Last week at a meeting with Brooke’s school support team, I mentioned the stress that homework can cause at the end of a long day. We talked about how hard Brooke works ALL DAY LONG just to keep her sh-t together and that long after most of the other kids are getting home for ‘free time’, she’s STILL hard at work at speech therapy or social skills group, or even at her special needs drama class (which she adores, but still .. not ‘free time’.). We talked about how much she NEEDS down time.

One of the staff members – an SLP whom I adore (you’re about to see why) spoke up. “Then stop it,” she said. There was a whole lot more to it, but really, that was the bottom line. If the homework is too much for her, then stop it.

The discussion led to me explaining the pressure that we (Luau and I) feel every night to ensure that Brooke is doing every bit of work that they send home because, well, that’s our end of the bargain, isn’t it? (Turns out no, it’s not.)

I explained that as the parents of a typical kid, we feel that it’s vital to monitor homework, make sure that our child understands its value and her responsibility to get it done and to take pride in the way that she does it. Parenting 101, right?

I then explained that as the parents of a Not So Typical child – one who has a TEAM of people working to support her every day and who is struggling mightily to learn many of the things that the rest of the class learned last year or even the year before that – we feel an even greater responsibility to make sure that we are doing everything we can to support their work in school. For us, that means supporting her in doing the work that they send home.

I told them that once in a while, I insist on pulling the rip cord because it’s simply too much to handle. At that point, I said, “We make the executive decision to let the kid just be.”

The SLP said, “Homework is practice. It’s not learning time. And if you’re getting to the point where you’re making that executive decision, you’ve already gone too far. You need to let yourselves off the hook.”

I know this will shock no one, but there were tears in my eyes.

Everyone around the table agreed immediately. The classroom teacher leaned over and asked what I thought *would* work. We agreed that she would continue to read every night, but no longer for a specified amount of time. He would send home a new reading log with nothing on it but lines for the date and the book title. It matters. If the other boxes are there – author, time, pages read and time read for – there’s implicit pressure. They can’t be there.

Math homework would stop entirely for now. We would talk the following week about slowly adding in worksheets as appropriate. Or not. We decided yesterday to add spelling back in. She’s good at it. There’s a feeling of accomplishment and success. She needs that. She deserves that.

We all decided together that this kid works too damn hard all day. She needs a break.


The first homework-less night, I asked if anyone would like to play a game after dinner. We let Brooke choose. Candy Land was never so sweet.

The second night we chose a puzzle. While Daddy cleaned up in the kitchen (yup, really – every night and yes, you can hate me), the girls and I started putting the pieces together.

Katie was coming down with something. Her nose was stuffy and she was beginning to cough. “Mama,” she said, “I really think I’m getting sick.”

“Oh geez, Katie, that’s just great,” I responded.

Brooke poked her nose right under my face.

“Hey, you can’t say that!”

I was confused. “Say what, baby?”

“You can’t say ‘that’s great’ to Katie is sick. That’s being a mean friend.”

Katie and I looked at each other and smiled.

“Brooke, honey,” I said, “that’s called ‘sarcasm.'”

This was going to be interesting.

“You are right that if I said, ‘Oh, great!’ (I exaggerated the bright, chipper tone) that wouldn’t have been very nice. But what I said was more like, ‘That’s just greeeeeeat’ (I deepened my voice and drew out the ‘great’ as long as I could) and that means that I don’t really think that it’s great at all.”

Katie chimed in. “Brooke, let’s try one! We can pretend that you broke your foot and I came over and said, ‘You broke your foot! How great!’ Would that be OK?”

Brooke looked very serious. “No, Katie. That’s not OK.”

“But if I said, ‘Oh no! You broke your foot! Oy, that’s just greeeeeeeat,’ that would mean that I was sorry that you broke it. Do you want to try one?”

Brooke was game. “Yes, I do, Katie.”

“OK, so let’s pretend that I broke my foot, like I did this summer, remember? First say it the mean way.”

“Katie, you broke your foot. That’s GREAT!”

