My two sons don’t really like doing their homework.
All those sentences to write and sums to complete don’t really appeal when there are balls to kick and trampolines to jump on and a garden full of sticks to turn into swords.
They moan and groan and procrastinate to only finally sit down to it when threatened with the ultimate of punishments; no iPad on the weekend.
It’s a nightly ritual that isn’t particularly pleasing for any of us, but we persevere.
What’s making it tricky though is the new realisation that some kids don’t have to go through the torment that they do.
Some kids are out there kicking that ball and bouncing on their own trampoline because some kid’s much nicer and much kinder parents have decided to opt their children out of homework.
So why can’t we mum? Henry’s mum doesn’t make him do it.
It’s tempting isn’t it? No more nagging and threatening, no more pleading and cajoling. Just say no to homework.
Life in Henry’s house must be calmer and quieter than in mine. Life in Henry’s house sounds appealing.
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It’s a route more and more time poor families are taking and one more and more schools are facilitating. If you don’t want your child to do homework, if you don’t agree with it – then don’t.
More schools are adopting the “opt out policy” and more parents are embracing the idea.
Some don’t opt out totally, just partially.
“We just do one exercise,” a friend tells me. She’s not Henry’s mum, but when she tells me of her homework policy I wonder whether her house is similar to Henry’s house.
“I pick one half of a page and tell them to just do that and I never get them to do their pre-set maths on the computer because it just takes too long.”
Henry does none. She does a third. Mine - I make them do the lot. Via iStock.
My friend tells me that the teachers don’t mind and it gives her back much needed time in the evening. She says that her kids probably do less than a third of what is set each week with full parental blessing.
Henry does none. She does a third. Mine - I make them do the lot.
Curious - and because she's the kind of friend who doesn't mind these kinds of questions I ask her what is really bugging me.
“Are you not concerned that you are teaching your kids they don’t have to do what they are told. That they are more special than the other kids? Are you worried they won't respect their teacher?”
Her answer: "sometimes you have have to do what you think is best for your children."
What I fear is that by enabling a system of do-what-you-want-not-what-you-are-told - by either partially or fully “opting out” - we are creating a generation of entitled children who will grow up believing if they just don’t like something they can opt out.
If the work is too hard or too difficult to fit in then just don’t do it.
Is it undermining a teacher’s authority?
I asked a teacher I knew, who told me that she felt exactly that way too.
So why not cut out homework altogether? I asked her.
She told me that that she genuinely believes homework is an important way for children to review what they have learnt during the day and for parents to get a handle on what they are doing. She said she understands that some parents are busy and that’s why they set homework to be done over a period of time, rather than every day so that together a family can work out a schedule for when to complete it.
She tells me that, oddly enough, she has as many parents asking for MORE homework as none at all, then she confesses that she worries a lot about the kids whose families are opting out.
That perhaps the opting out is making them miss out as well.
Her answers still leave me confused. What to do? Is Henry's mum doing the right thing? Am I the one making the mistake?
Is homework even helpful? Via iStock.
Looking to research is no help as for every study you get saying homework has no benefits you can equally find a study that says it is good for kids.
A recent OECD report found that students in Australia's private schools do two hours' more homework each week than their public school peers but their results were are no better once socio-economic advantage was taken into consideration.
And yet a separate study by Oxford University of 3000 children from preschool to high school found that spending more than two hours a night doing homework is linked to achieving better results in English, maths and science.
Education academic Mike Horsley, who co-wrote the book Reforming Homework told Fairfax Media last year there was a "fair degree of difference" in how parents and teachers valued homework.
"For some parents, homework presents specific challenges in the modern lifestyles, so with the changes in the workplace and living arrangements, more traditional types of homework presents challenges and in some cases these challenges have turned into a fair bit of family conflict," Professor Horsley said.
"There is a fair bit of research that says homework doesn't have a great contribution to learning as measured by standardised tests but that does not mean we should abandon homework."
He says that that homework should be reformed and be much more aligned to how learning should occur.
"We say in our book that we should not ban homework because it is important for kids to get themselves organised and manage their own learning, but if it is hours and hours of drill and practice, then we would not support that," he said.
It is important for kids to get themselves organised and manage their own learning. Via iStock.
At the age of six and eight my kids really only get 15 to 20 minutes a night a few times a week, the rest of the "homework" is just reading books. Its a level I am comfortable with and a battle I'm prepared to fight.
With wistful thoughts of how Henry's house must be I pledge to soldier on.
The homework battle will continue except now it has become a battle not just about doing it but about why they have to when other kids don’t.