The homework debate

My second-grader is doing his homework. It’s quick and easy and it doesn’t take long. But I started reminding (/asking/exhorting) him to do it when he got home from school at 3.45. He finally began at 7.20pm, after some outside playtime, some TV time, dinner, dessert, some more outside time, and a glass of milk. I’ve come to accept that this is how it is with him, and for now it’s working. He knows that ultimately he is responsible for his homework being done. I worry about how things will go next year, when they say the homework load really ramps up, and when if he starts at 7.30 he won’t finish till long past bedtime. I suppose he’ll live and learn. He’s not one to stress over his homework; I’m lucky that he’s a relaxed kid who loves school for its social aspects and has not yet been turned off learning for its own sake.

People used to think that we should show children it’s a tough world from the outset. Some people still feel that way, on one matter or another. You shouldn’t pick up your crying baby. You shouldn’t tolerate tantrums. You shouldn’t let that five-year-old sleep with the light on. They need to learn that life’s hard, and people are mean, and they need to buckle down and do their work; and the sooner they figure that out the better.

I think we should be kind to our babies and love them while we can, because life is short – and childhood shorter – even more than it’s hard; and because they will find out the rest soon enough.

And so I’m thinking about homework again. I’m not saying that people who expect children to do homework are cruel, Dickensian types, or that making a kindergardener come home from six hours of school and asking them to sit down and do homework is like forcing a three-month-old baby to cry it out – but then again, maybe one day in the future it will be seen that way.

I’m not big on research. I like to read the headlines and let other people do the heavy lifting. But I can tell you a few things I’ve seen recently that have stuck in my mind:

Homeschooling is a wonderful option for many people, but I am not one of those people. I like our local public school and I want to be part of it. My son loves school. I enjoy sending him to school every day and picking him up at the end of it. I don’t enjoy bugging him to do his homework for an hour or more every day while he strings me along with promises of “Yes, yes, after this,” and finally sits down to do it right when it’s dinnertime, or maybe bedtime.

I really don’t like the conversations I’ve had with other parents who have more intense children who burst into tears crying “I just want to play” when it’s time for homework, or whose studious third- or fourth-graders won’t hear of stopping after 45 minutes even when their mom says they’ll write a note because that’s long enough.

And on the whole, I know that my household has it easy right now. So far, the amount of homework he has had has been very reasonable, his teachers have been undemanding, and he’s not the type to stress over schoolwork. Once he finally sits down to do it, it goes pretty quickly these nights. Additionally, our school has said that roughly ten minutes per grade is as much work as they should be doing – 25 minutes for my second-grader, then; under an hour for a fifth-grader. (Does that mean zero minutes for a kindergardener?)

Children are not miniature adults. They are not just university students in training. Their minds and bodies are still developing and they have more learning to do than can be taught in school. Childhood is not the time for them to learn how to buckle down and work for a further two hours (or even 45 minutes) when every fibre of their being tells them they should be running and jumping and climbing trees and playing soccer and organizing skipping games with the other kids on the street and finding out what it is they love to do. They’ve spent six hours clamping down on their wild sides – or having them clamped down for them – when they get home it’s time to do the other thing.

I want there to be no homework. Not just less, but none, for the sake of our quality of life four nights a week, and my children’s childhoods. And I’m almost fired up enough to do something about it.

6 thoughts on “The homework debate

  1. Thrift Store Mama

    I hate homework for young kids – hate it. I’ve done some research too and somewhere I read that the purpose of it should be to increase speed and fluency, in both reading and math, and that’s about it. Which should easily be accomplished in 20 minutes a day for a 2nd grader. I don’t know what I’ll do if it’s ever more than 30 minutes or so, or if I ever feel like the purposes are going beyond speed and fluency. I actually do like it if the girls have a little bit of homework, because I think it helps them develop good habits – in fact, I’m going to make them start practicing their handwriting every day.

    1. Maud

      I know… some days I think, I can’t wait till Mabel has homework too, so that then she can’t bug Dash so much when he’s doing his and everything will be calmer. But then I catch myself and decide that’s the wrong wish.

      I tried to get Dash to practice his handwriting, which didn’t work the way I planned, but I think just talking about the idea of making it neater has made him pay more attention, and he’s suddenly all about the neat handwriting. So, yay!

  2. Gwendy

    Homework in our house, at present, is ten minutes absolute tops for the almost 6 year old. Half hour to 40 mins for the almost 8 year old, due to TV Distraction! But yes, I am dreading the teenage years or senior school. It’s like spending all day in the office and then having to come home to do four hours of overtime. Without pay.

    1. Maud

      It’s so hard to keep the younger one from distracting the older one without turning on the TV, but I am adamant that there will be NO TV AT HOMEWORK TIME. Since I am very bad at keeping all my other TV-related resolutions, we’ll see how this goes. So far I have stood firm. Also, Dash cannot even put on his shoes if the TV is on; he’d never do a lick of work with it going.

  3. Nicky

    I couldn’t agree with you more – my son is in “Grade R” (pre-school South Africa) and he is exhausted when he gets home. He had nap time for years, until it was rudely taken away this year, to prepare for primary school, and I can see he still struggles with fatigue. His homework used to take up to an hour, but I had a word with their principal, and now it’s 20-30mins. I still think it’s not necessary for a child of six, he doesn’t get a chance to just chill and be a child.

    1. Maud

      Hi Nicky, thanks for the comment. I love to hear how school works in other parts of the world. So you’re saying that primary school as such doesn’t start till seven there – like the German system, maybe? That’s nice, at least. But an hour (or even 30 mins) seems like a terrible amount of homework if you’re still in what’s officially considered “pre-school”. Is it just school by another name?


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