Katie turned her face into a caricature of sadness. “Wow, Brooke, that would really hurt my feelings. Could you say it this time with SAR-CAZZ-UM?”

Brooke’s eyebrows knitted themselves together and her face grew dark. “I’m so very sorry that you broke your foot, Katie,” she said. “It’s just greeeeeeeat.” Her little chin was pressed down into her chest and her voice was at the deepest register she could muster.

It was really hard not to laugh.

We practiced a few more times. I dropped a piece of the puzzle and had trouble finding it. Brooke said, “That’s not great, Mama, that’s greeeeeeeeat.” Katie coughed and said, “Man, I really don’t feel well.” Brooke said, “That’s just greeeeeeeat, Katie.” It became a game.

And in the absence of ‘homework’, my kid learned more than any worksheet ever could have taught her. And THAT (sorry, I can’t help it … ) really was great.

47 thoughts on “great

  1. Yes, Jess! Brooke learned a great lesson yesterday and so did you! Thanks for sharing this. I’m still smiling and that’s great, too!

    Love you,

  2. Love it. So glad you have a team who thinks so holistically. I am wondering if after a few weeks of this her anxiety will slowly start to lessen. Please let us know. And you and Katie – too cute for words. And the cleaning Luau – he is the BEST. Really, I could not have more respect for him.

  3. I am so happy that you guys have abandoned the typical homework ship. Truth be told, the research on homework has been coming out slowly over the past few years, and shown that children do not do better on standardized tests (that was the tool the used to measure progress in most cases) as a result of homework. In fact children who were assigned homework and those who were not actually performed identically.

    As a teacher, I started a homework revolution in my classroom. I did not assign it anymore after learning of these facts. I found new ways to teach my students to be responsible. I found different ways to create carry over of ideas. I spent a lot of time and energy on helping parents to feel confident in themselves and training them in ways that they could encourage literacy skills, math skills, etc. in the home. Because that’s the big idea, right? And so my students were schooled in Candyland, Mab Libs, and cooking instead of being sent home with those awful worksheets. And you know what, they did well! Even my little guys with very detailed IEPs gained more from high interest, family-ladden fun activities than they would from reading yet another phonics reader.

    Sorry to share so much, but this topic is very dear to my heart. Homework is entirely appropriate when it is project-based, valuable, high interest, however, unfortunately most that is assigned is none of those things. For more information of homework, please see Marzano’s work or Fisher and Frey’s work on improving classroom instruction and all that entails, including homework.

    Again, congratulations on regaining valuable learning time, by abandoning those darned worksheets and the agony entailed.

    • Yay for you Aimee! Thank you for listening, thinking outside the box, trying something new and seeing what actually works. You are amazing!

  4. I LOVE this!! That is Sooooooo Great…no sarcasm intended!! This made me LOL and smile big…and might I ad that that is a HUGE accomplishment! It;s not even 7 am. I’m not through my first cup of coffee yet, I was up 3 times with the baby last night, and, oh yeah…couldn’t fall back asleep..sooo pretty impressive you could make me laugh this morning. THANK YOU!!! I wish there was video!!
    Cymbie has been having an AMAZING couple of days…Like, quantum leap amazing!!

  5. YAY!!! Homework, homework, give me a break! (right? anyone?) Sometimes the best reinforcement of a lesson is the real world experience. And I’m forwarding this to my friend who needs her son’s teachers to read this…

  6. I am also stuck in that “get the homework done” mode. It’s so ingrained from even when I was a kid. We thought that it was a way to teach consistency and responsibility. Last night, however, it was just too much. Up until now, we did one, maybe two sheets a night, one math and one language arts. Last night it was four! My son did manage two sheets, but had a hard time after that. Some of the math problems were totally out of range of his ability right now. He can count (and starting to subtract) but only if he can use his fingers. When the numbers get too large and he has no more fingers, he can’t do it. I’ve tried to explain, but I’m not a teacher. I am wondering if anyone can tell me if it would be beneficial to try and teach him to use an abacus. He’s six years old and not sure if he can grasp that concept.

