Often one of the biggest challenges in your child’s day - and probably in yours - is doing homework. Some children are exhausted and need a snack or time to play before sitting down while others are better off finishing their homework first and playing afterward.
For a child who needs to move, requiring him/her to sit down to do homework as soon as he/she comes home may be counter-productive and result in your child seeking out movement inappropriately (such as fidgeting or getting up and down frequently), which will lengthen the homework process.
Children who have compelling sensory needs that they have managed to sublimate all day will most likely need a physical workout to feed their sensory systems- either to calm down and reorganize, or to raise their level of alertness to focus on homework. A 5-10 minute intense goal-oriented “workout” with a clear beginning and end is best for children who need vestibular, proprioceptive, and/or deep touch pressure input (see our Glossary in the Resources section for an explanation of terms). The trick is to help your child find a routine that works best for him/her. That will require and understanding of what he/she needs and systematically implementing strategies and evaluating their effectiveness. An occupational therapist will be your best source of information and guidance.
Here are some sensory tips and tricks that can be used during homework to help lengthen endurance for sitting and improve the ability to attend over time.
Theraband, resistive exercise band (http://www.theraband.com/) wrapped around the legs of the chair may provide enough resistance to help your child sit for longer periods of time and attend.
Rhythmic music in more bass tones is also organizing and grounding (for example, The Spirit of the Forest CD.
Vestibular activities can be energizing for a child who has low energy, flat affect, and needs to be up-regulated in order to focus and attend. Activities that invert the head are powerful tools. Try:
Resistive activities (proprioceptive activities) that incorporate “heavy work” and some movement (vestibular input) are “grounding” and organizing . Engaging in these types of activities can ease the transition to homework. Activities that provide high proprioceptive input with low vestibular input can include:
“Pushing out the wall”: Have your child stand facing the wall with two open palms on the wall. Take two small steps backward and challenge your child to imagine making the room bigger by pushing out the wall
Jumping on a trampoline for a set amount of time
Soft, gentle bouncing on an inflatable therapy ball
Avoid activities that are so compelling that it is difficult for your child to leave. For example, for some children swings are so over-arousing and disorganizing that they compromise rather than facilitate the homework process. Since each child has unique sensory needs and responses to sensory input, work with your child’s occupational therapist to figure out the best plan for your child.
Blog Written by Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR and Chaye Lamm-Warburg, DPS, OTR, Director POTS