In my experience, a dyslexic child is an exhausted child after school each day. Homework is a minefield of tiredness, frustration, avoidance, and even anger. It’s a tough ask for a kid to struggle with comprehension, focus, and frustration during the day, then to come home at night and repeat the process. No wonder there are so many melt downs!
And as a parent, how do we balance our child’s learning, self-esteem, and energy? How do we make sure they have time left to learn the things that make them fizz, or even just be a kid?
Here are some of my homework navigation tips:
Refresh and refuel. Set aside a regular time for homework every day. Make sure they’ve had some time to relax or decompress first, and feed them a good snack. I’ve found that foods high in protein (yoghurt, hummus, a ham sandwich, cheese) get better result than those higher in sugar or carbohydrates (even fruit can send their levels askew at this time of the day).
Relaxed and quiet. The ideal environment is a quiet space where your child can be near (or with you) as they tackle their homework. Realistically, this is highly dependent on your family makeup. With three young kids, our homework environment can be a nightmare of competing attention and annoying siblings, so we just do our best to muddle through. We set up a timetable for computer usage, and use headphones to combat some noise. Then we split the other two up, with one at the table and another at the kitchen bench. That way I can cook dinner, but still be close enough to help.
Plan and organise. The first task should always be to look at the homework and break it into smaller chunks. Dyslexic students are often overwhelmed at the size of a task. Put the tasks into a logical order, and if applicable highlight the must-do’s vs the can-do’s. Make sure you factor in any afterschool activities that will compete for their time.
Reading. This is the number one priority for primary school aged children. It is my must do (without fail) every night. However, some nights they are just exhausted.
While the ability to decode words is important, most kids will get there eventually, especially if they get some intervention or help. Instead focus mostly on comprehension.
If they are struggling, read through their book with them first, pointing to the words as you read them. Give them time to look at each page, and discuss what is happening.
Reading comprehension is the most important aspect of reading. If they can’t understand what is being written, how can they learn from it?
Reading enjoyment is also very important for the longer term, so being gentle with them while they struggle is essential.
Math. Math is a subject where repeated practice will result in mastery, so it is also important homework. Distractable kids, or those left feeling confused may not have completed their worksheets at school, and are on a path to further confusion. On the other hand, math whizzes will gain confidence from tackling tasks where they feel confident.
If your child is struggling, try and work out what the problem is. Observe them solving a problem, and ask them to explain the process to you. If they can’t explain what they are doing, they may not have a good understanding. If you can’t help them, contact their teacher and explain where you think there may be a gap (they are often too embarrassed to say they don't understand).
Help them practice their maths facts every day, in different ways. Many dyslexic brains can appear to understand in the evening, and then ‘poof’, it’s all gone the next day. Get them to count out money, vegetables for dinner, share out treats with siblings, or make them posters.
Once the knowledge seems solid, make sure you cover it at least once a week. My own children are now pretty good with their times tables, but if I slack off and don’t take them through some flash cards at least once a month, the skill apparently disappears!
Show them why maths is meaningful and useful. If a dyslexic brain can’t see the big picture, they will often tune out.
Spelling - Try and get your child’s teacher to reduce their spelling list down to 5 or 6 words a week. Longer lists may be able to be learned, but often the knowledge disappears the next week. If your child is getting tutoring for spelling, talk to their school teacher about using the same word list. Otherwise, some tips for learning words include:
Try tapping out a rhythm for the words. Have them tap or drum the rhythm and letters back to you.
Use mnemonics if the going is tough with a word.
If they love to draw, have them draw the word.
Say the words out phonetically. My children can remember be-a-u-ti-ful (bee-a-you-ti-full) or ple-as-e (plee-as-ee), much more easily than just the order of the words.
Get them to practice, but understand that spelling often follows reading as much as two years later. With all of the spell checks and other technology helps these days, I believe it’s more important to put a greater focus on reading.
Other challenges. From time to time your child will bring home other homework. It’s your job to work out what is contributing to their learning, and what is just ‘make work’. I challenge my children to do the things they will actually learn from, and just leave the rest.
Allow them to access their learning through the Internet. If they can type, spell and read well enough, teach them to use Google.
If they can’t access learning through reading, sit with them and find appropriate YouTube clips that will answer their questions.
Use assistive technology. For their future, knowing how to use Powerpoint or Slides for designing a poster is more important than hand drawing it (unless of course they love art and drawing!) Knowing Word or Docs is more important than being able to copy out a sentence. Homework can (and should if you are thinking of the environment) be e-mailed or uploaded to a school server. For more information on my top tips for assistive technology, keep an eye out for my future blog “Top Tips for getting the best out of your computer.”