    Anyway, enjoyed your post today, Jess. It’s been a ray of light in my day already.

    • What about a number grid? Brooks relies heavily on it – when she needs to add or subtract she ‘asks Mr Number Grid’. Not sure if that’s helpful, but it has worked very well for her. If I recall correctly though, it wasn’t really introduced until second grade. I think. Hmm.

      • Manipulatives… coins, beads, m&ms – something that gives visual meaning to what they are doing. Basically what he’s doing with his fingers, but lets him go farther πŸ™‚

  7. So wonderful! I had a similar homework conversation with my son’s team last year – with the same response. It was such a relief to be able to stop battling every night for homework completion and find other fun ways to engage and learn.

  8. Aye homework! The topic that has caused more angst in our house than just about any other. We too have of found supportive teachers and put tons of modifications into the IEP this year: chunked assignments, homework graded pass/fail only, resource room teacher has the option to reduce amount of assigned work, anything can be typed, etc. have to say it has at least helped to lessen the anxiety there. Still causes problems, but nowhere near as much as last year. I encourage anyone struggling with this issue to ask for a meeting with your child study team and consider making modifications.

    As for this story, so glad it had a happy ending. You need a few more of those!

  9. My girls have a no homework policy in place. They’re only responsible for reading and studying their math facts. It reduced their anxiety and mine tremendously!

  10. Love, love, love the team gets it! Love it even more you had the courage to speak up (surprise!). Natural learning is so much better than something contrived. Even more important is quality family time.

  11. we’re just starting all of this. my son is in kindergarten and he’s pretty advanced (he reads everything and retains almost everything) but at the same time he’s behind, socially and with his fine motor skills and with his ability to cope with things. we opted for half day K because i know that he would really struggle being full day plus his other services. these kids definitely do need their “down time.” that said, i don’t want him to think that because he’s bright and learns things quickly, that he doesn’t have to do the homework but at the same time, he’s expending so much energy to just get through his day. after a day spent writing at school and then at home with his TSS, i don’t want to push him.

    we’ve been lucky that his teacher has been very understanding, letting him skip some activities in school and not pushing us to make him work so much at home.

    it’s good to know that there are others out there too.

  12. This just gave me another reason to let go. Let go of these strict ideas I have about what I “should” be doing with my guy. Homework is such a battle, and I hate to watch him struggle. More fun, less struggle. That should be what it’s like at home. Thanks for sharing this mama, I needed to read it today. xoxo

  13. What a great post.We’re letting go of some of the homework too but it has been difficult. I ‘m battling my own expectations and worried that the teachers will stop pushing my daughter in class. I know this won’t happen as she’s got a great team but the worry is there, as always. It nice to read about others going through the same thing.

  14. I’ve struggled with the feeling of responsibility towards homework. I was raised with the same mentality you describe in your post and I feel it prepares them for adulthood. (plus I’m an OCD completionist, but nevermind that) Good for you for taking care of your daughter. Very uplifting story! Your parents must’ve done a good job, too. Being able to discern what’s truly important while being responsible is very difficult, especially when your heart is so vested. Great Post!!

  15. 1. Katie? She is worth her weight in gold. Or diamonds. Or rainbows or some such.

    2. I’m so happy that you came up with homework help. I had this exact same conversation two years ago. My kid NEEDS downtime.

    3. This is GREAT. You made me smile today.

  16. Have you seen Race To Nowhere (documentary)? If not, it is anti-teach to the test/drill and kill our kids as our strategy in this country. It also cites research that homework is useless until middle school academically and is killing our kids’ childhoods. Amazing film by a mom whose daughter had a classmate kill herself over math. I love that you are doing what is right for Brooke —as usual! xo

  17. We put a stop to the homework here too. It just wasn’t worth it. And just like Brooke he’s learned more from the family time than ANY worksheet. We’ve had a couple of teachers that tried to send some home but ….well, let’s just say that didn’t last long πŸ™‚ Congrats to you all and I hope Katie gets better soon!

