My five-year-old son is in Year 1 this year. A week or so into term, he came home with a sheet of homework activities. They were things like “play outside for 20 minutes” or “help cook dinner” or “talk to one of your parents about how people used to communicate when they were kids”.
Brilliant, I thought. So we played outside for 20 minutes, or a bit longer, like we normally do. Homework sorted.
But then I dug a bit more deeply into my son’s schoolbag and found more homework. Spelling words to be written out every day. Maths and English exercises. Home reading to be done on a daily basis. Educational websites he was supposed to use.
He’s five years old. Isn’t six hours of study a day enough for him? Give the poor kid a break.
I approached his teacher after school. I told her, politely, that it seemed like my son had a lot of homework.
“Oh, it’s not compulsory,” she told me airily. “We only give it because parents want it. They’re always asking for more.”
Plenty of research has been done into giving primary school children homework. The consensus is that, for all the headaches it causes, homework really doesn't improve academic performance. Kids might as well spend 30 minutes a day smearing mud all over themselves, or hitting their siblings with foam swords, which is what my son would otherwise be doing. It will not have any impact on the likelihood of your child becoming a brain surgeon, if that is your dream for them.
Want proof that kids can grow up to be well educated without laboriously writing out spelling words night after night? Just look at Finland, where children have minimal homework and loads of outdoor playtime breaks during the day. Finnish students score among the best in the world when tested on literacy and numeracy.
The unfortunate thing is that not all parents are aware of this research. Or maybe they just don't believe it.
Earlier this week, I was picking my son up from class when I overheard a mother ask the teacher for more homework for her child. The teacher happily handed it over. That poor kid.
It's not good enough. In the early years of primary school, teachers should be telling parents, "We are not going to set regular homework. It doesn't have any real benefits for young children. If you've got time to spend with your kids after school, great. Here are some ideas for fun things you can do together."
As for my son, I will check, occasionally, to see if any spelling words are causing him trouble. I might do the odd homework activity with him, if it looks interesting. But apart from that, we will be spending our few precious after-school hours just playing together.
How much homework do your children do?