I’m from a family of teachers and I was a real goody two shoes at school, always 100% for homework and following the rules. Before I had kids, I heard parents expressing doubts and concern over homework and how it took away from family time, and I was outraged – it’s homework! The teacher says you have to do it – you have to do it!
Guess what ? As with everything, now that I have my own children I find I have changed my mind (see also dummies, co-sleeping and over-reliance on screen-time for other mind changers.) My son is 6 and has just started 1st class (for those not in Ireland, this is his 3rd year in school) and the homework allocation seems to have really stepped up. One worksheet, one times table, one spelling list, one dolch list, one reading book – I think it’s supposed to amount to 30 minutes a night.
Myself and my husband both work full time, so it’s about 5.30 by the time we are all home together, around 6.30pm by the time food is prepared and eaten by which time I’m tired, my son is tired, my daughter’s tired. If we had a dog, it would be tired. We’re all tired. Nevertheless, we open up the homework with all the enthusiasm we can muster, which varies from night to night. What happens next varies depending, largely, on what kind of form my son is in. Unfortunately, it often results in stress and frustration , on all sides. There have been times when he gets upset to the point of tears, because he’s too tired and makes mistakes he feels he shouldn’t. My son also has an ADHD and ASD diagnosis; concentration is an issue, as are emotional meltdowns over small mistakes. We are, thankfully, at the moment experiencing a calm period with him : I don’t want to push him to do his homework if it’s going to be stressful for him. Just last week we were sitting together to look at something – and he started to cry and told me he was stupid. When we got his diagnosis the social care worker said, and it has stuck with me hard, ‘Don’t underestimate how stressful school is for him.’ I don’t want that to continue into the home environment for him. If he is trying his utmost 6 hours a day, I’d like him to be able to relax and take the pressure off at home.
It’s not just the fact of the homework itself but on a more practical level I am sometimes entirely baffled by what we are actually being asked to do. The worksheets seem to be written in language penetrable only by primary school teachers and small children. But I suppose it is useful for us as parents to understand the methods being used in schools , different as they are from our own time. I’m also a little dubious about the learning outcome of some of the activities – after four days of reading the same book, I’m fairly sure my son is reciting it from memory, rather than actually reading it.
On the other hand, I’m concerned that he does not fall behind, which with the ADHD diagnosis, is a concern. When I posed the question of homework on Twitter, a teacher responded that it is often an important communication link between school and home. Fair point, and not one I had really considered. It is important that at home we are engaged with what is happening at school , more than the occasional grunt in response to the standard ‘ What did you do at school today?’ I’ll admit that the swot in me is also slightly concerned about not doing what the teacher says; am I sending a bad message to my son by indicating that he doesn’t have to follow the rules?
I conducted an entirely comprehensive and scientific poll on Twitter asking if homework for the under 12s is pure evil or necessary. 66% said the under 12s shouldnt be doing homework, with 34% in favour. Not as conclusive as I would have thought, but still an indicator that people are generally not happy with it, or not in its current form anyway.
My son is six. Six is very small, really. I’m not going to put pressure on the limited time we have together in the evenings by forcing him to do something which is a cause of stress. If some days he is happy to do it, fine, if other days it is more stressful , then I’ll give him a pass. What I love to see, is when he picks up a pencil of his own free will and starts a new ‘project’ – we have had shark and bird projects, and now are moving on to science. I am so proud of him in those moments, and they demonstrate to him the real joy of learning , much more than repeating the same spelling list four days on the trot.
What do you think ? To Homework or Not To Homework ?