“S. Q.” *sniffle*
“U. I.” *sniffle*
“R. R. E. L.” *full-blown tears*
That was my five-year-old one evening recently, doing his spellings for his upcoming test. It was 5.30pm and I really should have stopped at that point, but I figured if he could just get the spellings done, we’d leave the tricky-word revision for another day.
I was chatting to a friend about it afterwards and she agreed that 5.30pm is a tough time for five-year-old kids and spellings – she said she finds it goes better to start earlier, around 3.30. But that’s just it – we had started at 3.30. It took two full hours to get to the final spelling. Not because my five-year-old was sitting at the table actually doing homework for the entire two hours, but precisely because he wasn’t. He was up and off playing Lego and cycling his bike every time I looked away, because those are things he likes to do.
My two girls were sitting at the same table doing their homework, and were just as distracted. One of them wanted to know the group name for shapes that have sides of equal length, and when I couldn’t help, she asked me to Google it. I said if she didn’t know the answer we should leave it blank so her teacher understands she didn’t know it – she said her teacher told them to Google it. Meanwhile I was trying to make dinner, clean out lunch boxes, make tomorrow’s sandwiches, listen to spellings, sign journals, answer work emails, and break up arguments.
The sun was shining outside, and in a perfect world, all three would have been outside enjoying the fresh air. You know, that fresh air that’s always brought up along with exercise whenever the obesity crisis or screen epidemic is mentioned.
And of course, it shouldn’t take them two hours to do their homework – I know that’s not what’s intended when the teachers put together the daily list. But when there are three children around one kitchen table, and all three are of a distractible predisposition, that’s sometimes how it goes.
And to what value? I just don’t know. There’s a school of thought that says homework doesn’t benefit kids, and there’s research to back it up. One Stanford study found that too much homework can cause students to experience “academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.” And in “The Case Against Homework”, authors Bennett and Kalish drew on research to come to the conclusion that “there is almost no evidence that homework helps elementary school students achieve academic success and little more that it helps older students.”
Of course there’s also research that says homework does improve grades in school, and plenty of open-ended debate too, focusing on the quality of the homework given and the time it takes.
I imagine how any given parent feels about it may depend on how smoothly or not it goes. If it was a ten minute uneventful process in my house, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
And I’m conscious that much of why homework doesn’t go well is down to me and my individual circumstances. Three distractible kids crowded around one not-huge kitchen table isn’t ideal, but there isn’t space for desks in their bedrooms. I imagine when teachers give out homework, they assume one patient parent is sitting with the child do go through each item on the list. They’re probably not picturing a frazzled work-at-home mum jumping between three sets of spellings and cries of “Mum, you haven’t answered my question – why do you listen to everyone else except meeeeee?” from all three.
I’m not sure what the right answer is. Perhaps they should just have reading – choosing any book they’d like to read? Or some outdoor playtime as homework, in place of filling in worksheets? Maybe just tables and spellings, with no written work?
And as a friend pointed out recently, if there was no homework, teachers wouldn’t have to correct homework, and perhaps that time could be then put to better use. Perhaps more of the curriculum could be covered in school, and the kids could spend their afternoons playing, which in itself is one of the most important ways they learn about the world.
I may be in the minority, but if I had a magic wand, I’d ban homework – at least in my house. And perhaps my kids would come out the other end of the school system unable to spell squirrel and without knowing the group name for shapes that have sides of equal length, but I’ll take my chances.