Picture this: It’s term 4, week 8 and the school Christmas concert is looming. Every ridiculous Christmas deadline invented for the sake of a Christmas deadline is keeping me awake at night. It’s 7.15pm. The kids are exhausted and unwashed, dinner is burning, the school uniforms are purple slime encrusted for some reason and need a wash. The dog peed on the rug because she needs a walk and the kids need to get their dumb homework done.
Dinner is now going to be canned spaghetti on toast and I’m literally peeing on the toilet next to the bath my 7 year old son is in, as I’m doing his home reader (please don’t think we are creepy, this scenario is not my first choice.)
My daughter is downstairs doing her sight words, which I suspect she’s cheating on, while I’m trying to explain silent K’s upstairs.
So I race down and pack the dishwasher and feed the dog while I test her on the words and check spelling. She throws her homework book and storms off in a huff.
Then we are supposed to do Mathletics and Reading eggs for both kids, plus 20 mins of reading for my 9 year old.
It’s now 8pm and I’m dangerously close to a kid face planting into their gluey spaghetti.
We drop the rest of the homework, watch a little telly and read a book in bed.
This is not a disaster day. This is a normal weekday.
Then you can throw in singing lessons, dinner plans, a bout of nits, a forgotten hat parade or a dog who swallowed a bee and chaos reigns.
This is life.
I don’t want to spend the precious, short hours I have with my kids fighting about homework.
And at their tender age, I think learning in a traditional sense for 6 hours a day is definitely enough.
A lot of the time we are together is spent learning anyway. Not that it’s all Little House on the Prairie, but between Mario Kart, iPads and arguments about room cleaning, we like to walk after dinner, and working out whether your body weight will hold when swinging on a fig vine at the park is surely a science lesson. Practicing spray painting on my back wall with coloured hair spray (I know, but it’s fun) is an art lesson, and reading a book about farts in bed together is an English lesson.
I’m not alone.
Most parents and carers I asked responded passionately. Ok, I live in a Leftie bubble, but I was astonished at the rate of active homework anarchists.
Children’s author Mick Elliott sees homework for young kids as not only unhelpful, but could actually harm kids when they become adults.
“Homework at primary school age is a means of indoctrinating kids into the concept that ‘work’ should extend into personal life. No surprise that as adults we feel obligated to bring home work that we are too busy to complete in our work days. Reading to kids every night - particularly reading purely for pleasure, not the banal home readers that come home from the classroom - is invaluable for building literacy skills, intelligence and empathy. Freeform play is also essential for developing creativity, imagination and problem solving.
As soon as these activities feel like pressured, time-sensitive tasks, the capacity to learn diminishes.”
Every teacher I spoke stressed the importance of reading to and with kids regularly over homework sheets and apps any day. That’s one of my favourite things to do so it kind of feels like cheating. I’m in.
Parents and carers overwhelmingly resented their family time being cut into. As my friend Glenn says, “Both parents now nearly always work full time so we're not picking young kids up till 5pm (at the earliest sometimes), dropping them off at 8am, and I'm damned if I'm going to spend what precious little time I have with them in the week, struggling through homework that they're too exhausted to do anyway.” He also swore a fair bit about how annoying homework is, but I spared you that.
A couple of friends even said they actively chose primary schools that had a no homework policy (sign me up).
Another mum I know did an experiment, “Last year we didn’t do any homework at all and I don’t think it made much of a difference to her schoolwork. We read, a lot. The kids spent their afternoons outdoors.”
Kids learn at different rates, and people surveyed found that some kids actively seek homework, whereas others find it stressful. And that stress can make their kids even more anxious at school.
Nicole works full time and is a single mum, and homework wasn’t working for her and her boys. She spoke to the teachers about it and they helped her to focus on a few things her boys needed to work on, rather than bombard them with too much extra work.
“They only encouraged additional work where each of the boys may need some help, they were very supportive.”
So, we don’t have to keep our non-homework compliance a secret from our kid’s teachers. In fact, it could be helpful to fess up and explore some alternatives.
A wise woman I know said that when her son fell a bit behind, they needed to catch up out of school hours. But her biggest win was getting family and friends to help out, “My biggest hack to getting it done has been enlisting the other non-primary care giver adults in Sid’s life to come and engage with Sid and do it with him. Even though it’s sometimes hard to expect this from people, it is by far the most inspired and effective process for him to do homework.”
I love this approach, but I think 2020 will be a no homework year in my house.
Do you feel better? I feel better. Say it loud, say it proud, HOMEWORK SUCKS!
I’m going to wear my non homework stance with pride. Unless I get sent to the principal’s office about it, because she is incredibly awesome but super scary. In that case I will lie and then recite my Times Tables.