Live Q&A with Mary O'Dowd – Smart Education

Live Q&A with Mary O’Dowd of SMART Education

Held Wednesday March 23rd 2011


Question Liz Morgan Hi Mary,,, just logged on and a very easy question for you I’m sure… but recently I have had to ask our local head mistress about how long primary kids should be spending on homework – answer put a zero on the class – so 10 mins for 1st class, 20 for 2nd class… what do you think of homework for primary school kids – in respect of value to the kids, frustration levels regarding time required to finish etc.

Belinda Jane Higgins Hi Mary – thanks for joining us.

Mary O Dowd Homework is only good if it relates to what they did in class that day. If it goes on too long there is no value. If the child has a homework journal write the time beside your signature to let the teacher know how long it took.

Jackie Crowe Hi Mary, How long should it take 9 yr old to do homework in 3rd class?

Liz Morgan This relates to what the head mistress says, but some kids want to finish and not have work incomplete – seems like homework is work upon work for some kids…

Mary O Dowd It should take 30-40 minutes, if it is taking longer than that you may want to write how long each topic takes and show it to the teacher

Caron Ley our homework takes just over an hour with breaks and thatsa good night..

Mary O Dowd If it goes over an hour ask the teacher to prioritise.

Caron Ley think i will have to have another chat with his teacher but being in 3rd class they said he has to do the work it tkaes so long as there is reading in all parts of homework and he tries to read it all himself but finds it so hard…

Mary O Dowd Caron, try reading out as much as he will let you from the homework. is it the reading or the writing that is most difficult?


Question Angela Coll Hi Mary

I have a daughter in 4th class

She is academically bright but HATES Irish

Getting her Irish homework done is always a struggle

Any suggestions???

Mary O Dowd I was that child myself once… I understand how she feels. Lets hope that the present government will review the way irish is taught in primary and secondary schools.

Angela Coll Lol

In the meantime what should I do?

Mary O Dowd Unfortunately its the way the sylabus is taught and she will have to learn irish unless she has an exemption.

Angela Coll Ok thanks


Question Debra Crawley Doyle

Hi Mary, I have a son with ASD who is being assessed for Dyspraxia at the moment, he finds sitting to do homework very difficult, not the homework it’s self, but his positioning at the table, he’d rather lie on the floor for some reason (same in school!) Anything we can do to help?

Mary O Dowd Hi Debra, CAn you tell me what age he is?

Debra Crawley Doyle ‎10 🙂

Mary O Dowd With dyspraxia children will find it difficult to sit still for a long time. Also remember that chairs and tables in the house will be adult size. Did you try a footstool or the booster step that you used for toilet training. Frequent short breaks and moving around may help

Debra Crawley Doyle Never thought of that! The stool that is, the breaks, well he tends to go wandering himself 😉

Mary O Dowd Just be careful that he does not write while lying on the floor, but reading is ok.

Debra Crawley Doyle He’s always at it! And turning the copy side ways and writing away from himself and lots of other bad habits.. hopefully we’ll get it sorted soon though.

Mary O Dowd Is he left or right handed?

Debra Crawley Doyle Right, but he writes like a lefty 😀

Debra Crawley Doyle Right, but he writes like a lefty 😀

Kerri Culhane Hi, my 6 yr old daughter who has dyspraxia is the same doing homework, slipping off the chair, sitting side wards, stretching across the table to write! The same goes for reading , she won’t stay still! And she also writes like a lefty!But is right handed!

Debra Crawley Doyle It’s looks so awkward doesn’t it Kerri? You’d wonder how they manage it 🙂

Mary O Dowd for children who are right handed the page should be at a 45 degree angle from the edge of the table. writing boards, slanted boards, a bit like the old school desks can work, or try big chopping board propped up 2 inches by books

Debra Crawley Doyle Yes Mary! Like his hand is curled around the pencil rather than having fingers outstretched 🙂

Kerri Culhane Oh it does, I do wonder is she not feeling a strain, if i try it I can feel the strain in my hand!

