“The dog ate my homework” (yes someone did once say this to me), “I left it at home”, “I wasn’t there that day” – as a teacher, I have heard a few excuses in my time about not completing homework. For many students, teachers and parents, homework isn’t always fun and isn’t necessarily something that any of these groups of people want to set, do or help with. I’m sorry to say, however, that there’s definitely a point to (most) of it and it is something that students at both primary and secondary schools should be doing (T&C’s apply).
The homework debate is one of those issues that comes to the fore every few years. Recently, it’s re-emerged through the policies of a small but growing number of WA primary schools who have made a ‘no homework’ policy within their schools. They have chosen to preference play, relaxing and reading after the school day rather than ‘homework’.
This decision has been made with the belief that primary school aged children do not have any benefit from completing homework, that recharging their batteries and family time is more important at this stage in life. Some schools have even argued it is detrimental because it gets in the way of family time.
And you know what? I see where they are coming from. I have a daughter who started primary school this year and the batteries are definitely low when she comes home each night. When she gets home she eats, plays with her sister and sometimes just sits down. She is knackered. But give her an hour and she asks to read her reader, wants to do ‘Reading Eggs’ an online literacy program or practice something she has learnt at school that day- a dance, maths, some Japanese.
And in my definition, this is homework. It is work that my daughter has learnt parts in class, that she then also does outside of school hours (some has been specifically assigned to do at home but some hasn’t). It is also something that is inclusive of us - she shares her learning with us and it becomes our ‘family time’.
In my opinion as a mother and as a teacher, the problem lies with the definition. According to the Collins Dictionary “homework is school work that teachers give to pupils to do at home in the evening or at the weekend.” This definition, for many, brings up negative connotations because it is viewed as something that seems unnecessary, inauthentic and purposeless.
But homework doesn’t have to be this way. Like the readers my daughter and all the Preps at her school are asked to take home and read each night, it can be a fun activity that also has relevance and assists them with their learning.
So why, instead of making a blanket policy and labelling all homework negative, purposeless and irrelevant to this age group, don’t we ensure that homework has purpose, is age appropriate and is an engaging yet educational tool for their students, like the reader?
For Preps, the reader is probably enough ‘homework’, but as children go through each year level there are definitely activities and tasks that can be done at home as ‘homework’ that would assist them, their learning and their study skills. This doesn’t mean every night - maybe not even every week - but engaging projects that are real life learning and inclusive of the family would be a great way to approach homework rather than dismiss it as not beneficial at all.
The amount of homework and the type of homework set should change as a student progresses through primary school so they are adequately prepared for secondary schooling where expectations, organisation and structure is vastly different.
The reality is, homework is an integral part of schooling in Australia (especially in senior levels) and banning it is not preparing these students for their secondary schooling. I know this because I saw it first-hand. I taught at a secondary school whose main feeder school had a ‘no homework policy’ and I can say this was often very detrimental to these particular students and their learning.
It impacted their ability to manage their time, their organisational skills, being responsible for their own learning and the importance of timelines and deadlines, all of which are important study and life skills. Because some were so behind with this, they were at a disadvantage to many other students who had years of practice and had to learn essential skills.
As with most things in life, it comes down to balance. In my opinion what primary school aged children need is a balance between relevant learning tasks and time to unwind. It doesn’t have to be a yes or no debate, it is not black and white. But continuing a child's education in the home, I think, is common sense.