Parent vs Teacher – The Homework Debate

There were a number of things I expected to happen when my daughter started school in September. Getting out of the house on time would be a challenge.  Tick.  Despite putting clean uniform on her everyday she would, more often than not go to school accessorized by toothpaste smears and breakfast crumbs.  Tick.  By midway through the term she would be VERY tired and grumpy after school each day. Tick.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that by mid-November she would have 26 pages of homework – all incomplete.  26 pages for a 4 year old in addition to reading regularly!  What’s more I have no intention of completing them unless my daughter shows a sudden burst of enthusiasm. Before we had even hit October half term I had been called aside by the reception teacher who said to me that my 4 year old had told her “My mummy says I don’t need to worry about homework.”  What’s worse is that is exactly what I did say to her.  In my defence she was anxious about going to school because she hadn’t done the first 4 pages and daddy does hold the same view, but it’s mummy who has to see the teacher most days!

As a former teacher I feel very torn.  I don’t want to undermine the school or be the nightmare parent – I know all too well how much pressure those who work education are under and how staff in schools work incredibly hard to serve their pupils’ best interests, but just a short way into the school year and already there is a clash as to what really is in my child’s best interests.  In my heart of hearts, however difficult I find the position I don’t believe it is right for her to come home and be pushed to slog through 4 pages of handwriting each week.

I’m not sure my daughter’s teacher was particularly impressed with my parenting when I said I would rather she (my daughter not the teacher) was out in the garden hunting for bugs and worms or doing some craft or just resting.  She may well be capable of learning to read and write ahead of the targets for her age and yes I do very much value her education, but I also value her wellbeing.  If she’s already exhausted at the end of the school day and I enforce/cajole/bribe her into doing her homework she may well be able to write just that little bit sooner, but if I just go with what I’m told I should be doing what is the true cost of this?

Here’s just a few…

Playtime – the more time we spend on homework, the less we spend on playing.  Fun, freedom to explore is all part of learning and growing as a child and so important.  There are many well researched articles to back that up that I cannot ignore this important part of my children’s childhood in order to strive for academic success.  I also hope that I’m teaching her the value of downtime – in a society where it is common to complain of stress and pressure I’d like to start early on with showing my children how to manage this.

Our relationship – if, instead of being the safe place where she can be grumpy and tired after school, I become the enforcer of more work what impact does that have on our relationship?  I’ve got no problem with setting boundaries where necessary, but I’m not sure that there are many benefits to making homework one.  We do a little reading if she’s in the right frame of mind and then it’s time to play or relax or just cuddle. I’m convinced that this calm space puts her in a much better place to learn the next time she’s in school.

Lost love of learning  – after years of working with children who were very disaffected with all forms of education and apathetic towards learning,  to see my own children’s love of learning and exploring the world is PURE JOY.  What a gift to find everything so interesting, to have an urge to explore and know more and how much does this become all too easily lost?  I am desperate for my children to thirst for knowledge and understanding and to remain fascinated with the diverse world in which we live and I’m not sure a heavy load of homework is the way to achieve this.

Overwhelming expectations – my daughter has many of my traits – she’s driven, focused and likes to get things right.  Great qualities, but push them too much and they become unhealthy.  If my husband and I push academic success as the number one goal at the cost of all else then that pressure will at some point come back to bite us all.  You only have to briefly look at some of the factors that increase the risk of self harm and eating disorders in teenagers to start to question this.   Of course I want her to do well at school, but it really isn’t the only measure of success in life.  I want offer her the best opportunity to be emotionally healthy, to be positive and resilient and to be kind and caring towards others.  After a day at school any of those is a big ask let alone if we chuck in lots of handwriting.

It’s all too easy to follow the crowd or just to go along with what the teachers say because we believe they know best.  My daughter’s teacher is lovely and I have a huge amount of trust and respect for much of what she says and does.  However, I think on the topic of homework she (and the school) are misguided.

Whether it’s 4 year olds and homework or 14 year olds and a myriad of other issues, , as parents we need to regularly pause and reflect upon the potential impact of where others are leading us and our children and whether it is actually the right direction.  Whether I battle 4 pages of homework a week or take on the mantle of the parent who refuses to do homework the real question I need to ask is:

What longer term path do these actions and decisions put my child on?

Research evidence of the benefits of homework and you’ll soon discover that the jury is well and truly out.  There is huge debate amongst educators about homework and no clear evidence to confirm its benefits conclusively.  My suspicion is that it will depend on the child, the home circumstances, what the homework is and when and how it is offered – so many variables it’s impossible to measure. By not making my daughter do her homework am I encouraging a lack of self discipline or devaluing her education?  I don’t believe so, but I must honestly consider this too.

Neither my husband or I are wholly against homework.  When our children are older I expect homework to become a more regular part of her (and our life) but until someone can give me evidence to the contrary our every instinct as parents says the current homework load for 4 year olds is not healthy or helpful for our child.  As with most parents we make the best decision we can with the information we have and hope we’re getting it right.  That’s the path we’re on – in 20 years I’ll be able to tell you  if it was the right one!

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