The children of Australia have now returned back to school. For most students, return to school also means the return of homework. It seems that most parents I talk to are not overly enthusiastic about homework. Some, like my sister, are passionately defiant that homework should not be given to children. For some lucky parents homework is never a big deal. These parents normally have self motivated children, who quickly and independently finish their homework. I have occasionally heard a parent comment that a struggling child likes homework, even though it’s not easy. I have noted that these children are also normally easy going and compliant children. Then there are the children hate homework as much as a cat likes a bubble bath. Homework time in such houses is very rarely pleasant.
My views on homework as a parent and a teacher are mixed. Well, quite frankly, they are quite conflicted.
As a teacher, I assigned homework. I taught years 1-3, and I am a big believer in play, so I tried not to set too much homework. I was also clear that I did not expect children to spend more than 10-20 minutes on their homework and immediately pardoned homework being incomplete if there was a note explaining they had used the allocated time or listing some other reason. The main homework I would assign was learning spelling word and drilling basic facts. Every Friday these two areas would be tested and it was normally very obvious when a child had done their homework. If for a variety of valid or invalid reasons, a child was unable to spend much time doing homework, the test results were significantly lower than previous weeks. There was a collection of students who were exceptionally bright who parents told me spent hardly any, if any time on homework, yet still achieved good results. There was also one or two students in each class of average ability who never did homework, and their results did not reflect their capability.
The thing is, I did used to drill number facts during the school day. I did get children to learn their spelling words during the school day. However, the curriculum is crowded, and there is so much to fit into one day. Things that you seriously do not want to leave out of your child’s education. Setting homework allowed the children to keep developing basic skills that required more time to cement than I was able to offer inside the classroom.
I would particularly find that children who found accuracy difficult in spelling and number facts made significant improvements when parents spent some quality time with their children. I was inspired by the faithfulness and commitment to homework of these parents and the outcomes I saw in their children’s results.
I wanted the same for my children when I had them. I had grand plans in my head about how I would do homework with my children. Years before the children came along. I had ideas of how FUN homework was going to be. Games. So many games that would make homework a delight. Kinaesthetic opportunities lavished upon my children that cater for different types of learning. The image of my child and I laughing as we explored spelling patterns and the excitement of building speed as we fired out answers to math sums. It was a delightful vision.
The reality, my friend, is different.
I hate homework.
My child hates homework.
Laughter is not a common sound as we complete homework.
The sounds of a battlefield might be a more apt description of homework in our home a lot of the time. There is wailing, there is anger, there are arguments and refusal. Not all the time. But it is common.
I used to listen to parents complain about homework, and I did empathise with them. I tried wherever possible to make it easier for them. I don’t know why I thought I would defy the odds and make homework such a fun time. I guess it was because I saw my students having so much fun when I used to complete the spelling and homework tasks in class.
I found my relationship with my students is on a totally different level to my relationship with my child. Your students have to be there. They have to be in a classroom, there is no choice. They have to do the work you present to them, so they are highly motivated to do this work in the most fun way possible.
For my child, homework is an interruption to his personal schedule. It interrupts his all important play time. And that makes him angry. Angry children do not work very well.
(And let’s face it, playtime at home is a lot of fun. And has its own list of benefits.)
My attempts to make homework ‘fun’, are not appreciated because in reality sitting 5 metres away is the ‘real’ fun. One day when I was getting him to write his spelling words out and then roll them into snowballs to throw them around the room, then pick them up, open the paper and read the word then spell it again, he just sighed and snappily retorted, “Mum, I just want to do my homework the quickest way.” And so, at his request, he sat down, scribbled out the spelling word three times, pushed back the chair and ran outside as though he had just escaped being caged with an ungracious gorilla.
I sat watching him outside, digging enthusiastically in the sand, chatting conversationally with his brother and taking time to direct his younger siblings as they created a road winding around the sand for their plastic trucks. I watched them tire of the sand pit and start running around the yard, jumping, tumbling and laughing. I watched his eyes glisten with pleasure and looked at the way his four younger siblings looked up to him in adoration as their unsteady legs followed their big brother around the garden.
I gave up trying to make homework fun.
Not completely. I still would suggest fun ways to do homework. Sometimes he would take me up on the offer, often he wouldn’t and we would just go through the motions of writing the homework out in the quickest way possible.
I will always be a teacher. There will always be the teacher side of my brain that operates. But mostly these days the Mum part of my brain is stronger. It has to be. It needs to be, because instinctively the Mum side of me knows what is best for my child, and sometimes what is best for my child in that moment is not the best for my child educationally. I have to trust my gut that by doing the best for my child in the moment, in the long run it will educationally be more beneficial to him.
I still believe in the power of homework. I will never forget the difference it made in my students life when caring parents took the time to complete homework with their child. I love the memory of parents who would come in asking home their child did in the weekly test, and the way the children’s eyes would shine with the accomplishment of a good result and the glow of pride in the parents eye as they high fived their efforts or jumped up and down in excitement because they knew how much work had been invested in that result. I would see these children become more confident in other areas of their school work, writing better because their spelling improved. Finishing math pages on time (if not before) because with stronger computation skills all of a sudden maths became easier.
However, I also know that in family life, homework is not always beneficial in the complexity of living everyday. There are parents rushing home late from work that are stressed by homework, and stressed parents might get the job done, but in doing so, tension has increased in the household. This has an effect on learning as well.
There are babies and toddlers in homes who interrupt children trying to do homework. There are mothers who are trying their best to help their school kid, but she feels inadequate because homework needs to be done in between dirty nappies and the homework book need to be wiped clean of baby vomit.
Last week as I was trying to do homework with my eldest, one of the triplets managed to retrieve a aerosol suncream from a high shelf (we shan’t go into details how) and proceeded to coat the floor in suncream spray and then spray his own eyes. Homework assistance was halted to a screaming child, and then I needed to mop the floor at least a dozen times before the stickiness was removed.
I know the feeling overwhelming of trying to stay calm when your child does not have the logical ability to reason that if he just sits still and gets it over and done with, it will be all over and he can get back to his own agenda.
The struggle of helping your child when you are existing on four hours sleep from the previous evening.
The rush of doing homework in between swimming lessons and soccer practice.
Myriads of other reasons why homework is just not easy.
There are benefits for doing homework.
There can also be consequences when homework is done.
What does homework time look like at your home? Do you love or abhor it? Or are you strangely indifferent? Is your child an independent learner who can do it without assistance or do you need to spend the time with them to ensure that he/she is actually learning? What are your best strategies for getting it done? Please share with us the good, bad and the ugly!
Linking with Essentially Jess.