Some months ago I commented on Facebook about how much I’d like to meet the educationalist (I was rather less complimentary in my description of them then) who decided that primary school children should do homework. The status post drew comment from several parents of primary school aged children and I sensed there was a general agreement with me that homework at primary school is, on the whole, a bad thing. Fuelled by the belief therefore that I might not be alone in despising the entire concept, I have decided to express my experiences and views in more detail here to see if I can gather any momentum around the subject.
I went to three schools before taking my 11 plus exam – one infant school and two junior schools. I am sure that I did not get set homework at any of them. A very unrepresentative poll of my work colleagues has failed to find anyone, even amongst the youngest of them, that recalls getting homework before they went to senior school either. I have even challenged some friends who are teachers and they cannot help me with when or how it started. I am forced to deduce therefore that it is a recent development and was introduced by someone who either didn’t have children at the time or whose children were too grown up for it to affect them!
I don’t know if the homework setting at my children’s school is typical but it has four regular parts: a project of some sort; ten words to learn how to spell and write into a sentence; a maths task and the recommendation that the child reads for at least 15 minutes a day. This workload is obviously designed to be spread over 7 days but the children rarely get their homework books back from marking before Wednesday reducing the real time to 5 days. Then, unless they are the type who would prefer to do homework rather than Cubs or Brownies, play in the garden, swim, watch television or play computer games, they don’t remind us of the need to do the work until Sunday (occasionally Saturday) when it dawns on them that it has to be handed in shortly.
It would of course be helpful if we, as conscientious parents, made a point of grabbing the homework sheet on the Monday when it’s usually published and get the child working on it from day one. Sadly with all the other responsibilities that come with parenthood, policing homework every night of the week for under 11s isn’t very high on our list of priorities.
So invariably it gets done at the weekend. Often with weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth but it is always done.
Then there’s the tasks themselves. This week’s project for my son was to keep a daily diary. The instructions asked that entries “look to the future at the end of your diary entry” and “share feelings”. Look to the future? If I asked my 9 year-old son what he was hoping would happen the next school day and to share his feelings he’d say: “Lots of snow and the school being closed Daddy. I’ll be disappointed if that doesn’t happen”. In addition to the daily diary, he had maths work to do (fast addition of two digit numbers) and the ten usual sentences. This all on top of the 15 minutes a day we should make sure he is reading for.
This week’s words to learn and put into context were actually words that I felt a young child might use but in the past we’ve had words that even we grown-ups, who have a reasonable vocabulary, have struggled to put into a sentence. The one that we both had the biggest problem contextualising recently is ‘tradeable’. Not only is it a difficult word to put into a sentence whatever your age but it isn’t in my ageing (1990) version of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. For those without such weighty tomes to refer to Microsoft’s 21st century spell-checker doesn’t recognise it either!
Our children’s primary school isn’t unique in setting difficult tasks. This weekend a colleague’s ten year-old announced that they had been asked to write a poem as part of their homework. Having decided on the subject the parent was beginning to list some related words that rhymed when the child proudly declared that the poem had to be 30 lines or more! Isn’t that a minimum of 15 pairs of words that rhyme on the same subject?
I have absolutely no qualifications in children’s education but I have to wonder about the value of getting those so young to work outside of school hours when so many of them seem to find the standard school day so tiring. Perhaps a project or two during the school holidays to keep their brains active but homework every night?