Over at Sunny Days last week, editor Jayne Kearney pondered the relevance of homework. I did leave a brief comment, but since I wrote it in Russian and kept mentioning viagra, it seems to have disappeared into the ether of the Wonderful World of Web. I have however been ruminating over the whole homework topic this week, so now a mere comment wont suffice – you get a blog. Aren’t you lucky?
I reckon teachers are kind of stuck when it comes to homework. It seems that half the parents want it, and half despise it. The half that want it, perhaps feel that the world these days is moving pretty quickly and kids are thrust into success or failure a lot earlier than previous generations. Nobody wants to feel that their child is being left behind because of a lack of effort on their part. I have noticed that as children come closer to high school, there are more parents worrying that their children wont be prepared, and that perhaps getting into a good study routine beforehand will help.
The argument against homework is possibly promoted by the battles that parents have to wage on several fronts in order to get it done – battles against time, resources and, of course, unwilling participants. Even if a worksheet should only take five minutes to complete, there is the half-hour of arguing beforehand that needs to be factored in! Many people also believe that six hours of sitting still and learning is plenty for kids in early primary school, when play is still so incredibly important to their overall development.
Personally I feel that as with most parenting and educational practises, there is no one-size-fits-all model for homework. Some kids crave learning and/or routine, and will approach a homework task with zeal. Other kids just occasionally need a little bit of extra practise to get those dratted times tables or spelling words to stick. Some kids of course need a lot of extra help to get them up to a functional level of literacy and numeracy. Homework is not the only solution in this case, but it can be one more opportunity for parents to work with their kids.
So what can schools do to cater to all kids? My kids’ primary school has a “home learning (note the name change) is optional” policy. Home learning is sent home in the form of a home reading in the early years, then works its way up to a weekly times tables sheet and perhaps some spelling list practise. In the later years there is also a small activity – which could range from doing a “random act of kindness” to finding five facts about a topic they are studying at school. There is no punishment for not doing it. No reward for excellent work. Not by the school at least, because it is home learning. Of course parents can reward (or punish) at home if that is their thing.
So how has this worked for us? My daughter was never keen on homework. She was the kid who was always straight back outside the minute she got home. I was thrilled not to have to fight the homework battle. I left it entirely up to her. If she got bored, I would suggest she look at her home learning. She would occasionally play Mathletics or Spelling City online (through her school). When she struggled with remembering her times tables, we’d get out the practise sheets. Sometimes a topic would grab her interest – she made an awesome powerpoint presentation about penguins, made several posters and wrote a hilarious speech for public speaking. She played netball and had flute and piano lessons as she was in the school band. But most afternoons she did nothing but ride her skateboard, annoy the cats or play with the kids across the road.
What about high school? It can seem a big leap from ‘all play’ to the more rigorous demands of secondary education. Personally I think assessments and assignments are fantastic things. Much better than a single test at the end of each semester to give a final mark in a subject. I’m pleased to say that so far, despite the distinct lack of formal homework in late primary school, my daughter seems to be handling the juggle of assignments quite well. She can budget her time and activities with only a few “gentle reminders” from mum. Also she wants to do well for herself. She has already, just three months in, learned that it is satisfying to get a decent result on an essay for one subject, to put together a good brochure for another. And best of all, she still fits in the skateboard and plays with other kids, and the cats are still well and truly annoyed.
How do you feel about homework? Would you like to see a “home learning is optional” policy at your kids’ school?