Mary O Dowd Debra the pencil grip needs to be corrected before you will have any success with writing speed and accuracy. in children over seven we use specialised pencil grips but we need to see him writing to pick the best grip

Debra Crawley Doyle Thanks Mary! I’ll definitely look into it 🙂

Kerri Culhane Mary what about for a 6yr old? would a grip help, my daughter starts with correct pencil grip then her fingers tend to move up the pencil! and she says she forgets to keep them down the bottom.

Mary O Dowd it may, because she is young and her hand might be small we would have to find a particular grip that suits her. try a bit of sticky tape on the bottom of the pencil, this may encourage her to keep her fingers on the bottom of the pencil

Kerri Culhane Thanks. I will try that.


Question Liz said – Hi Mary, just logged on and a very easy question for you I’m sure… but recently I have had to ask our local head mistress about how long primary kids should be spending on homework – answer put a zero on the class – so 10 mins for 1st class, 20 for 2nd class… what do you think of homework for primary school kids – in respect of value to the kids, frustration levels regarding time required to finish.

Mary O Dowd Homework is only good if it relates to what they did in class that day. If it goes on too long there is no value. If the child has a homework journal write the time beside your signature to let the teacher know how long it took.

Belinda Jane Higgins Oh that’s a good idea!

Ann Rogers Agree with you Mary. I think when the weather is really good too they should not have to come home and stay doing homework for hours either !! I let them do so much and then write a note for teacher.

Mary O Dowd yes, agree!

Bernie Doherty so is that 60 mins homework for 6th class??? way too much!!!!! I feel that at the end of what is quite a long day, their attention span must be shot and the frustration level would rise quickly, poor kids – overworked so young these days!

Ann Blastland My little boys homework was taking nearly two hrs. He’s only in first class. I think one of the mammys complained cos it only takes 30 mins now. Still too long I think. And I agree in the good weather it’s tough trying to keep him in to get it done!

Ann Rogers My son is dyslexic which takes a lot of attention and mental concentration all day in school. To be sent home then with maybe 1 and a half to 2 hours homework is soul destroying ! He is in 6th class. Gets homework from his main stream teacher and his resource teacher.

Mary O Dowd ‎2 hrs in first class is ridiculous all the mammys need to put down the times so the teacher relises how long the homework is taking

Mary O Dowd In relation to 6th class it should be done in about 45-50 mins

Ann Rogers Yes agree Mary about 45 – 50 mins in 6th class but with dyslexia it takes my son a lot more time to read and write. You just have to let the teacher know that they did their best.

Lisa Coyne Furlong My daughter is in senior infants and her homework takes 30-45 mins. she gets very cross and yells this home time I should be able to play not do more school work.

don’t even want to think about how much home work she’ll get in first class


Question Helen Gaffney

Hi Mary, I have a son age 9 aspers and dyspraxia who hate writing and it is a constant battle – is there anything that I can do to help him get over it?

Mary O Dowd Helen, there are excercises that we give children with dyspraxia to do for 6 weeks to strenghten the arms and wrists. This means that they have greater pencil control and write faster.

Helen Gaffney are they writing exercises or just hand exercises?

Helen Gaffney his writing speed is ok – he just does not like writing

Debra Crawley Doyle Sorry Helen, but that actually reminds me, one of my fella’s issues is that his fingers are overly flexible (can’t remember what she called it!), and bend back when he’s writing causing cramping.. any exercises for that?

Mary O Dowd we start with hand exercises, a bit like physio for the hands and arms, after building up the strength we move onto writing exercises that works on letter spacing etc

Mary O Dowd In relation to Debras son we would have to watch the writing, pencil grip, page position etc. the exercises should help


Question Emer Sherry

Hi Mary, I have a son aged 10 with ataxic cerebral palsy, fine motor problems and dyslexia. He has been learning to type for a few years now, but progress is slow. We have tried several typing programs. Any hints or tips?

