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.