Homework sucks! Right? Well, perhaps it sucks far more than we realise. What if I told you it was ruining your child’s education? Here’s how:
The students who are most able to learn are those who have good mental health. A child who feels safe, happy and loved, is more receptive to learning. So far I haven’t told you anything you didn’t know.
To nurture a child and help mould them into a healthy well-balanced person, parents need to spend time with them: listening to them, talking to them, helping them to deal with their emotions, talking through their fears, planning how to deal with situations, praising them for good attitudes. Parents need to spend quality time with their children, playing board games, reading together, caring for a pet together, curling up in front of a good film. A child who feels as though their parents have time for them and care for them will grow up with a much better attitude than those who feel ignored or marginalised. Still you already know this.
Day One – Today I will have quality time with my child. I’m going to be the best parent ever.
You’re driving home from work, you think, we’ll have a quick tea tonight so that we can spend some quality time with our child. You get in from work and your child has already been home half an hour but hasn’t started their homework. They claim they didn’t get straight on with their homework because they were tired after a day at school and just wanted a snack and to chill out in front of the TV. You’re livid. That’s half an hour wasted that they could have got on with their homework. That’s half an hour less time available for your planned quality time. Stop! Wait a minute – your child was right! Of course they are tired and hungry when they get in from school. Aren’t you frequently tired after a full day’s work? And they were learning new things ALL DAY LONG! Just the thought of it is making me tired. And they’re only kids! So they deserved their chill out time.
Now it’s time to do their homework. They need to spend 40 minutes on their English project but dinner is ready in 30 minutes so they just rush it to finish it.
They have their tea and now they’re feeling sleepy, but they still have their maths homework to do. They don’t want to do it. They want to watch TV. You are a law abiding, rule abiding parent trying to do the right thing so you tell your child off for being lazy and insist they do their maths homework. An argument ensues and you’re particularly fuming because you wanted to spend quality time with them but they’re taking it up with homework. Stop! Wait a minute – you TOLD them to do their homework. They worked all day then you made them work all evening. The school loves you for being so supportive. But who’s supporting your child?
Finally, homework is finished. They’re still in their uniform. No point getting changed now, it will be bed time soon anyway. “Let’s have a game of cards” you say. “I just want to watch TV” they reply. You’re really hurt. You wanted to spend quality time with them and all they want to do is watch rubbish on TV. Stop! Wait a minute – they have no brain energy left to spend on a tactical card game. They have no energy left to do anything except flop in front of the TV and watch The Simpsons.
Next morning, your child doesn’t want to get out of bed. They’re dreading school. This is because they know they didn’t complete their English homework to their best standard and the teacher will say something. They know they were too tired to do their best in maths and the teacher will say something. Worse, they had a history homework that they didn’t tell you about and so now they know they will have an after-school detention. They arrive at school tired, grumpy and fed up. They are not mentally prepared to learn and have a hard time taking in new information.
Day Two – Today I WILL have quality time with my child. I’m going to be the best parent ever.
You get home from work and your child is still at school – in detention. When they eventually get home you are furious that they didn’t do their history homework. They’d lied when they’d said they only had English and Maths. Now they’ve already used up one hour when you wanted to have quality time with them. You tell them off and order them to get straight on with today’s homework. No they can’t have a break – they lost that chance by being in detention. Stop! Wait a minute – did they actually have time to do that homework last night anyway?
Homework is interrupted by tea. If they hadn’t been in detention they would have finished their homework before tea – it’s their own fault. They finish tea and you force them back to their homework. They argue again but you point out what happened when they didn’t do their homework last night. They only end up having to do it in the end anyway in detention if they don’t do it at home. Stop! Wait a minute – They’ve been working all day long, they didn’t get a break when they got home, they worked up to tea and now they’re working after tea. Are these work hours even legal?
They finish their homework, but it wasn’t their best effort they were angry. And tired. They refuse to play a board game with you and stomp upstairs to play on their X-box and complain to their friends what awful parents they have. Their friends listen to them and sympathise.
Next morning your child doesn’t want to get out of bed. They’re dreading school. This is because they know they were too tired and angry to do a good job of their homework and their teacher will say something. Also today is their least favourite day with their least favourite subject and least favourite teacher. They arrive at school tired, grumpy and fed up. They are not mentally prepared to learn and have a hard time taking in new information.
Day Three – Today I WILL have quality time with my child. I’m going to be the best parent ever.