Mary O Dowd Which programmes have you tried to date?

Emer Sherry BBC Dance Mat typing (great short lessons), Type to Learn (I think) and there’s another one on his own laptop at school – sorry, can’t remember the name of it

Mary O Dowd Type to Learn should have been the one that you got the best results from, however children with ataxic cerebral palsy find this very difficult.

Emer Sherry That’s extremely interesting Mary. I wish we had known this a couple of years ago 🙂 Why do they find it difficult in comparison to other programs?

Mary O Dowd They will find all typing difficult but type to learn has greater benefits

Emer Sherry Thanks a million for the advice Mary!


Question Caron Ley

hi mary i have a son who has recently been diagnosed as being dyslexic just from your opinion as a mother what is the best strategy re reading should i push reading outside of school work or should i let it up to himself as he gets really frustrated if i ask him to read with me i read to him but he is easily distracted and doesnt follow the words which is what i have been told to do any tips for me..

Mary O Dowd Try very short periods of reading. Reading for information is easier. Try books with a factual content eg. books about cars , rather than stories. Don’t push him too much to sound out the word if he tries and doesnt know the word just tell him.

Caron Ley thank you mary its very hard to find info on this our school is great and he is getting a lot of help but as a mum im lost and dont really know what is the right way to go with him he is into sports and loves to be outdoors..

Special Needs Parents Association Hi Carol, you will get plenty of information for your school and yourself from Dyslexia Association of Ireland They also have local branches around Ireland

Caron Ley thank you guys ye have been a great help 🙂


Question Liz Morgan

Mary, does SMART Education cater for kids who are exceptionally able in the educational system? Seems in some cases these can be the kids who are left out as they cope so well (or don’t cope as they are bored!), but may not be reaching full potential.

Mary O Dowd yes we do and we have several children who are gifted, also the centre for talented youth in dublin is also a good resource

Helen Gaffney Talent youth is also available in limerick, cork and other counties

Liz Morgan Tks Mary, how does your org cater for gifted kids? I know about CTYI… I’m wondering what your opinions on giftedness being effectively ignored in the mainstream system are?

Mary O Dowd The white paper on education states that gifted children have special needs but this does not relate into practice in school. In Smart Education we have programs for creative writing, discovery maths etc, and we also work with children who do the online program with dcu.

Edel Meenan My son goes to Ctyi courses in Letterkenny,there are courses throughout the country.


Question Carmie Barrett asks – Can I ask what the best position is for a left handed child? Thks

Mary O Dowd For left handed people the page has to be slanted far more than 45 degrees from the table so they can see what they have just written. Some people will nearly have the edge of the page parallel to the edge of the table.This helps to prevent hooking the wrist and straining.

Emma Dunne definatly turning the copy to write has helped my 5 year old. Also reading loads with her and pointing to the words as i read them has helped her to realise that you start on the left !

Carmie Barrett Thanks Mary being left handed myself it just seems so weird to see how differently they write to yourself, and then you wonder is it right or wrong

Helen Gaffney Lever archer folders can make great writing boards

Emma Hrebicek I am a left hander and don’t hook my wrist when writing it looks painful to watch some people write like that! My son is left handed but only 2 so not writing letters yet but for me the most comfortable would be to turn the page sideways to make for an easier flow of writing.


Question Marcella Feagan

HI MARY , our daughter had surgery on her cerrebellum twice to remove tumor after 2nd surgery she was left with ataxia. writing is a huge difficulty for her and holding the pen , so i got her a weighted pen from the usa. a little improvement but not much. however we were told last week that she has an auditory processing problem and i wondered have you any advise as to how we can work at home with her and help her. she is almost 6. as the tremour is on the left side of her body and she is left handed would we be able to switch her to the right hand ? we are been advised that no one really knows much about this, as it has to do with brain dominace ? there are a lot of things going on with her and we are working hard with her but the homework is so so frustrating ..any advice …marcella

Mary O Dowd There has been a lot of research on auditory processing in America. There are now programs that can help with this. There is also a resource book for teachers with ideas. We have a course for teachers on April 9th to educate them about auditory processing as so few know anything about it. Contact me if you want to start any auditory processing work with her.

