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Small Steps, Big Results

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

“How do you eat an elephant?” The answer to this smile-inducing question usually brings relief - “One bite at a time!” The same can be said for making a molehill out of the seeming mountain of tasks a child with dyslexia must begin each day.

Getting started with tasks is often difficult for children with dyslexia. Let’s spend a little time considering some common questions that may come up as barriers to beginning jobs.

What am I supposed to do?

Perhaps the child is not quite sure of the directions for a project. Asking them to talk through the steps they need to follow to complete the undertaking may help. Show the child how to refer to the directions or grading rubric. If the job is complex, a checklist of steps to complete may provide a sense of accomplishment as progress toward completion is made.

Which assignment should I do first?

There are several ways to prioritize tasks. The reality of due dates is usually the most obvious one. Things due tomorrow must be done now. If several exercises are due on the same day and need to be completed the same evening, first help the child gather all the materials needed to finish each one and stack them separately with the materials. This prevents procrastination-by-materials-searching later on. Work on one assignment at a time until it is completed, then move the completed assignment into the “done stack” or directly into the backpack. Your child may want to do the shortest or least objectionable assignment first, or they may prefer to complete the most difficult one first. Either way is fine, so long as work continues to move forward.

How will this take?

Kids like to see that there is an endpoint to their evening’s homework. If you are a teacher, consider writing an estimate of how long you expect the assignment to take on the top of the paper. Also include a “not to exceed” time, so parents know when a child should stop working on that assignment and move to the next one. If you are a parent, ask your child’s teacher to help you out with time estimates. This sets time expectations and helps parents manage evening study time effectively.

What could I do to help the child in wanting to start?

As a teacher or parent, you have probably invested a good deal in the ideal work area, good supplies for completing assignments, and everything you can think of to help the child get going. Sometimes a psychological tactic of a small step in preparation is a great way to motivate a child to get going. In the same way setting up the coffee pot before turning in, or choosing tomorrow’s outfit when you undress for bed helps your morning routine, a little prep for evening homework can smooth the transition for the child too.

If you are a teacher, consider helping the child get one or two problems or questions

successfully completed before they head home. This provides a go-by to refer to once

they are home and also allows you to clarify things you see are mirky once the child

starts working on the homework assignment.

If you are a parent, consider brainstorming with your child some things which could be

done in the morning to give a jumpstart to evening homework. Sharpened pencils, a

snack already in place, or simply a cleared workspace all speak of the expectation that

once the child is home, assignments will be tackled. Consider setting up a workspace

for yourself near your child’s. This way you can complete your own tasks in close

enough proximity to answer questions, yet you are not hovering - which speaks to an

expectation that the child will need help to be successful.

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