You arrive home from work and your child is already home. Great this is better than yesterday. But they haven’t done their homework. They’re stuffing food into their face, staring at the TV. “Why aren’t you doing your homework?” you snap. How many times do you have to tell them they must do their homework as soon as they get in from school otherwise they end up doing it too late at night and going to bed late. They argue with you and stomp about a bit but eventually start their homework. You stomp into the kitchen to make the tea angry that your child has been lazy yet again. Stop! Wait a minute – haven’t we already been here? Haven’t we already noted that the child is not lazy – just overworked! And which subject has given homework today? Only the subject that they hate the most. What motivation do they have to complete it – the threat of detention. What do they get if they complete their homework? Nothing. Just not a detention. You give them their tea and then ask to see their homework. You’re suspicious because you know they hate this one. Just as you suspected, they haven’t done their homework, they’ve been messaging their friend about how awful the teacher is, how awful the subject is and how awful parents are. You shout at them, remove all electronic gadgets and force them to do their homework. They don’t finish until after bed time.
Next morning your child doesn’t want to get out of bed …
Okay, so I’ve made my point that your child is too tired (and probably disinterested) for homework, they’re not doing it to a high standard and I’ve made my point that it is impacting negatively on their learning the next day. I hope you have also picked up on how miserable your child is and how miserable the parent is.
Now how about the teachers?
They are instructed to give homework out on a weekly (or fortnightly depending on the school) basis. Here are the reasons they hate setting homework:
- Setting homework eats into the time they would rather spend creating exciting and informative lessons.
- They don’t have time to create a whizz-bang exciting homework, because they are already over-stretched with all the lesson planning and marking.
- They know the homework they set is not going to aid learning, but they will be in trouble if they don’t set something so they just grabbed anything.
- The homework is always a poor standard – you can tell the children have rushed it and not taken care over it.
- They’re going to have to find time to mark the homework.
- They are going to have to start the lesson on a negative because some of the children will not have done their homework. It’s not easy to get students enthused in your subject when you’ve started with a telling-off.
- They are going to have to spend an hour in detention with the students who didn’t complete their homework, taking yet more time away from planning amazing lessons.
- Some of the children don’t have a book to do their classwork in because they “left their homework at home”. The teacher immediately stresses about “what if OFSTED sees their book”.
Now picture this alternative:
Day One – Today I will have quality time with my child. I’m going to be the best parent ever.
You’re driving home from work, you think, we’ll have a quick tea tonight so that we can spend some quality time with our child. You get in from work and your child has already been home half an hour. They’ve got changed, made themselves a snack and been watching TV for half an hour. They feel content and relaxed because they’ve had chance to wind down from a hard day at school. You ask how school has been and they tell you about the funny thing that happened during break. You both have a laugh and your child follows you into the kitchen when you begin to make tea. During this time, they tell you that they have had trouble with another child at school. You discuss the problem and the best way to deal with it, and your child is relieved that you listened and helped. You sit down together and eat a meal. After tea, your child’s friend calls and they play out for an hour. When your child gets back you play a board game and they tell you they’re no longer worried about the child who had caused trouble because they have arranged to walk to school with their friend and hang out with them all day. You watch a comedy program together and then your child gets ready for bed.
Next day your child gets out of bed, meets their friend and goes to school. They are fresh alert and ready to learn. The teacher greets them with a smile and teaches a whizz-bang lesson.
Now … which scenario do you think sets them up for a happy, successful life and enables them to learn at their personal best?
So what’s the solution?
Surprisingly, I’m not asking for an all-out ban on homework. Judicious homework now and then can reap huge rewards. If a teacher tells a class who doesn’t normally have homework, that they have an assessment coming up and here’s some revision guides, I strongly suspect they will take it far more seriously than if it was just yet another homework among many. Preparing for a new topic might have an interesting bit of research. Another homework that I agree with is for students to finish what they didn’t complete in class. If they’ve wasted class time messing around then they can finish it in their own time. This gives the students incentive to behave in class. Behave – no homework. Mess around – homework! There are homeworks that make sense, but the minute you start dishing out drivel, week in, week out – that’s when you turn students off homework and off independent study.
There are those who argue that homework is keeping some naughty children off the streets. I disagree entirely. The “naughty” children aren’t doing their homework anyway. They’re still on the streets, but the conscientious children are missing out on fun, locked away in the misguided notion that they’re doing the right thing.
I also think there’s a place for voluntary homework. For those students who enjoy school work, especially academic work, why not have a bank of homeworks they can either access on-line or from the teacher’s desk at school? They can earn achievement points for any they complete. Give the control to the child: if they want to do extra homework – go for it. If they want to play out – let them. After all, they are all little individuals with their own likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, ambitions and worries. It doesn’t matter what their skills are; academic, social skills, football, cooking, being around animals. They need to carve their own way in the world, and to be able to find out who they are and where they fit in. They need to have evenings and weekends free to discover themselves and enjoy their lives. They’re only young once. Let our kids be kids!