The great homework debate

It seems that the great homework debate has been hitting school car parks, parents all over social media, dinner party conversations (for those of us who are still wild and crazy enough not to be in bed by 8.30pm) and I'm sure, school staff rooms, hard and fast this last year. 

I for one have always been an advocate of no homework, we've never really been fans. There was of course much excitement a few years ago on the first day of Grade 1 with my daughter as the homework bag got pulled out and we started our journey with Biff and Chip, but honestly - that excitement lasted a day and since it's been a struggle. (And yes, I know that there are many many kids who do love homework, just not mine, and I'm cool with that - maybe I've even influenced that.)  

The thing is - I hate having to break up any of their games they're playing outside for them to come and do their homework. (I'll admit that we are privileged to live in an estate community where there's generally a small gang of kids playing in the road, or at the park which does make for fun and adventurous afternoons without having to helicopter parent them all the time.) 

Here's a list I read of some of the drawbacks to homework (I got this list off a newsletter that the headmaster from Merchiston Prep in KZN sent out to parents  recently and which was forwarded to me this week.)

  • Homework discriminates against children whose parents are not well educated, against parents who have English as a second language, against, essentially, parents who are not able to provide adequate support at home.
  • Education should level the playing field but homework has the potential to create inequitable learning environments.
  • Access to resources at home is unequal.
  • Parental support and tutoring, high speed internet, quiet work spaces, and role models may not be available or, if they are, may need to be shared with other siblings.
  • School days are extended due to the fact the sport occupies a large proportion of afternoons and extra coaching also dominates free time.
  • It is increasingly more prevalent that both sets of parents work long hours.
  • Homework is not set according to ability level.
  • Homework is a known source of stress and arguments.
  • Research shows the level of academic benefit is negligible. It is not a good investment of time.

For me, parenting my two kids - my main grudge against homework is that quite simply I just agree with the point above that the academic benefit of doing homework is negligible and not a great investment of their time (excluding reading of course). It really does go against my instinct to call them in from playing outside to count to 100, and do some bonds. For me - they've had their time at school where they've had to sit still for most of the morning (there's a whole other post), and we know that kids learn better through play, so dammit, let's let them play. 

And so here is actually the crux of my thoughts today - doing away with homework is not done because homework is a hack for parents, or because the kids don't like doing it, in my opinion, it's done away with because their time can be better spent playing, or reading, exploring, thinking, making mud potions, engaging with friends, learning social skills... the list goes on.

The problem though is that doing away with homework has the potential to become another opportunity for more screen time, or to fill their afternoons with even more formal 'afternoon activities' and that, I believe, is totally not the point. So parents... it's up to you and me to ensure that we are actually parenting our kids through this shift. Yes, let's advocate for no, or less homework, but then let's follow through with that and make sure that our kids are using that time for what it's intended for, and that it's done for the better of our kids well being - not to get us off the homework hook nor to get them in front of a screen. 

Let's embrace this opportunity for more adventures outside, more fort building, more hide and seek, pretending to be Chips riding our BMX's around and more mud potions. Let the kids play, make the kids play... we're up against tech which is a hard act to compete against (and it certainly does have it's place!) but honestly, let's LET THEM PLAY.

About the Author Jude Foulston

Jude is a mom of 2 youngish kids. Much of Jude's parenting journey is influenced by the learning and insights she has gained through working with the team from TomorrowToday who are both experts on the Future of Work and pretty awesome parents of older kids.

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1 comment
Cara Ferrar says February 8, 2019

I’m anti homework because in addition to all the points made, and especially the ‘negligible affect on their learning’ bit, homework is SUCH a bind for the teacher to mark/give feedback on!! What a waste of time! I say give learners the opportunity to come into their classroom say 15mins early to complete work and/or to spend some of their break time COMPLETING unfinished class work gives ample time for slow finishers. Plus the teacher knows it’s the learner’s own work! Independent reading is obviously a requirement, even better if it can be self-policed with a reading ladder, x number of self-chosen book reports/reviews done per term, weekly speed tests for bonds and times tables etc and writing prompts to think about for homework so when it comes to writing tasks, the kids have already had time to have a think about what they’ll put together. My 2c worth!

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