Marcella Feagan thank you mary . any advice on switching from left to right ?

Mary O Dowd I think you should gently encourage writing with the right hand.

Marcella Feagan mary why is there so little known about auditory processing ?

Marcella Feagan first positve reaction i have got to that question mary. to be honest i am trying but the professionals are against it. i feel anything really to make writing easier for her would help. thks again.

Mary O Dowd Until recently teacher training colleges have not included any information on auditory processing and research is still ongoing in the US.

Marcella Feagan thks mary .. at least we now know what the problem is and with work and patience we might have another einstein !!! lol… thk you i will be in contact .

Lorraine Dempsey Hi Marcella, NUIG did a study in 08′ on Current and future service provision for children with Auditory Processing Disorder in Ireland. Pages 9-14 describe what it is and interventions that can help.

Marcella Feagan oh lorraine thank you so very much i will be on it straight away .. your an angel xxx

Emma Dunne recognising that you form letters differently depending which hand you use will help alot with the transition! Increasing the pincer grip in the hand helps too, it was recommended to me to get the child to use a tweezer, pom pom’s and two bowls, you get the idea! X

Marcella Feagan i get it emma sounds familiar .. trying to get a 5 and half yr old to do anything is hard enough !! but i do know what your saying funny thing is she uses her right hand to use a sissors .. but we are only a year after surgery and still working at rehab thks for the advise nothing better than getting it from another parent who is with there child everyday and gets it …

Mary O Dowd EMMA there is a book called ‘Take 10’ which gives games and ideas for fine motor skills and pincer grip

arcella Feagan lorraine i have read that report yesterday only. i need to read it again and see where we go with erin, however what i would be curious about is …. she has had 4 op’s 2 crainioscopies and 2 for vp shunts. i wonder is there a link with the vp shunt due to where it is positioned. than again i could be pulling at straws !! i need to do more research on this as we were not expecting it ..xxxx thks again really appreciated …back to the drawing board….


Question Louise Curtin asked via email: I am just wondering what are the entitlements to children with dyslexia in secondary school eg are they meant to get laptops or other technology to help them?

Caron Ley we have recently been told a few things in relation to this.. will se what mary says as was going to ask her this

Mary O Dowd No, there is no automatic entitlement to laptops in second level for dyslexia. Students will only get spelling wavers in junior cert if its below the 14th percentile

Ann Rogers My son going to Secondary school in Sept. I had to fill in a form in the school and give them any assessment reports I had belonging to him and any other details so they could send off his details in order to get him extra help with his work. As far as I know the school has to block book the amount of hours they require going by the amount of children

Caron Ley i was told this the other day by another mum… as had been told they were automatically entitled to it but they said it depends on how severe the dyslexia was and on the school as they only have acertain amount to get am i right or is this

Mary O Dowd The Dept of education requires the school to apply for resource hours so that they can work out the teacher allocation for next Sept. If your child has had resource in National school he should get help at second level, but you may find it is a very different type of help. it usually just covers class work, ie going over what they did in class.

Carol Hughes Should be based on individual cases. My son is below 10 percentile for spelling but above 95 percent for intellect. Very frustrating not being able to get your thoughts down on paper quick enough…

Carol Hughes He gets no resource time in 6th class now as he doesn’t need it for dyslexic spelling (there Is much more to dyslexia than just the academic side of it). But be could certainly benefit from laptop use in secondary.

Mary O Dowd if he is on the tenth percentile in spelling he definitely gets a spelling waver.

