School should be enough

My two daughters are in Grade 1 and Kindergarten.

These days, we return from work, feed the kids, wash up, play or relax with them for a bit and then start the routines of bathing, reading and preparing for bed.

But, we are bad parents! We have been neglecting their homework. It is strange though… we are educators and, quite frankly, we believe there is more value in us spending a little time just being with our children, involving them in the cooking or letting them go for a bike ride, than there is in sitting them down for thirty minutes and doing more school work.

To be perfectly honest, eight hours at school should be quite sufficient for kids of this age – or, indeed, for kids of any age. Time invested in the family, in active play or just relaxing, is far more important… don’t you think?

Of course, it isn’t the teachers’ fault – they are usually just responding to the demands of fee-paying parents. It also puts them into an awkward position – after all, they may not agree with giving these kids homework anyway but still have to be seen to expect all the kids to do it. Those were certainly my sentiments when I had a class of my own.

What other kids would do with their time is also an issue. When TV, iPads, Playstations and other electronic devices are in the equation then there is the danger of those kids not having the chance to do more positive things with their time than stare at screens and ignore (or be ignored!). But is homework, or certain types of homework, actually worse or better than that?

Anyway, its a little rant of mine, but one I am sure many parents would empathise with and another example of schools just continuing with something they know is not philosophically a good idea simply because some parents demand it. The role of school in the education/re-education of parents is very often neglected.

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22 comments

  1. Abhimanyu Das Gupta

    Totally, with you on this! 🙂 We have a human daughter in Gr 1 and a dog son! It is often a riot at home, after school and we believe in spending quality time with them, as much as possible, amidst our busy schedules!

    Abhi

    • Chye

      Indeed Jcare! My kids are still too young for homework, but making the time to read, color, go bike riding and build things is a top priority. Current research says that homework does not help students make academic gains typically until early middle school. What’s our role as educators? Work with the teachers to lessen the amount of homework sent home, encourage ‘home learning’/engagement and educate parents about this shift in practice. Would be great to work together again… maybe some day ; )

    • sherrattsam

      Gutsy leadership is the only way to break the mould. Kate Grant and Brett Penny did it at NIST… Not banned homework but introduced a style of homework so different that it caused the whole community to think about what homework means.

  2. Francois

    Hello Mr. Sherrat,
    Apparently differentiated instruction is the newest fad in education. I believe your opinion reflects a “one size fits all” approach. Instead, why not assign the homework to the student who will benefit the most from it? “Benefitting the most” is obviously up to you to figure out 😉 … personally I would take a pragmatic approach on this.
    My wonderful bride suggests instead that homework in grade 1 should consist of creating opportunities for parents and children to interact… a whole different approach!
    Franky D

    • sherrattsam

      Not many people do this! They just give out a bunch of homework to all the kids, and the homework is the same for all the kids. Differentiation may be happening in the classroom, but may cease when it comes to homework!

      What about the parents who do not want to interact with their kids?

      • learningtowearthebigshoes

        “What about the parents who do not want to interact with their kids?” – Really? Surely as educators we have a responsibility to ensure that Home/School relationship is developed, nurtured and maintained. We are all in this together. Learning does not stop when the bell goes. Responsibility is a concept we introduce at the beginning of the year to even our 3 year olds. Surely we should not be letting our parents ” who do not want to interact with their kids?” get off the hook so easily?

  3. kathmurdoch

    Hey Sam. Your instincts serve you well. There is growing evidence to suggest that most of what is given as ‘homework’ in the primary years makes absolutely no difference to the quality of children’s learning – if anything, it can have a negative impact. Where schools insist on having a homework policy, teachers need to be creative and go for frameworks that provide loads of choice and that encourage kids to do things that are not simply a ‘more of the same’ – in other words….tasks and experiences that can happen better at home than school. These might include conversations with the family, observations of life in the backyard (if you have one!), cooking a meal…etc. These can be enriching experiences that build skills and dispositions important to learning for life. When my kids were in primary school, I was frequently appalled by the banality and drudgery of what they were given as homework. When my youngest moved to a new school that did not believe in homework for primary children – it was glorious. She is now a focussed and passionate secondary school learner…and that includes homework! 🙂

    • sherrattsam

      You are right Kath, with a little creative thought, homework can be transformed… and not feel like work at all! Once again, it is an old mould – as Jeremy put it – that needs to be chucked at the wall and smashed. Only after such an act of destruction can the creativity begin!

  4. trees4schools

    Absolutely agree Sam!!!
    We have positively discouraged pointless homework, tree climbing and hugs are of so much more value!!
    Never thanked you properly for your 20/ time video, so thank you, we ended up getting our year 6 to guide the year 1 to do their own, amazing!!
    ( I’m friends with Phil btw, that’s how we found you!)
    Keep it up, we need more honesty in education!!

    • sherrattsam

      Thanks… I would love to hear more about your 20% time projects… is anyone writing about online?

      Are you a Ringrose?!

