Sunday, May 1, 2016

Primary School Homework - Preparing our kids for what????

Imagine the scene......You are at the local playground on a summer afternoon, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the light breeze on your bare arms as your children run around the equipment with their playmates. Suddenly, your friend stands up and calls out to her kids, "Okay, its time to go now, we need to do 20 minutes of winter practice before dinner". Her children groan as they leave the playground and drag their feet toward the car.
"Hang on!" you cry out. "What's winter practice?"
With great conviction and passion your friend answers "Winter is only 4 months away. I don't want my children to be caught off guard by the cold weather. So every afternoon in February, the kids spend 20 minutes standing in the freezer department of the supermarket. Next month, we will stretch it out to 30 minutes a day. By May, they each hold a bag of ice for 40 minutes. Then, when winter comes, they will be totally equipped with the skills to cope with the cold weather"
"Are you serious?" I reply.
"Yes, and if you want your children to excel at coping with winter, you really should be doing the same. How else will they manage?"
Feeling momentarily inadequate in my parenting skills, I babble on about perhaps giving them an icy-pole on the way home and making them clean out the freezer for me. I even think about taking my kids out of the playground then and there to get started on our own winter acclimatisation regime.....But its an incredibly beautiful day, the sun is shining, my children are without a care in the world at this moment in time. When winter comes, we'll get out the winter coats, turn on the heaters and work out ways to be as comfortable as possible in the cold. I'll deal with that when winter is ACTUALLY here. For now, I choose to enjoy summer. Summer will be gone soon enough, I'm not about to wish it away worrying about winter.

I know, my story seems totally unrealistic. But this is actually the way parents approach homework. Parents breathe a huge sigh of relief when the Foundation students start their home reading program. The first spelling homework sheet is confirmation that the school is actually educating their children. By year one, homework is stretched out to a 20 minute exercise, gradually increasing in length until year sixes are doing anywhere up to an hour of homework a night. When I ask parents why they are so keen for their children to do homework, many of them tell me that it is to prepare them for high school. 

I grew up in an era where homework was rarely given in primary school. Perhaps I would take a poster home to finish the lettering in the title, maybe do a little research on the life cycle of a was all pretty laid back. Then, I hit high school and I had homework to do. I hadn't engaged in a 7 year training program leading up to this moment, but I saw that I had stuff to do and I just did it. If I didn't do my homework, there were consequences. If I did it well, it was generally reflected in my results at the end of the term. I was too busy playing with my friends, practicing my netball goal shooting and riding my bike around the neighbourhood to fit in homework during my primary school years. What a childhood!

Many homework advocates give the following reasons for why homework should be given out to primary school kids. A) It reinforces the work that is being taught in class B) It gives struggling students more practice and C) It benefits students who need to be extended.
Let's look at this kids reasons.

A) Kids are at school from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. If you subtract recess and lunch, they still have 5 hours of learning to do each day. That's 25 hours a week. I have a home-schooling friend who tells me it is possible to fit in all the essentials of the Australian curriculum into 4 hour blocks, 4 days a week. 16 hours total. Fair enough, larger class sizes and the extra activities that a primary school offers, you need a few extra hours at school. But surely, if the teachers can't cover their material in 25 hours, something is wrong.

B) For struggling students, primary school is HARD. All day they are concentrating, trying their best and yet feeling discouraged because learning doesn't come as easy for them as some of their mates. How is homework meant to help this child? If they didn't understand it at school, are they going to suddenly get it through more effort at home? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Why should these children have to be reminded of their struggles at home when they could be relaxing and doing something they enjoy instead.

C) The student that needs extension does not need the teacher to set more work for them. In my experience, students who want or need extension will carry out their own homework tasks. They'll head to the library and borrow every book ever published on dinosaurs. They will develop lists of interesting facts and even create posters on their chosen topic. Doing more of the same work at home as they have done at school will not extend a child, it will only keep them busy and prevent them from extending themselves.

Soooo, what are we to do about the infiltration of homework upon our primary school kids' lives? Who is asking for all this work? Believe it or not - it's not the teachers! Most of the teachers I speak to tell me that the only reason why they are producing homework sheets is because parents keep asking for more work for their child. Parents! PARENTS! The people entrusted with giving their children a joyful, happy childhood are asking for homework when it isn't actually necessary.

Perhaps we need to open up the homework dialogue with our fellow parents. Perhaps we need to take the pressure off our kids and let them just be kids after school. Something to think about - meanwhile, I'm going to take my kids to the park.

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