Organize for Homework Angst

Organize for Homework Angst


Susan N. Schriber Orloff
Susan N. Schriber Orloff

By Susan N. Schriber Orloff

The last of your vacation pictures are uploaded. The book bag is purchased. The contents are new and in good order. The clothes are crisp. The after-school activities are signed up and paid for. The carpools are organized.

Life is good. So what is the source of the tension pervading your home? Homework!

It gets in the way of chilling. It is cumbersome. It is seemingly unending. It is an infringement on personal space and time. And it is scary — very, very scary.

Inside the book bag the parent sees science, math and spelling, while the child sees a disorganized jumble of expectations and a confrontation with personal shortcomings and potential failure.

Why would any intelligent person want to open up that Target-purchased, ego-busting monster?

The issue, from a parent’s and an occupational therapist’s viewpoint, is not how to get your child to do homework, but what are the obstacles to approaching the task in the first place.

Are our children that different from us in avoiding situations that are uncomfortable? If we are answering honestly, the response is often no.

After years of helping my own and other children with the homework crisis, I know that the most common denominator in this drama is organization. With the tasks properly organized, the question is no longer “How much should I help my child with his/her homework?” but “How can I support my child through this inescapable and sometimes painful process?”

With any project we must begin with the first step, and that is opening that carefully selected, color-coordinated health hazard you are constantly tripping over as you come into your home: the book bag.

I have presented the following suggestions at Learning Disabilities Association meetings, PTA events and occupational therapy seminars and in my book “Learning RE-Enabled”:

  • Get two nice-size boxes (liquor stores, office supply stores, etc.). They do not need lids.
  • Select with your child two contact paper rolls.
  • Ask your child to cover each box, using one contact paper design per box in a public room in your house (not a bedroom).
  • Go “shopping” around the house. Fill one box with No. 2 pencils, a pencil sharpener, pens, markers, colored pencils, Wite-Out, tape, glue sticks, plain paper, graph paper, notebook paper, a dictionary and a thesaurus, rulers, paper clips, a stapler, two or three file folders, and two or three pocket folders.
  • Put the first box aside and leave the second box empty.
  • Get the book bag and empty the entire contents into Box 2.
  • Set out the items in Box 1 in a public place away from the TV but not far from family life. If you eat at the kitchen table, set up at the dining room.
  • Make the items easily accessible for your child.
  • Put Box 2 on one side of your child’s chair and the book bag on the other.
  • Have your child select one item that needs to get done from Box 2 and put it into the book bag as it is completed. Continue until Box 2 is empty.
  • Put all the stuff from Box 1 back into the box.
  • Store both boxes near the selected work area until the next day.

The benefits of this plan are straightforward. The child is not isolated and can easily ask for help. Parents can peek to see whether help is needed and can monitor short breaks.

Homework should be done at the same time every night as much as possible.

Your child gets a rhythm and a ritual to fulfill obligations, solve problems, control frustration and manage time.

Siblings can support each other if homework snags arise and encourage each other to get it done because they are in the same boat. For an only child, doing homework while you answer the mail, do bills or read can be equally supportive. (Do not talk on the phone while sitting in the homework area or have your child work in front of the TV.)

Most of all, remember that it is your child’s homework, not yours. Your child is practicing skills that, if properly learned, will support them throughout their lives.

Occupational therapist Susan N. Schriber Orloff is the author of “Learning RE-Enabled” and the WIN Write Incredibly Now Program and is the CEO/executive director of Children’s Special Service. She can be reached through or at

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