Spelling Homework and Other Epiphanies

I had been in the scenario a million times before.  Marco and I were practicing his spelling words (or math or fill in the blank with whatever homework nightmare is most fitting on any given day) and it wasn’t going well. It might have gone something like this:

Me: Spell ‘cat’

Marco: C-A-T

Me: Good.  Spell ‘bat’

Marco: B-A-T

Me: Good.  Spell ‘hat’

Marco: H-A-T

Me: Good.  Spell ‘rat’

Marco: R-Q-F

Me: Marco, think about it.  All of your other words followed a pattern.  Try again.  Spell ‘rat’.

Marco: R-N-J

Me: Remember, you spelled bat, B-A-T.  Use that to help you.  How do you spell ‘rat’?

Marco: B-R-L

Me: Marco, you’re not trying.  Stop and think.  How do you spell ‘rat’?

Marco: W-G-V

Me: That’s it!  Forget it.  We’re not doing this if you’re not going to try.  (escalating from here to total ugliness)

The next day when his tutor arrived I vented to her, “I just don’t understand it.  He’s so inconsistent.  I feel like he’s not even trying.”  And on and on.  She so perfectly responded, “Well of course, for Marco to remember things he needs he needs multiple sensory inputs for it to go into longer term memory.”

A huge serving of humble pie for me.

I was crazy to think that I could quiz him on his spelling words verbally while I clean up the kitchen from dinner.  On what planet would a kid with ADHD and possible auditory processing problems be able to practice spelling words in that way?  What was I thinking?!

But the humble pie didn’t stop there.

I couldn’t stop myself from thinking:  Why did I forget to modify the instruction? Why didn’t I use different strategies to create success for him? How did I not consider that he needed visual input to practice the skills?  I would have done it for a student in my classroom and yet it didn’t even occur to me to try it for my own son.

So I’m writing this as a confession:  I’ve been expecting Marco to live in my neuro-typical world with his neuro-atypical brain.  Simply not fair to him.

Now I’m trying hard to modify the homework just as I expect the teachers to modify the instruction while he is in class.  His IEP requires it at school – how dare I not also do it at home?  I won’t say that we don’t have any more homework battles because that would be a lie.  But he is learning his spelling words more peacefully now that he can use his dry erase board to help him.

And whenever my husband and I notice that we’re having a moment where we’re expecting him to live in our neuro-typical world, we call out a secret code word.  Ours happens to be “Hallowell” after the amazing and inspiring Dr. Ed Hallowell, ADHD expert.  My son doesn’t understand why we randomly say this weird word but it reminds my husband and me that WE are the ones that need to adjust in that moment and not my son.


Kim Clary Cafiero

Kim is a stay at home mom to two boys. She came to parenthood through adoption and was a teacher and school administrator before taking the plunge to stay home full time. She lives in New Jersey.

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About the author

Kim is a stay at home mom to two boys. She came to parenthood through adoption and was a teacher and school administrator before taking the plunge to stay home full time. She lives in New Jersey.


  1. barjobo says:

    Wise words, thank you for this post! Magnetic letters on the fridge (inspires him to find more rhymes easily), clay, writing them on a steamy mirror/car window, writing in pudding/shave cream/dirt, or using an old ketchup bottle to squirt letters in dirt are other interesting modes. When I do oral drills I tell children to picture the word on a billboard in their head (what color are the letters?). When they can spell it, I ask them to spell it backwards, looking at the ‘billboard’. The novelty (and your amazement) are fun, but kids really remember them much better; parents report great success with this method. Important to “stretch those muscles” as we call it.

  2. Oh this is a fabulous post! That could be me and my 8 yo boy, same thing. We are fortunate math just makes sense to him, but spelling and reading have taken a lot more work. I asked his 1st grade teacher for spelling tips and she gave me two great ones. First, we use pneumonics. This week the words are things like “hair” and “rare”. So when we study I say “Rar-E” or “H – AIR.” He begins to associate the sound of the word and will hear that “E” or “Air” separate when he goes to spell it. I’m also thinking of having him learn them in groups, like okay, “hair, fair, chair, pair” are AI words. “rare, share, stare” are E words. The other thing is, she had me cut out letters of the alphabet and whichever one he struggles with, I give him the letters to unscramble and he then writes the word 5 times. This truly has helped. Reading is a whole other suite of techniques too, ha! Anyway, thanks for this post!

  3. this is a fabulous post! This could be me and my 12 year old boy,


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