by Carol Burmeister, MA
Learning from Home: 4 Simple Strategies for Supporting Children Who Struggle with Getting Started
Does your child get overwhelmed when starting a task? Or do they struggle to complete their work? Read the article below for four proven strategies recommended by professionals- guaranteed to help your child start and finish their homework.
In recent weeks our children have gone back to school from spring break, but in a different way. With school districts closed across the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools have launched remote learning, which may include teacher-student interaction focused on engaging students in activities in their homes.
This can be a challenge for students who struggle with the lack of routine that comes with attending school on a day-to-day basis. In addition, students who lack coping strategies may have difficulty getting started on school assignments, activities or tasks that are expected to be completed in an environment other than the classroom.
As parents, we are called upon to support our children’s learning at home. What can we do when our child just can’t seem to get started on an assigned activity or task? What can we do if our child becomes overwhelmed if a learning activity is something unfamiliar or seems too complicated?
Although there are many strategies that will support children in getting started and remaining engaged when working on school assignments at home, this article describes four strategies that are universally helpful in supporting children who struggle with getting started on and/or completing work: first-then cards, chunking folders, highlighter tape, and checklists.
For a child who just can’t seem to get started on an activity or assignment, or who has difficulty switching between activities, using a visual support in the form of a card that indicates first-then (see Figure 1) may be useful. This visual strategy can reduce anxiety and frustration by helping a child make a transition or simply get started on an activity, as well as supporting children in completing non-preferred tasks, by having the first task followed by something that is favored. Depending on the age and the developmental level of the child, the activities can be visually represented using images or text. As a visual support, a first-then card:
- Is portable, so that it can be used in various areas of the home and community. Cards can be created ahead of time using paper or a digital format or created on the spot using sticky notes, a whiteboard, or other tool to display the information visually.
- Gives the child a visual representation by specifying what activity (or what part of an activity) must be completed first and what activity will follow.
To break assignments into small, clearly identifiable steps, you can provide a chunking folder to present material “one chunk at a time” to minimize distractions and help your child focus on a chunk of content.
These can be made from colored or manila-type file folders, with a series of flaps to cover content. Flaps are flipped over, one flap at a time, to reveal a chunk of content (see Figure 2).
The child completes a chunk of content and then turns the flap to reveal the next chunk of content. Another chunking strategy for children who have trouble focusing or are easily overwhelmed is to simply fold a worksheet in half so that the child attends to one half of the work at a time.
Chunking folders have been used effectively with students in kindergarten through high school in all subject areas. It is a simple, inexpensive strategy that works well to reduce visual distractions and lower anxiety levels when students are overwhelmed by content that they are expected to complete or master.
Use highlighter tape to draw attention to any learning experience – spelling patterns, similes and metaphors, vocabulary words within a larger field of text; key phrases in math word problems; or specific information in a text.
Highlight critical information on a worksheet, such as the directions, so that your child focuses on that “chunk” of content first, thereby gaining an understanding of what is expected before starting work (see Figure 3).
Assist your child in chunking math assignments by having him highlight the symbol (×, ÷, +, -) in a math problem before calculating the answer.
Chunking strategies for math include grouping problems by specific operation or concept, or by providing highlighter pens and allowing children the opportunity to “chunk” a worksheet by operation prior to starting.
Content can be chunked in any curricular area by highlighting important phrases, key words, or dates. Highlighter tape is easy to apply and remove and can be reused (see Figure 3.). It can also be written on and comes in assorted colors and multiple sizes.
A checklist can be an effective way to organize tasks so that a child knows exactly what needs to be done, how much work is expected to be completed, and when the work is done.
A checklist becomes a to-do list of the tasks that must be completed by providing a simple a check-off list for completed tasks. The checklist can be personalized to fit any task (see Figure 4) and becomes a memory tool that supports a wide variety of learning activities and responsibilities.
A checklist is a list of steps or tasks that may be printed on a piece of paper or a whiteboard, or stored electronically on a computer, tablet, phone, or other portable device. Parents can use these to provide a list with a check-off box that can be marked with a pencil/marker, as a manipulative on a magnetic whiteboard, or electronically using an app.
There are a variety of options that we can use to support children who struggle with getting started, remaining engaged, and following through on completing activities in an environment that differs from the school classroom.
Find additional strategies in a soon-to-be released book, co-authored by Carol Burmeister, MA, Sheri Wilkins, PhD, and Rebecca Silva, PhD, titled FLIPP 2.0: Mastering Executive Function Skills from School to Adult Life for Students with Autism.
Other suggested reading related to the above blog post:
About the Author
Carol Burmeister, MA, has served as a paraprofessional, general and special educator, program specialist, university instructor, and consultant in a wide variety of educational settings, which as provided her with the opportunity to work with students with unique learning challenges, including cognitive, behavioral, communication, and autism spectrum disorders. Carol has been instrumental in improving the lives of individuals with disabilities through involvement in a variety of organizations at the local, state, and national levels. With Sheri Wilkins, she worked as part of the University of California, Riverside, committee that developed a certificate program for teachers in the education of students with autism and served as a reviewer in the National Professional Development Center on Autism Disorders' 2014 update on evidence-based practices.
#4 Effective Ways to Help Your Child Finish Their Homework