. It’s also OK to work on homework with your child, as long the cardinal rule is not violated - it must be positive, fun, interactive and strengthen the relationship.
To end this post, I’ll present an original analogy:
Parents are like hammers and our children are the nails. We want to drive them in the right direction the first time, which takes some focus and skill. Sometimes we mess up and bend the nail. Sometimes what we’re trying to drive them into is too hard. When the nail becomes bent, we can’t drive it in any further, but we can straighten it and try again. We certainly can’t drive it by hitting it harder. That will destroy the nail.
All the best,
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