Every year, a few weeks into first term, you hear the question. It comes from parents of kids who have just started school and have come home with homework to be done each night. The kids are often just six years old, and they might have a home reader, sight words to be learnt, maybe even a worksheet or two.
“How do you fit it in?”
The question comes most often from working parents who are already struggling to squeeze dinner and bathtime into that small window before bedtime. On social media, other parents are quick to offer suggestions. They get their kids to do homework early in the morning, or over breakfast or dinner. Or maybe they stick up the sight words in rooms around the house for their kids to learn.
But the president of the NSW Teachers’ Federation, Maurie Mulheron, doesn’t agree with parents trying to cram homework into their young kids’ lives.
“Why would a child love learning if they’re going to the toilet and there’s spelling words on the back of the door?” he asks.
Mulheron, who has 40 years’ teaching experience, tells Mamamia that he’s not a fan of homework, full stop.
“I think it’s largely a waste of time,” he says. “There’s no research that I’ve seen that shows that giving particularly young kids additional homework has any beneficial impact on their learning outcomes. In fact, in many ways it could actually be discouraging.”
Obviously, students in the senior years of high school need to do homework, and there are some children who need one-on-one help in certain areas. But apart from that, Mulheron says there are already enough hours in the school day.
“Our kids spend a lot longer in school than other countries. I don’t know why we need to be giving them extra work at home.”
He says the other problem is that parents aren’t teachers.
"If it comes to kids struggling with a bit of research or a mathematical problem, that should be done in front of the teacher who can make the assessment of what the kid's doing and why they might be struggling with the problem."
Mulheron says parents who are finding it hard to fit in their kids' homework should pay a visit to the school.
"They've got to try and seek time with the principal and say, 'Look, we're not understanding the purpose of this. It's causing undue stress, it's eating into family time, it's causing tension between me and my child… I can't see why there's any necessity for it. What is your homework policy?'"
He believes a culture of hothousing has sprung up, with parents wanting their child to have a jump on other children, and that's put pressure on teachers to give more homework.
"I think a lot of teachers go through the motions to keep some parents happy - that somehow, by giving the kids homework, parents will think they're a good teacher."
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He thinks schools should be giving parents advice on things they can do with their kids: talking to them about school and relationships, watching interesting movies and documentaries, reading to them, taking them to galleries and museums.
"That is so much more beneficial than sitting down with a worksheet at the end of the day when everyone's tired and stressed and you're trying to juggle work and mealtime and bedtime."
He also thinks getting kids involved in music, dance, drama and sport is better for them than sitting down to do homework.
"And non-structured playtime is so important for kids in the afternoon," he adds.
As for the popular belief that kids should start doing homework in early primary school to prepare them for the challenges of high school, that isn't shared by Mulheron. He thinks that years of "drudgery" every afternoon and constant arguments with parents aren't good for kids, who can end up developing "work avoidance".
"Five or six years of these kind of conflicts, they're over it, they're sick of it. You haven't actually formed good habits at all. You've burned kids out."
How do you manage children's homework? Tell us in the comments below.