Homework Hassles?

How is homework going in your house? We certainly have our ups and downs with it at ours. As both a teacher and a mum, I would be happy if there was no homework at all, just reading practice.

There are many parenting and psychology experts out there who advocate for homework-free homes, arguing that the cost to family wellbeing is significantly compromised when homework becomes a headache. 

This certainly begs true in our home. One of my kids flies through it, smashing the weekly homework out in a fraction of an afternoon whereas the other one needs several hours and significant support to complete it. To add insult to injury, despite being two years younger, she has more tasks on her worksheet! 

Many parents battle with the helping vs teaching dynamic when trying to assist their child with their homework. I am no exception - even as a teacher who has worked at the same school (and sometimes actually SET the homework when my child was in the same year level), I haven’t find navigating this challenge any easier. Disturbingly, often I find it’s almost harder to step out of my ‘teacher brain’ and into ‘nurturing mummy mode’ and the kids end up in tears because they’re so frustrated with me.

The case for eliminating homework is backed up by the education gospel, John Hattie, who measured around a zero effect size for non-reading-related tasks. This is concerning because as a 0.4 effect size indicates a standard year’s growth so anything less means the activity could be detrimental to learning and achievement.

In contrast, home reading can make a huge difference, as repeated reading programs have an effect size of 0.75 – and while you might get bored having your child read the same book to you two or three times a week, it’s actually the repetition that is helping their brain grow!

This creates quite a lot of internal conflict for me, because often my daughter prefers to do her reading homework after her other tasks, but by the time we’ve battled our way through them, her energy and my patience are often severely depleted. As a result, the most important task, reading, takes a very poor second place and the consequent time and effort we both feel like putting into it are drastically compromised.

While I don’t have any magic solutions for eliminating homework, here are a few ideas for easing the pain. I liken it to an epidural or spinal block that takes way all feeling during childbirth compared to gas, which just takes the edge off the intensity of contractions and helps you get through to the next one.

  1. Prioritise reading over anything else – ensure that what your child is practicing with is ‘Goldilocks levelled’… not too easy, not too hard – just right! Embrace repeated reading – celebrate the brain-growing!
  2. Break the homework into smaller tasks to do on ‘homework days’, especially if it’s weekly. If your child receives the same style of homework each week, help them develop a system or routine (eg Monday – spelling, Wednesday – maths, Thursday – handwriting).
  3. Honour your child’s rhythms. Some kids use all of their focusing energy up at school and need to eat and move before they can address their home tasks whereas others just want to get it over and done with.
  4. Negotiate with your child’s teacher if the work is too hard, too boring or too time-consuming (there are ratios for minutes to ages and stages, but every kid is different and sometimes expecting an 11-year-old to stay on task for 20-25 minutes after 5 hours of school effort is completely unrealistic – no one knows your child like you).

Many parents believe achievement at school is important and needs to be prioritised above everything else, sometimes even over family balance. To me, high academic outcomes are only beneficial when children improve in their sense of self and see themselves as capable. Eg The A student who hates themselves when they ‘only’ receive an A- is not my ideal of a well-adjusted kid (there’s a lot of excellent research about growth mindset around this concept – look up Carol Dweck).

Furthermore, if the research shows that homework (aside from repeated reading) doesn’t necessarily improve learning AND it’s not working for your family, you may wish to discuss with your child AND your child’s school some alternative options. It might even be time that as a collective community, we look at the homework culture and question its normalised status, both in our homes and our childrens’ lives.

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