"Homework" is certainly a word that brings up a many memories in most people!

When a child has a chronic illness, all of the typical homework concerns are combined with the challenges of having to miss a lot of school and having more homework than usual. The student with a chronic illness not only has more homework than usual, but also might be tired and not feeling well.

Now add in the fact that everyone is making lots of trips to and from the doctor and hospital plus the family must balance work and the activities of other children, and homework may become an insurmountable challenge in a family with a chronically ill child.

Do not despair!

There are many tactics that can improve the student's ability to keep ahead of the homework load and the parent's ability to remain sane.

Always remember that the student's homework is not the parent's responsibility. The parent is responsible for many things:  tracking daily medication schedules, ensuring all appointments are kept, all treatments plans are followed, dietary needs are met and all vital data(such as blood sugars and peak flows) are recorded. Nowhere on that list is completion of homework. While the student certainly needs the ability to complete school tasks, they must remain the responsibility of the student.

Communication leads to balance

Individual assistance can make a difference.

One of the challenges of having a chronic illness and continuing school is finding balance. It is essential to keep up with school work. It is, however, equally important to continue to have a life. With good, open communication between the student, parent and school staff, it is possible to accomplish both.

It can be difficult to gauge whether the amount of homework is appropriate. A good rule of thumb is 10 minutes of homework per night for each year of school. For example, a child in the third grade should have about 30 minutes of homework each night. If a third-grader needs four hours to complete assigned homework, a school conference is needed. Excessive homework will cause unnecessary stress for the student and the entire family.

For high-school students, the challenge becomes more intense because six or seven individual teachers assign homework independently. Encourage the high-school student to approach teachers about establishing realistic homework expectations. To encourage growth and maturity, these negotiations should be left to the student. However, the parent must not allow the homework load to become overwhelming. The parent must intervene before the student feels there is no way to catch up.

Most teachers are very willing to work with the student once they understand the needs and concerns. Again, the key is balance. Homework must challenge students sufficiently to promote learning and ensure future success, but that must not become an overwhelming burden. The work that might be considered "busy work" should be eliminated from the expected tasks of the student who is missing a lot of school already.

It is essential to understand that homework should only be assigned after a student understands the concepts of a new lesson. Homework is an opportunity to practice newly learned skills; it is not a time to learn those new skills independently. If necessary, the student should have opportunities for direct instruction by a teacher using guided practice, in which the teacher oversees the student during completion of the exercise, before the actual homework begins.

Individual educational plan (IEP)

A 504 Plan or IEP should include parameters for determining appropriate amounts of homework. If a student is absent from school for several days or weeks due to illness, it is difficult to make up all of the missed work as homework. The student will need a teacher to present lessons and teach the concepts involved. A tutor, aide or special teacher should be provided to help the student catch up on assignments. Homework should be kept to a minimum and assigned only after the student understands the concepts presented in the lessons.

If a student refuses to do a reasonable amount of homework, the parent can create an explicit definition of these expectations. A homework contract can take the stress out of homework time. This type of contract defines the expectations of both the student and the parents, and precludes argument. It is most effective for middle-school and high-school students. It might also work for the older elementary student.

Taking the stress out of homework will be beneficial to everyone in your family.