School has returned for another term and along with school uniforms, the morning rush and healthy food choices comes the inevitable return of homework. Children as young as 4 years old are now getting homework from their schools. Children who should be playing and laughing and enjoying time with their families are now having the expectation put on them that they should be doing more academic ‘school work’ at home! Why are schools putting this pressure on the youngest members of our society to grow up so fast? It’s no secret that Scandinavian countries have the oldest school age entry and some of the best academic results in the world. Yet, we don’t seem to be watching or listening!
With research behind me, I discussed with our school my stance on homework for lower primary school children and explained my five reasons my children would not be doing their school set homework.
1. Let Children Play!
Maria Montessori said it best: Play is the work of children! Small children learn best through play. Research shows that play based learning is the way forward for young children. The Early Years Learning Framework has been devised with a heavy emphasis on play based learning. At this critical time children are developing their social and emotional learning and also learning to monitor and moderate their responses when engaging with peers. Whilst play will occasionally include frustration, challenge and even some fears, the EYLF is based on the key principle of enjoyment. Academic homework for our very young children goes against this theory of play. In our home we support our children with the ‘homework’ of being read to and engaging in the joy of reading (including listening to stories on CD’S).
2. Generic Worksheets – Undifferentiated Time-fillers
My biggest pet peeve is undifferentiated homework worksheets! These are the worst type of homework activities that exist. You know the ones, they are numbered to match the week of the school year and in no way do they truly reflect 1) what the children are learning that day/week and 2) what your child needs to develop their understanding and 3) the interests of the child. No, no, NO!!!! Say NO to undifferentiated homework worksheets… just … no!!
3. Learning at Home
If we set the school up as the ‘holder of knowledge’ and reinforce to our children that learning happens at school and is always ‘set by the school’ then we are setting our kids up to miss all the learning opportunities that exist in the world around them. We set them up to think that learning happens during allocated hours of the day and is only done ‘intentionally’ or ‘deliberately’. It is far more important that our children understand that learning is both conscious (sometimes requiring effort) and unconscious as a consequence of living our every day lives. Do you cook dinner? Get the kids to help: measure, count, weigh. Gardening? Get the kids to dig and plant and grow alongside you. Just about every activity at home is an opportunity to learn something new or further develop an existing understanding.
4. Extra-curricular Activities
More and more families have access to extra curricular activities that broaden children’s minds and develop their interests. Child loves the water – swimming lessons! Child loves technology – film-making lessons! Child loves dance, music, art – a range of clubs and classes to meet their needs. Whilst I am not advocating over-scheduling a child with activities so that they don’t have time to rest, I am suggesting that having access to these opportunities is an awesome way for families to allow their children to participate in activities that interest them in any given term. And let’s face it, their interests can change from term to term, so having the option to try these activities can help them to broaden their skills, knowledge, and peer interaction. SO much better than school set homework!
5. School Set Homework – A Time and A Place
School set homework has a time and it has a place. I am not against all forms of homework at all times. When homework develops the individual child, reinforces a new concept and/or stretches a child’s existing understanding of a topic, I am happy to encourage it and support my children as they engage and learn. As children get older, around Year 5, they move towards becoming young ‘students’ and they need to prepare for the rigors of secondary school. Starting to teach your child about time management, conscious learning, concentration and engaging in home based academic learning is essential. These skills are required in the ‘grown up’ world for them to manage their lives and by this age it is good to start children practicing the art of ‘homework. For more about how to manage this process click here.
For now, we do not do school set homework. My oldest is only eight years old and we garden, cook, swim and make films. His school continues to accept our family’s decision with the understanding that he is highly engaged whilst he is at school and also engaged in other activities after school that interest him. He is constantly learning. He loves school. He loves learning. He will learn to engage with homework as he gets older, but for now …. we play!