12 Ways to Win the Homework Wars

One way to end the nightly skirmish over homework and studying: Let your child choose the plan of attack.

Boy with ADHD doing homework in kitchen while mom cooks
Boy with ADHD doing homework in kitchen while mom cooks

Talk with a parent raising an ADHD child and, sooner or later, the conversation will turn to the homework wars. “You can’t believe how long it takes for my son to finish homework,” she will say. “Will it ever get better? How is he going to handle the workload in high school if he can’t handle seventh grade?”

Worry – and war – no more. I have strategies to help students finish homework quickly. Don’t tell your child which strategy to use. Instead, let her choose the two, three, or four that work for her. Choice is a key factor for inspiring motivation.

> TAKE TEN. When you first sit down to do homework, take two minutes to put loose papers into the proper folders. Use the next eight minutes to reread notes and/or handouts from school. These 10 minutes will save you hours of searching and studying. You will quickly get into the habit of putting assignments where they belong. Reviewing your notes transfers information to long-term memory, saving hours of study time when test time comes around.

> REVIEW YOUR NOTES OUT LOUD. Your brain will process the information in three ways: through your eyes as you read it, your mouth as you say it, and your ears as you hear your own voice. This improves your focus and memory.

> CREATE POTENTIAL TEST QUESTIONS FROM YOUR NOTES. Writing down questions helps you learn better than reciting or memorizing information. The process forces you to think about the information at a higher level. Higher-level thinking helps you learn more things, thus shortening your study time.

> WORK IN 30-MINUTE BLOCKS. Set a timer and limit each study or work session to 30 minutes. Challenge yourself to finish a certain amount of work within that time. The adrenaline rush of the challenge will improve your focus.

> TAKE FIVE-MINUTE BREAKS. Both your body and brain need frequent refreshers. Set your timer for five minutes, then do jumping jacks, run in place, or stretch. Start another 30-minute block. This sounds simple, but these breaks will keep you sharp to get your work done faster. After two weeks, you will find that these five-minute blocks will significantly reduce procrastination.

> GO BEYOND ACADEMICS. Students with ADHD know that extracurricular activities are essential for their wellbeing. It is difficult to stay motivated if academic work is the only thing you get from school. Extra activities help you develop good friendships and maintain a positive attitude. Wanting to spend time with friends causes you to get homework done more quickly.

> SIP SUGAR WATER. When kids do homework, they should sip (not gulp) a drink with sugar in it, says Dr. Russell Barkley, author of Taking Charge of ADHD. Lemonade or sports drinks are good choices. These beverages deliver glucose to your brain, which is its only source of fuel. The more fuel you have, the more you will be able to work effectively and efficiently.

> READ YOUR TEXTBOOKS – JUST DON’T READ EVERY WORD. Textbooks are the best – and worst – tool for classroom learning. They are the best because they hold much important information; they are the worst because they are so dense that most students don’t want to open them. The key is to find a happy balance. Read through related sections of your textbook, but don’t read every word. Read headings, diagrams, and captions to photos and illustrations to get started. Set your timer and spend one 30-minute block reviewing a textbook chapter. Your enhanced comprehension will help you sail through your homework.

> DO “NON-READING” BEFORE CLASS. Whenever possible, review textbook chapters before teachers lecture about them in class. This process gives your brain enough knowledge to help you pay better attention in class. You can reduce study and homework time if you have a deeper understanding of the material.

> SKIP PROBLEMS THAT STUMP YOU. If you come to a homework question (or two or three) that you find confusing, skip it. Highlight or circle it and move on. The more you dwell on something you don’t understand, the more anxious you will get. The more anxious you get, the less energy you have for the rest of your homework. To avoid it, stick with what you can figure out. Take the hard problems to your teacher at the start of class and ask for help.

> MAKE YOUR PLANNER EASY TO USE. A lot of students who keep a planner forget to use it throughout the day. Always keep it in your main folder or binder, along with a pen in the binding. Use a binder clip to mark your current page. With these fixes, it should take only a few steps to access your planner and to write down assignments and reminders – and you won’t waste time later, calling friends to ask about homework.

> GET READY FOR SCHOOL…AT NIGHT. Most people, especially those of us with ADHD, are groggy in the morning, so it’s easy to forget things if you are trying to get organized. Instead, gather all of your folders, books, notebooks, and supplies, and put them in your bag before you go to sleep. Set your clothes out for the next day, too. Limit the decisions you have to make in the morning. When you don’t waste energy dealing with chaos in the morning, you have more resources to stay focused and calm throughout the day. The calmer your day, the more energy you’ll have to blast through homework in the evening.

SUSAN KRUGER, M.ED., is the author of Soar Study Skills: A Simple and Efficient System for Earning Better Grades in Less Time.