Why Homework is Such a Nightmare

Let me explain what’s behind your child’s homework nightmare. Like most problems, it’s not necessarily one thing, but likely a combination of factors. Here are some common, underlying issues that make what should be a 20-minute homework assignment into an hours-long nightmare assignment:

1. Slow Processing Speed. Some kids, while good thinkers, are also sluggish thinkers. They go through the same steps to solve a math problem or figure out what an author means as anyone else. However, they do it at a significantly slower speed. Because of their slow processing speed, they end up taking longer to complete their homework. And, like any of us, these kids get tired after a while. Once they hit this spot, they slow down even more due to flat out fatigue.

2. Slow Reading Speed. For many kids, it’s not that they can’t read at grade level, but that they read far too slowly. Their slow pace makes it hard to comprehend the material. It’s like listening to an audiobook paced at half the normal speed. Try it! It’s almost impossible to follow and understand. The same thing is happening to these kids. It takes far too much attention and effort to take in information from the text. For example, I’ve had middle school students who could only read at 90 words per minute (wpm). They were used to listening to speech at about 140 wpm (that’s an average talking rate), so their painfully slow reading intake rate of 90 wpm was a severe load to compensate for while they were trying to learn new, complex concepts in, say, science or history. Not surprisingly, it could take them up to five times longer to finish an assignment.

3. Poor Focusing Skills. Some kids are more easily distracted by what’s going on in their environment. Because of their wiring, they can only attend firmly and fully to tasks that are highly rewarding. Everyday environmental noises like a ding from a cell phone or someone talking in the next room are hard for them to filter out. Their brains find almost all sounds and movements salient or notable, so focusing on something that isn’t noisy or moving is nearly impossible. This isn’t an excuse to let them ignore school work. It’s an impetus to help them gain and improve focus.

4. Poor Working Memory. Working memory is your brain’s ability to store information for a few seconds, while doing something, and then recalling it so you can complete a task. Kids must rely heavily on their working memories to finish homework. Kids with weak working memories are prone to forget what they’re reading about or the next thought they wanted to write. Poor working memory slows down their homework completion rate to a snail’s pace and is profoundly frustrating.

5. Lack of Confidence. As kids grind out their homework day after day in an uphill battle against the issues above, they will eventually become aware of the difficulties they’re having and lose heart. “Why finish my homework?” they’ll think. “It’ll probably be wrong anyway.” Or, “I work harder than anybody else in my class, but I still get lousy grades. This is a stupid waste of time! Why should I do it?”

These are some common reasons kids struggle with homework. The good news is children's brains are very receptive to change.  When kids get help addressing their issues, the nightmare can shift back to an every-day, ordinary homework assignment.

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1 comment

  • Gosh, I’d never considered all of these areas. Thanks. Lots of food for thought here.


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