  18. Two things: I’m so glad Brooke’s team of teachers was responsive to your homework concerns. Too many times homework IS treated like teaching time (sometimes pushed by teachers, sometimes expected by parents, sometimes both), especially with a child who struggles to learn it the first time in school. Good for you for seeing how Brooke needs the down time more than the practice/box-checking time. And, I completely get that sometimes family time is the greatest teaching time of all. The things we can’t plan often turn out to be the greatest learning experiences.

  19. I LOVE incidental social skills teaching!! Katie is so helpful at finding and implementing those “teachable moments.” I would love to borrow her some days! xoxo

  20. The dreaded homework. I am so glad that your team responded to Brooke’s needs. Finally someone out there “got it”. I don’t think most in the school system really understand what our kids days are like. Maybe this concept will catch on.(Wishful thinking)

    I’m so glad that your family had a fun night. I hope Katie feels better.

  21. Hee! I love this story! I was having a rough day, but now I’m just grinning. I’m so glad you and your girls got to share this moment. It’s awesome.

  22. I’m so glad that more learning is able to take place for Brooke without the homework in place. However, I’d be interested to know your opinion on removing homework for other kids. I assign spelling words, a reading worksheet, and a math worksheet each week (due on Fridays) for my K-5 students with autism. The work is lower than their instructional level, is “graded” only as a participation sort of thing, and it is designed to take only 10-15 minutes per night.
    I would be very wary of getting rid of this homework. A lot of my parents are of the mentality that learning happens at school. Without homework, they would let their kids come straight home and watch the same tv episode or movie over and over again until bedtime. They tell me about how often they have to fight their kids and their behaviors to get them to do their homework, and while I don’t do this to make it difficult for them, I feel like it really makes them realize what it is we go through at school. If their child goes home and acts like an angel because there are no expectations for working or learning, the parents don’t understand when I send a note home that their child is being defiant or aggressive over work. To me, my homework policy ensures that we are truly partnering in the child’s education.
    For parents like you, I certainly agree that more learning can take place through your interactions than through a worksheet, but what about for those not quite as adept at this parenting-special-needs things? I’d love anyone’s opinions or advice on this!

    • Jordan – Have you thought about assigning “homework” that has meaning for the families? What about reading a story, measuring items to help cook, making change when purchasing something, reading the rules to a game?

    • jordan,

      thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to ask such a thoughtful question.

      what struck me was this: “They tell me about how often they have to fight their kids and their behaviors to get them to do their homework, and while I don’t do this to make it difficult for them, I feel like it really makes them realize what it is we go through at school.”

      What’s missing for me in that sentence is the child. I may well be reading into it (based on my own perspective) but i have to wonder, who is the homework for? is it for the kids so that they can practice a particular skill, learn responsibility or begin to understand organization, executive function etc? or is it as the comment seems to imply a way to prove to the parents how hard things can be at school?

      i completely understand (and have seen first hand) the challenges between school and home in communicating the struggles at one or the other, but i hope that if that is the reason for the homework, that one could arrive at another way to convey the issues faced at school and hopefully create a more collaborative partnership without *adding* to the struggles for the kids. it sounds almost as if forcing the kid to do something really difficult (as pushing through defiance / aggression / behaviors certainly implies) is necessary to make the parents see how hard it is.

      what i talked about in the post was how hard our kids have to work all day just to keep themselves together. they fight impulses, struggle to reason through social interactions, keep up with language that feels like it’s moving at warp speed, endure the sensory onslaught of school etc, etc, etc. i think sometimes (not all the time, but sometimes) the same show over and over again or some time on youtube searching for their area of interest is well, *exactly* what they need.

      these kids work harder than anyone i know. hell, they even *work* to sit through dinner with the family. and although we all hope that every moment could be as delightfully teachable as the one in the post was, sometimes these kids really just need (and richly deserve, in my opinion) the rare luxury of just being who they are.

      i truly apologize if this is coming off defensively. i fully acknowledge that i have a clear bias here. i just hope that there might be a balance that takes the kids themselves into more serious consideration, allowing for a more customized approach that is truly appropriate for each child.

      i hope that’s helpful and i haven’t sent you running for the hills!


