The Great Big Homework Debate

Like it or loathe it, if you’re a parent of a school-going child, you will have encountered your fair share of homework. Too much, too little, too hard, too easy; whatever your opinion on the matter, there’s no hiding from the folder of tasks and reading books to be found in your child’s schoolbag daily.

Homework has been on my mind a lot of late. My eldest daughter is in Primary 3 and my son Primary 1, so it’s an issue I have much experience with. Yet, for me, the jury is still out.

It Has Its Advantages

I can see the advantage of homework. Extending the day’s learning into the home environment is surely beneficial in terms of establishing that all-important link between school and home life. And the opportunity for a child to have one-to-one help, from a parent or caregiver, with topics covered in school is not to be sneered at, given that time is a luxury to most teachers nowadays with class sizes ever increasing.
But where do we draw the line with homework? How much is too much?

When It All Gets Too Much

My children attend a wonderful school. It is homely and welcoming yet strives for (and succeeds in) academic excellence. The school conducted a survey into parental attitudes towards homework recently and, on the back of those findings, introduced more flexible homework arrangements whereby the children are given a homework booklet on a Monday and are not required to hand it back in until Friday. And that degree of flexibility is a good thing. My children (like most) attend activities outside school and, therefore, if one of our evenings is taken up with same, we have the freedom to catch up on homework later in the week. But the crucial phrase here is “catch up.” We still must squeeze the missed afternoon’s homework in at some point before Friday, meaning that the afternoons we’re at home are mostly spent with heads bent over an activity sheet.

I don’t fault my children’s school and I wish to make that abundantly clear – in short, it’s a brilliant school and of course, it would be an extreme measure for any school to remove homework completely.

But to use my Primary 3 daughter as an example; she gets a fairly intensive homework booklet on a Monday. It contains homework for each evening and the whole thing gets handed in on a Friday. My daughter attends an activity outside of school on Monday afternoons, therefore, has Monday’s designated section of the booklet to complete on another day. On top of the homework booklet, my daughter will have anything up to 2 new reading books as well as a “free choice” reading book per week. Each is expected to be read over at home and parental signature is required to confirm that this has been attended to. Once a week, my daughter will also have to complete an “Interest Book,” in which she must write and draw pictures on a given topic. It’s all rather a lot bearing in mind that she’s only 6 years old.

Do I believe homework is important? Absolutely. Do I think children get too much? I’m afraid I do.

Where Has Childhood Gone?

Both my children come home from school completely drained, for obvious reason. At 6 and 4, they are still drinking in so many new experiences, life lessons and encounters daily. Their brains are absorbing information, not only in the structured setting of the classroom, but also in the emotional and social experiences they have in the playground. We forget how utterly exhausting that must be.

Nothing would make my heart happier than to snuggle up on the sofa with my children and a good book when they arrive home from school but, alas, such a treat is reserved exclusively for a Friday when their academic week is over. Nothing would make me more contented than to bring them to the park to feed the ducks, let them ride their bikes outside or bake Rice Krispie buns with them in the afternoons. But no, our precious time together on weekdays is cut very short by the burden of homework.

By the time everyone has been changed out of their uniforms, fed, and settled, the afternoon is already partially gone. I then spend time supervising my daughter as she completes her various homework tasks (tricky enough when there’s a baby and 4-year-old to be entertained as well). Because she’s tired, her little brain by this stage in the day is not performing the way it usually does and concentration levels are depleting. And so, homework time is often fraught with difficulty. Sometimes, such is the tiredness, it is a battle to have her even start her homework. Other times, there is frustration over minor mistakes and misspelt words; again, tiredness is a huge factor. By the time homework is eventually done, it’s approaching tea time and the afternoon has all but evaporated.

It’s left me wondering when children are expected to have a childhood? It appears to me that childhood is very much crammed into the weekends. And there’s a lot of pressure on the weekend (and, in turn, on parents). Grandparents need to be visited, fun outings had and childhood memories made, not to mention some all-important family time to be crammed into the mix.

Therefore, weekends often become a continuation of an action-packed, exhausting week, with all the events that weekdays didn’t allow time for being stuffed into Saturday and Sunday. When are children afforded downtime? Time to linger over a book of their choice, colour in, bake, play in some leaves in the garden, invent stories with their dolls or trains.

 Boring Weekends

For that very reason, we’ve introduced “boring weekends” in our household. We don’t go away anywhere further than the library or the park and the rest of the time is spent at home playing in the garden, baking biscuits, watching a DVD as a family or just chatting together on the sofa. It’s vitally important to me that my children have this breathing space. A time when they’re not being bustled from A to B and buried in set tasks. It’s important to us to give our children some headspace, some time out, some free time of their own to play and wind down. It is important for us to relax as a family, just us, at times too.

Unfortunately, I believe that children are being robbed of life’s finer things in favour of an extensive, rigid, deadline-based homework regime. So much controversy exists on the topic of iPads and phones that have been accused of snatching away childhood, but I believe there is another thief amongst us. A cleverer thief cloaked in academia, disguised as being beneficial.

Is it not possible for learning beyond the classroom to take other forms? Can children not learn from helping in the garden, going for a walk in the woods, inventing silly games with a sibling, playing with a friend?

The Important Things

For now, I will continue to encourage my children academically and their homework will never be late or incomplete. But similarly, I’ll also continue to encourage them to attain other life skills that come from experience and not books, like nurturing friendships, the art of conversation, how to bake a cake, address an audience and be kind to themselves.

You know, the important things in life.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts. Am I misinformed and ignorant as to the benefits of homework? Are you happy with the amount of homework your child gets and, if you feel they get too much, what sort of impact does it have on your family life?

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4 Comments

  1. Jeannette
    5th October 2017 / 7:22 am

    This is so true. I have kids in primary and secondary school. My older boys when they have a night when there is no home there are always projects or English lit homework to be completed. It’s exhausting most nights they won’t be cleared up until close to 8.30pm and considering they have been up and on the go from 7.00am I think school life is draining on them and me as a parent.

    • 6th October 2017 / 8:45 pm

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read Jeanette. You are right, it is draining on the children AND parents. Not being finished up until 8.30pm is such a long day for them, it leaves no time for them to be children! I am totally dreading the secondary school years for this exact reason! x

  2. 5th October 2017 / 12:21 pm

    Hi Jemma. This is a very important, wise and timely post. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as well. As you know my little man has just started P1 so it’s all new to me but already I’ve been struck by the burden of homework and the fact that he’s exhausted with all the new demands on him. It’s quite a mental leap to make a 4-year-old understand that the school day hasn’t finished, but continues at home when he’s used to having fun. I remember objecting to the amount of homework when I was young. Now my feeling is that he’s just too young. Many parents may disagree but I think 5 hours in school is plenty without doing more academic tasks at home. Great, great post. Thank you

    • 6th October 2017 / 8:42 pm

      I would have to agree with you Jonny! It’s all totally exhausting for such young minds. School is more than enough at their age. I have found a big leap in the volume of homework between P2 and P3 and am concerned as to the fact it will only continue to increase as the years go on. Thank you so much for your ever supportive words Jonny.

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