This week I had my first experience as a mum with a homework dilemma. My children (twins) came home with handwriting and phonics packets and I was told ‘Mummy, we have to take these back to school!’ My daughter was sitting down in her little chair with her pencil out before I could even reply. My son on the other hand was off with his newest sword creation, air fighting the pillows on the couch. Over a few days, I tried to coax him into taking the initiative to do his work until I realised that in very few 5 year old’s minds (my daughter’s to be excluded) the idea of sitting down and doing more school work in his home environment was never going to be a first choice.
Homework has long been debated in the field of education. In John Hattie’s infamous list of what has an impact on learning, homework ranks very far down the list as having any positive impact on learning. We know as educators that homework can come in many forms and that actually, children are learning almost every minute of their lives. We do know that intentional homework can improve student learning if it is done with guided support. We know that homework helps to promote self-study skills, independence, and meta-cognition (an awareness of how you learn). The argument about homework lies in the type of homework provided and how a child is supported at home. Did my daughter learn anything additional by doing her handwriting and phonics pack? I would argue ‘no’ except it helped her to feel proud and mature because she was doing work at home. Was forcing my son to complete his handwriting and phonics work going to make him a better writer and reader? I would again argue ‘no’ as he would have resented it from the start. It would not have been a positive memory associated with learning, and he would have been focusing more on when he could get back to his swords.
Parents often ask me about how to tackle the battle of homework. My response is always never battle. At a young age, it is about making sure children love learning. It is best to build a routine and make it a normal part of the day like brushing teeth. It is just a given that you will do homework on certain days because that is the schedule of your day. You need to find the right time though to start that routine. For example, my daughter is ready to have it in her routine. She would happily have homework once a week. For my son, I am going to allow his homework to be exploring the world around him for a little bit longer. Learning the physics behind how to make the perfect arc with his sword to knock down a cushion is more powerful than making him write perfect letters.