Ann Rogers My son the same. My son got his laptop recently in the primary school along with a very good programme called Claroread. This programme means that he can scan a page or number of pages into the computer and it will read the pages to him. Al…

Carol Hughes I know about the waver. But if you are severely phonically dsylexic there is a huge speed issue when it comes to writing.. Even copying things from the board..

Mary O Dowd Copying things from the visual form of dyslexia, is it possible he has both?

Emer Sherry I can recommend the Kindle for encouraging recreational reading – my son and I use it. You can increase text size and reduce amount of text to one sentence per screen view. It also reads the text out if you need that. My son loves clicking to get the next sentence….Another piece of technology I know….

Carol Hughes Unsure Mary. He had the assessments done in 2nd class. I was told as his reading is now really good ( from sheer determination) he doesn’t fit into any of the ‘boxes’. He reads better when text is on yellow paper instead of White.

Mary O Dowd if he reacts better to the coloured paper he may have a form of visual dyslexia and coloured filters might work a treat.

Ann Rogers Yes I find it better for my son When the page is darker than the print. You can change your settings on your computer to do this too which is a great help for them with their reading.

Mary O Dowd Contact Fergal Friel Optometrist in Barna to have him screened to see if coloured filters will help (091)596667

Cherry Molohan My son just got his laptop today but still waiting for the software for it because the report didn’t mention any software had to get the report reissued he is almost finished 1st year and first applied for laptop before he started secondary school

Carol Hughes Thank you

Special Needs Parents Association If you are in the position of being able to afford a laptop and the software needed for home use, you can claim back the VAT from revenue

Mary O Dowd Chloe software will help him, costs about €60, revenue getting tight on claims for VAT


Question Jackie Crowe

Mary, what age can dyslexia be diagnosed at?

Mary O Dowd Age 8 and up

Belinda Jane Higgins Can it be diagnosed before that, Mary, or is 8+ the best age to assess?

Joan Kehoe Stewart Thanks for that I wanted to ask the same I have a senior infant who will be 6 in June and concerns have been raised by me and his teacher that he may be dyslexic (my 8 year old was diagnosed last year), he cannot get any resource hours and early intervention is important so is there any way that he can be offically diagnoised at his age?

Mary O Dowd Before age 8 we say that they have dsylexic tendencies. I have a checklist on that you can down load. if you have more than half the items ticked off you need to put in some extra work to reslove the issues before age 8.

Belinda Jane Higgins Thanks. Do you need a letter of referral to get an assessment at Smart Education? Can I ask the cost? And if there is a similar centre in Leinster?

Mary O Dowd No you do not need a referral. An assessment is 60 euro. During holiday periods we see people in their own homes in the north leinster area.

Belinda Jane Higgins Oh thanks a million, Mary – I’ll have a look at the website and get in touch.




Hi Folks, we’re going to finish up now and say thanks to Mary for joining us. For any questions that we didn’t get to, we will make sure Mary sees them.

Helen Gaffney Thanks Mary for your time and the great info

Belinda Jane Higgins That was a really interesting Q&A – thanks to Mary and the MKT team!

Mykidstime Thanks to everyone for participating 🙂

Mary O Dowd Thank you everyone, for more information please long onto our website.

Special Needs Parents Association Thanks for organising yet another brilliant Q&A Session.

Marcella Feagan thank you for your advice…

Carmie Barrett Thanks Mary for your time and effort, and to Mykidstime to hosting this Q&A, really interesting and very informative to those of us who dont really know where to go.

Debra Crawley Doyle Thanks Mary!!!

Ann Rogers Thank you Mary for all your help and advise. Great to be able to have someone who knows what she is talking about on line to answer your queries.

Emer Sherry Thank you Mykidstime and Mary!

Jackie Crowe Thanks Mary, keep up the great work.

Carol Hughes Thanks Mary & Mykidstime. Loads of info to work on. I am not in Galway, but will definately look into getting my son tested for visual dyslexia. Appreciate all the advice.

Kerri Culhane Thanks Mary.

Caron Ley thank you mary much appreciated 🙂


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