  5. concentricthinking

    Yes….. two causes…… 1) Homework is a baby sitting service for parents who don’t want to be parents of their own children. Let’s face it, it is true! 2) Parents believe that more is more. Keep them busy. Don’t allow them to be creative or free…. that would mean parents are allowing them to have the capacity to be naturally curious, interested and/or interact with the world around them. We do all the thinking for them, keep them distracted. Question: What does learning look like? Answer: When your head is down, your bum is up, with a pencil firmly in the hand darting across the page. NO NO NO! Learning opportunities are all around us only if adults bothered to let them be. Kids don’t know what to do when they are bored. This is very dangerous. “I’m bored!” says child. “Go do your homework.” replies the parent. Sends a great message, doesn’t it?

    • sherrattsam

      I think a large part of the problem is that we are catering to a minority of parents who think this way though. Many parents do not want homework at all!

  6. Simon

    Sam – I completely agree. I wrote something similar after experiencing the frustrations of my 8 year old son struggling to complete pointless worksheets. I think it’s something that all schools need to frequently revisit as teachers often slip into the bad habit of responding to parental pressure.
    http://www.interedrospection.blogspot.com

    • sherrattsam

      You’re right, frequently revisiting our approach to homework, seeking out ways to make it meaningful, to make less but more… sharpening the saw, is really vital. We just lapse into patterns and habits.

  7. jelena100janovic

    I agree, too. But! My daughter will have troubles to be admitted on University, because her grades are low… because I also thought that it is more important to stroll, shop, cook, go to movies, skating, dancing, … than to do meaningless homework, which a child couldn’t do on their own anyway.
    I don’t know if I’m right or wrong… but I’ll know in few years 😉

    • sherrattsam

      This is the dilemma… because often it seems that school is not enough, they are not emerging from school with all the skills they need and so homework becomes a supplement. I feel your confusion Jelena! I will be going through those same conflicting emotions myself over the next few years as my kids get older.

  8. learningtowearthebigshoes

    Is it not more a case of our definition of ‘homework’? I am in no way defending giving 5 yr olds and 6 yr olds ‘homework’ as in busy work just for the sake of giving it – and just because it is what the school has always done. However, home learning or continuing to develop the home/school relationship, I believe is relevant and important.

    Reading for our little ones – The love of books and reading is built on the laps of our parents. So important to read with your little ones, and to ensure as educators that our families have access to developmentally and ability appropriate texts to read, explore, re-tell, discuss and re-read! Playing with manipulatives – us parents that are educators are so lucky, We know how important it is for our children to play with manipulatives – whether it be counting pasta and teddy bears, to building robots and dream houses with cardboard boxes, to hours and hours of lego, cars, role play, dolls, and stickers. So asking parents at home to continue these skills and support learning at home is a continuance of learning and development.

    We completely re-jigged our ‘homework’ policy this year – taking away the emphasis on busy work, and ensuring there was authentic connections and a development of the home/school relationships. We subscribe to mathletics, so we have kept this as one of our home options , and I have been amazed to watch my 7 year old literally race in the door to get on the lap top – to try and become a “human calculator”.
    I often encourage our teachers to send home investigation projects and research. Response from our teachers is that they don’t know then who did the work parents or the children. Our parents are busy people, but ‘god-forbid’ that our parents sit with their own children to research an inquiry in their home language together, to construct or build together a model of their community, review as a family their health practices, survey their neighbours and community, read together, review TED and You-tube movies and discuss, develop, design and build an invention to solve a real world problem, and countless other investigations and home based learning experiences. I can think of nothing better if this day of electronics, and busy careers, of a Mum or Dad spending quality time with their child to help support their learning and help strenghen their understanding.

    Didn’t mean to respond at such length! Apologies, and I guess at the end of it – completely agree – no to homework, but then again…learning should not stop when the bell goes.

    • sherrattsam

      Thanks for all your thoughts. I fully agree with your sentiments and your ideas about how homework can be different. Do you have any way of sharing examples from your school that have come up as a result of the “re-jigging?”.

      I guess the most important thing is that we carry on the conversations, that teachers are continuously checking themselves to make sure homework is engaging and worthwhile. An evolving bank of simple ideas like the ones you listed above, can serve as a constant reminder of the possibilities available to us.

      • Mags

        I fully agree I also aim for home learning that involves quality time between parents and children. The challenging part of this type of home task is that it doesn’t depend on the orgnisational or time management skills of the student but on parent commitment. When the students were expected to do a science experiment in the kitchen that involved heat and therefore an adult, I had quite a few very disappointed children in my class. Sadly there are a lot of parents who simply dont enjoy or don’t make time to spend with their children. The attitudes are very different depending on the school but also on the mix of cultures at an international school. My nieces in the Netherlands are 9 and 11 and only the oldest one is getting some home learning tasks. The rest of the time is spent with mum or dad cooking, baking, doing grocery shopping, climbing trees, fishing, painting, playing board games or doing craft with grandma. If I want the students in my class to do those kind of activities with their parents I have to set it for home learning!

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