CHAT: Who invented homework? I have a bone to pick with you...

19 February 2018

We walk in the door at 3.30pm, my toddler is screaming at me with her arms in the air. I ask my six-year-old son what was the best thing he did at school today only to get the response, 'I don't know'. I prepare some afternoon tea for the kids and let my son relax while I try again to find out how his day was. The fact that I soon have to broach the topic of homework is making me nervous, but I have to do it because there's dinner to start soon and he'll be too tired later on. Who invented homework?

'OK, it's time to do some homework,' I say holding my breath. The response is as I expected, a big huff, defiance and attitude. 'But I hate homework, it's too hard, I just want to watch TV,' my son says. I explain all the reasons why he has to do it, all the while knowing I don't want him to do it either.

Finally, I get him to the table where his scrapbook waits with his spelling activities. The first two words go well, but it all goes downhill from there. 'I can't do it, Mummy, I don't know it!' He cries as my toddler tugs at me, crying as she tries to get my attention. A frustrated son who has completely lost focus and unhappy toddler vying for my attention; welcome to the daily homework rollercoaster ride. It probably sounds similar to yours.

Close to pulling the pin on homework

Everyone knows how much I dislike homework. Although I have only experienced homework for a child up to the age of six, I know from our experience that we are yet to see any value in it. The only thing homework creates in our house is frustration and in some cases, anxiety. Because of this, it's hard for me to see any benefit in homework and tempts me to say no to it altogether.

I've also noticed a pattern. When my son knows the homework, he'll either find it boring or he'll do it, which is rare. On the other hand, if my son doesn't know the homework or finds it difficult, he instantly lacks motivation, he gets angry, and he hates everything - school, mum, dad. As a child with known literacy issues and potential dyslexia, homework is our nemesis at the moment.

I don't believe the benefits

I've been trying hard to understand the supposed benefits of homework; they seem counterintuitive. For example, The Good Schools Guide suggest that one of the advantages of homework is that students develop proper time management and study skills. Personally, I don't think a six-year-old needs to develop this so early, not even up to the age of 14. Time management skills are well built at home for the time being.
It is suggested that homework also helps students revise content they learnt during the day with a fresh set of eyes and a clear head. I almost choked on my coffee when I read this. Which student, particularly in primary school, comes home feeling clear after a long day at school! I know how I feel after a long day of work; the last thing I want to do is study!

Doing my homework on homework

I have twelve more years left of this homework business, so now it's time for me to do my homework on homework.

In a study by Duke University psychology professor, Harris Cooper, it was found that there is a positive relationship between homework and student achievement, students who did homework performed better. But this positive correlation is primarily for students in year seven to year twelve. Professor Cooper said there was a weaker relationship for primary school aged students because younger children find it hard to tune out distractions and they have less effective study habits. You could have asked me about the attention span of a six-year-old!

But with those results, Cooper does not suggest that primary aged children skip homework altogether (bummer). It's about getting the balance right and not having too much homework. Cooper's research supports the "10-minute rule" as being the perfect amount of homework teachers should assign. So, a child in year four would have 40 minutes of homework a night.

So far, my research still hasn't changed my mind but Mem Fox, one of my favourite childhood authors, makes a good point.

Mem Fox told news.com.au in an article about homework, "The only way to understand something, to be good at something, to really "get it" - is to practice." Mem Fox says a child should be read a thousand books before they can start to learn to read. She suggests three a day.

Now, this is what makes sense to me, this perspective. But is it worth the struggle? Isn't there enough practice enough at school five days a week? This is where I'm stuck.

Making homework meaningful

I came across two Australian academics, Professor Richard Walker and Professor Mike Horsley, in an article by ABC News. They've written a book on reforming homework, and feel that homework for primary school children is of little or no value regarding academic achievement. The thing that made sense to me was Walker and Horsley's findings when they reviewed loads of international research on homework.  Their findings conclude that the quality of the homework is more important than the quantity. So true!

Horsley hits the nail on the head in my experience and says, "There's probably too much homework and that most of this homework is of a drill or consolidation nature. In other words, we think that there's probably too much worksheet-based homework." (Insert fist pump here!)

Horsley feels that homework is often an add-on when instead teachers should plan homework at the same time as planning the unit. Walker feels homework should be more of a social experience instead of an individual activity and that this encourages different types of homework and having assistance from parents instead of sitting in isolation.

This makes sense to me. Children are not going to feel motivated to do their homework if it isn't engaging and meaningful, going through the motions with no real purpose in the work they are doing.

The fact is, I don't think homework is going to disappear anytime soon and so rather just learn to live with it, I think we will try to adapt it to best suit our family. We're not going to do it every day, and I'm going to do my best to make it as far from boring as I can. My son loves Jurassic Park; he loves all things Minecraft and cars. I'm going to do my best to introduce those things into homework to make it more meaningful and engaging for him.

Lastly, I'd like to thank Cooper and his 10-minute rule for homework; now I can say I base my decision for a quick homework session on an academic's recommendations instead of feeling like a mother who doesn't do homework properly or couldn't be bothered. But, to be honest, I'd love to meet the person who invented homework and ask them why? 

Written by

Eva Lewis

Eva is a digital content expert who runs a successful parenting and lifestyle blog - The Multitasking Woman. When Eva doesn't have her head in the digital space, she enjoys spending time with her husband, 5-year-old son and 15-month-old daughter, reading her favourite magazines, gardening and dreaming.

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