I’ve never really known how I felt about young children having homework. It’s a subject I’ve read a lot about and in principle, I’m not against it. Libby has been bringing a reading book home each day since starting school. We read those in the mornings before school because she can’t concentrate by the evening when she’s tired. And our 10 minutes together each morning has definitely improved her reading. But I think that’s enough.
The problem with homework
Libby has recently started to have a little bit more homework. Usually some basic maths or practicing handwriting, always based on the things they’re learning at school. I’m not sure she gains as much from that as the reading, but it gives us a chance to monitor how she’s getting on with her learning. And at the moment, we’re spending about 20 minutes on it at the weekend, or five to ten minutes each evening if there’s a bit more to do. And I’m comfortable with that.
For me, the problem comes when homework starts to impact on children’s lives outside of school. Our ten or twenty minutes here and there are easy to fit in. But much more than that and we’d start to struggle. And the fact that children aren’t doing schoolwork doesn’t mean they’re not learning.
Lessons that have to be lived
One evening a week, Libby goes to a drama class. The impact that class has had upon her as a person is much more noticeable than the change in her since starting school. She has gone from being a quiet, shy little girl who didn’t have the confidence to speak to people outside of the family, to a confident, self-assured and outspoken child. If she had too much homework, would I make her do that instead of the drama class that has shaped her personality in such a positive way? Of course not.
On another evening, Libby does rhythmic gymnastics. Since taking that class, she has gone from being somewhat uncoordinated due to her eyesight, to being able to balance along a beam. She can do a forward roll with no hands and she’s learning to do a bridge, a cartwheel and all sorts of other tricks. But most of all, she’s found a sport that she’s quite good at. So would I take her out of that class to do homework instead? No, because I think she learns more from the gymnastics class.
On another evening, Lia does ballet. She didn’t get on with rhythmic gymnastics but ballet is something she loves and she’s proud to take part. On alternate terms, Libby does art club at school. I noticed just this morning how immaculate her colouring is now. She’s creative, interested in art and happy to sit down and concentrate on a picture for hours on end. So would I stop the girls from going to these classes to fit in homework? I don’t think I would.
So if the girls go to classes most evenings, what about the weekends? Well that’s the time we spend together as a family. We visit places of historical and cultural interest including National Trust properties. Seeing family and spending time outside are important to us as well. We all go swimming together and Libby has a swimming lesson. She can swim a length now and is starting to learn different strokes.
As we move towards summer, we’ll be going away for weekends. We’ve got plans to visit Warwick Castle and Alton Towers. We’re going to the Jurassic Coast to look for fossils and there will be plenty of weekends at the beach. Will I give up any of these things in favour of homework? Absolutely not.
As you can see, our lives are pretty full. But the girls are young, they need time to rest. They need time to play, run, ride their bikes and fight. They need to zone out in front of the television or cuddle up to read a story. And in reality, if they have too much homework, downtime is the thing that’s going to give.
Every week I read another article about children suffering from depression and mental health problems. The stress and pressure of being a child, or being a teenager. Trying to fit in and wanting to stand out. Keeping up with school work, socialising with their peers.
As parents, there is little we can do to protect children from these pressures. Even though I won’t push the girls into achieving good exam results as they get older, they will expect that of themselves. And the stress, pressure and work will be piled onto them at school.
So while they are young, I want them to enjoy life. Go to the classes they love, have days out with the family and short breaks to do amazing things. And most of all I want them to have that downtime to chill out, zone out and forget about expectations, peer pressure and learning. I want them to remember that while they’re children, life is about having fun. And that’s a lesson they will never learn from homework.