How to Help with Homework

You’re not looking for right answers to worksheet work, you’re looking for right answers that enable your child to learn in the way they learn best.

Excerpt from the book Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. In this chapter Sarah, mom of Charlie, has had a car accident and has trouble with some cognitive tasks. She is home now and sitting with her son to get his homework done. Her son has recently been diagnosed with ADHD.

…within seconds, the most noticeable thing he’s doing isn’t reading or writing. He’s moving. He’s wriggling all over the seat of how chair, rocking back and forth, up on his knees, back onto his bottom, swinging his legs.

Before my accident, I always entered Charlie’s homework process several hours in, after he’d already been beaten by it. BY then, his body was a listless lump and resembled nothing of this chaotic, undulating bundle of energy I’m witnessing now.

“You’re going to fall out of your chair. Sit Still.”


His inner perpetual motion machine is quieted for a minute, but then something twitches, and all gears are up and running again in full force.

“Charlie, you’re moving.”

“Sorry,” he says again and looks up at me, his gorgeous eyes wondering if he’s about to lose another marble.

(They have 6 marbles in a mug that represent 10 minutes of game time. He loses marbles for displaying behaviours they are trying to help him acquire.)

But I can see that he isn’t consciously acting out or disobeying. I’m not going to punish him for fidgeting. But it’s clear that he can’t devote his mental energy to the words on the page when so much of it is ricocheting through his body.

“How about we get rid of your chair? Can you do your homework standing up?” I ask.

He pushes the chair back and stands, and I notice the difference immediately. He’s tapping one of his feet on the floor, as if he’s keeping time with a stopwatch, but the rest of his squirming is gone. And he’s answering the questions.

“Done!” he says, tossing his pencil down. “Can I go play Mario now?”

“Hold on, hold on,” I say, still reading the third question. Jane scored 2 goals in the first game and 4 goals in the second game. How many goals did she score in all? I check his answer.

“Charlie, the first three answers are all wrong. Go back.”

He groans and stomps his feet.

“See, I’m stupid.”

“You’re not stupid. Don’t say that. Do you think I’m stupid?”


“Right. Neither of us is stupid. Our brains work in a different way than most people’s do, and we have to figure out how to make ours work. But we’re not stupid, okay?”

“Okay,” he says, not really believing in me at all.

“Okay. Now why did you go so fast?”

“I dunno.”

“You have plenty of time to play Mario. You don’t have to rush. Let’s slow down and do one problem at a time together. Read the first problem again.”

I read it again too. Billy has 2 pennies in his left pocket and 5 pennies in his right pocket. How many pennies does Billy have in all? I look over at Charlie, expecting him to be looking back at me, poised and ready for my next instruction, but instead he is still reading. And his eyes appear to be focused three-quarters of the way down the page.

“Charlie, is it hard to concentrate on one question at a time when there are so many on the page?”


“Okay, I have an idea. Go get the scissors.”

I draw a horizontal line under each question with Charlie’s pencil. He returns ot the table with the scissors, the very thing I asked him for, which is a significant victory all on its own.

“Cut each question out along the lines I drew.”

He does.

“Now pile them like a deck of cards and hand them to me.”

I hand him question number seven first. He taps his foot and reads

“Eight?” he asks.

“You got it!”

His face lights up, I’d give him a high five to congratulate him, but I don’t want to distract him or lose momentum. I turn over another card. He reads it and counts in a whisper as he presses his fingers one at a time on the table.


With no other words tempting his attention, he sees only the one question, and it doesn’t get jumbled up with any other information. I hand him all ten “question cards”, and he gets all ten right. We’re done in about fifteen minutes.

“That’s it, Charlie, no more cards. You did them all.”

“I’m done?”

“Yup. Awesome job.”

Jubilant pride skips along every inch of his face. It strikes me that he looks like me.

“Can I go play Mario?”

“You can. But you know what? That was so awesome, I think you earned three marbles back.”
“I did?”

“Yup. You can pay for a whole hour if you want.”

“Woohoo! Thanks, Mom!”

He barrels out of the kitchen and the barrels back in.

“Hey, Mom? Can you tell Ms. Gavin about the question cards and standing up? I want to do all my work that way.”

“Sure, honey.”


Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova: Chapter 21, pages 226 – 229.

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