      • You certainly have not offended, and I am really glad to have a discussion on this, because I have struggled with the question of homework as well.

        Rereading that sentence, it was really poorly worded and I completely understand your interpretation of it. I do have one singular situation where the homework does serve a kind of dual function of academic practice for the child as well as practice for the parent in strategies for helping to maintain focus and curtail aggression and defiance. The wording of my sentence didn’t properly convey that, as it isn’t meant as “ha, look how hard it is,” but rather as an opportunity for this parent and I to work together on strategies to help the child that the parent didn’t understand when she was not trying to get her son to work at all at home before.

        That said, for the majority of my students, my mentality for having homework in addition to schoolwork is that it expresses a shared expectation and value for learning. Some (not all) of the parents that I work with do not have high expectations for their children. They will continue to wipe them after they go to the bathroom, fully dress them every morning, and allow them to eat with their fingers, even though they are very capable of learning these skills and performing them independently. While I wish that I could assign more “homework” dealing with these life skills, I fear that it would be seen as me overstepping my bounds and trying to instruct them on parenting. So, my homework functions as a way of saying “Look, your child can count to 10! It may be difficult, but he CAN do it!” It’s “proof,” not purely of the difficulties we face, but of why we face them.

        By all means, I want my kids to be kids at home and to get some time to unwind. I teach in a self-contained class, and it is structured the same way–15 minutes of work time followed by 15 minutes of down time (computer, play area, etc.) throughout the entire day. I assign my homework weekly to allow for variation–maybe Susie is having a meltdown on Tuesday. OK, save that 10 minute worksheet for Wednesday, when it’s a better day. Maybe therapy is on Monday, so you can run through the spelling flashcards on Tuesday instead.

      • it does sound like you’re making an effort to be flexible with the homework you’re giving, but perhaps the *kind* of homework (or what is considered homework) is what needs to be more flexible. spelling flashcards and worksheets can be so tough for some of our kids. i’d suggest either sending specific ones that you know the child can do successfully and talking to them about it before they go home. show the kid the worksheet and tell them you’re excited for them to show mom and dad how well they do it. (but also remembering that sometimes even the skills they seem to have ‘down’ in one environment may not generalize to another, and /or there are so often subtle prompts that teachers give to stay on task or come up with an answer that they don’t even realize they are doing) .. that they may NOT be able to do it at home).

        if you want to help foster independence w skills at home, what about talking to parents about setting up a self-care chart? for every morning that kiddo dresses themselves, they get a star? for every meal where they remember their fork they get a sticker? maybe helping parents set up some motivation at home that ‘s similar to what you use at school would open up a whole new line of communication and a new world of possibilities for what ‘homework’ might come to mean.

        when we first started this journey, we were incredibly lucky to be in a place that offered parent trainings. if i remember correctly it was a series of eight ‘classes’ that took place in the evenings. they were one of the most valuable experiences we’ve had to date. not only did they bring us in contact with the trained professional who taught the course (she was a BCBA who had been in the field since long before the title existed) but it also brought us into contact with other parents, many of whom we remain close with today. perhaps something like (even condensed into a couple of sessions so as not to be so onerous) might be a better use of time and energy and would likely continue to pay dividends long after the fact.

        thank you for taking the time to find the best ways to work with our precious kids!

  23. yay for exchanging homework for real life! That dynamic communication is so important to help dechipher all the communication that is NOT just words, since the actual words are such a small part of what we *say*

  24. They say life is the best teacher and it sounds like Brooke is learning and loving the time off! Sorry Katie got sick, but it made for a wonderful memory, didn’t it? The homework thing caused us grief, too. When I explained to his IEP teacher that I was having to be the bad guy all the time she put a stop to it. My son’s problem is that his I.Q. is so much higher than the 2nd grader he is; so all the work is boring and (as he calls it) “the S word”, (he’s not aloud to say stupid). So she made the regular teacher put a check mark on all the important papers that must be done to separate them from the practice papers and as long as he does his work at school then nothing comes home. It has made a world of difference with his frusterations, too..

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