Students who have to miss several days of school feel overwhelmed when they return. Some fear being so far behind that they wind up missing extra days, because they are so anxious about the amount of work they need to do. The strategy I use with students may not work for every child in every situation, but it is worth giving it a try.

The first thing to do is figure out exactly what work needs to be completed. I help the student make a chart with each course listed across the top. Beneath each class, we list the work she needs to complete. We use the assignment sheets posted online to get the information. Your child might have to call friends to find out.

Next, I have her take the chart around to her teachers so they can add any details and make notes on the chart. I coach her to ask if there are assignments they might be able to excuse her from completing without jeopardizing her learning.

Then, I tell her to try her best to keep up with all current homework. In addition to that day’s work, she needs to do one or two additional past-due assignments each day. She also needs to ask friends for copies of notes she missed from each class and to meet with her teachers before taking any tests she missed.

This strategy helps because the amount of make-up work doesn’t seem so bad once it’s in writing and there is a plan for making it up. When it’s an unknown, it seems impossible. This way, the student sees a discreet number of assignments to complete and he doesn’t feel so overwhelmed. Remember, too, that every assignment needs to be completed in order to avoid getting zeroes, because one missing grade can make a huge difference.

I am currently reading Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. In it, she tells of a time when her younger brother had procrastinated for months on a project about birds. The night before it was due, he was sitting at the table completely overwhelmed and not getting anything done. Lamott says her father put his arm around his son and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” So I call this my “bird by bird” method and attribute its name to Anne Lamott: Just do one assignment at a time, then mark it off the chart!

As a parent, it is fine for you to email your child’s teachers to inform them of the reason he was absent. You should mention that he is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of make-up work he needs to do. Most teachers are sympathetic in these situations and will offer to help. Tell them to expect to see the chart of past due work and explain what you would like for them to do to help.

It is so hard to make up work after absences.  You need to be very careful about allowing your child to miss school without a good reason. (See "Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Think.") It is never a good idea to send her to school when she is sick, though, and not all absences can be avoided. Encourage her by telling her how you will help her get her missed work caught up when she feels better. She can do it one assignment at a time! She can just take it “bird by bird.”