THE AGE Newspaper article of Monday April 25th 2005.
Question: MY 10-year-old son won't do his homework. We argue every night. What can I do? How much homework should he be doing? Is the school giving him too much?
HOMEWORK has often been a contentious issue and educators, parents and students either complain about it or extol its virtues.
It is important to think about learning when considering this issue, and what it is we want for children as they move through the school system and, more importantly, through life.
Research shows that children and adults are much more likely to learn and to want to learn if the information or topic is of interest and has meaning to their lives.
Homework, however, does not magically produce better learners or happier children.
Many of us were brought up believing that the more homework we were given, the better learner we would be and therefore more prepared for life. There is little research that supports that assumption. Often the purpose of homework is simply to reinforce an aspect of learning, to provide opportunities for children to extend an interest or build upon a skill.
Homework for homework's sake usually produces resentment and disengagement from the learning process rather than motivating and encouraging a student
One of the greatest advances in education in recent years is that schools have individualised teaching and learning processes to ensure that all children are helped to learn at their own rate, to be extended or supported as needs arise.
There is nothing more boring for a young child than to have to colour in a triangle red, a square blue and a rectangle orange if they already know shape and colour. There are many more exciting and interesting ways in which children learn shapes and colours. Therefore, homework, if it is given, should allow children to work on additional skills or knowledge that suit their own learning stage.
So, what do we do about the 10-year-old who complains about homework each night and that causes arguments each day?
For all parents and children of any age there are many considerations. Has the school expIained what the homework is and why it is important? Do you think it is relevant? Have you discussed it with the teacher? Is there a homework policy at the school and have parents contributed to that?
Is the homework tailored to meet your child's learning needs? Does it provide time and space to complete it?
Often the most useful homework is where children are given a week or two to complete a project as this gives space for not having to do any some nights.
Some schools do not give formal homework. This is also OK. We need to be careful not to assume that the school is not doing the right thing if it doesn't give students homework each night
Tune at home with the family should be treasured. Often we are so busy we have little time to sit, chat and listen to our children. (Some children may have begun their day at 7.3Oam at a before school program and then finished at school at 6.3Opm.) Spending time with family, playing outside, reading a favourite book, having a chat about the day and sharing experiences over the meal table may be the most important homework for everyone in the family.
At the age of 10, a child needs to not have homework every night.
To stop the arguments over homework, parents and teachers need to reconsider whether they expect, or give, homework based on relevant considerations, or tradition.
For young children in the early years of school, the very best type of homework is being allowed to play and relax at the end of a busy school day and to learn to enjoy reading at home.
Homework is not the most important aspect of children's learning; arguing, resentment and battles at home are not what we want for children in their learning process.
As an educator I would happily not provide formal homework for children but simply provide opportunities from time to time to allow children to share, to work on and to work alongside their parents at home.
Copyright © Kathy Walker 2005
Kathy Walker is an education consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years and a former lecturer at RMIT University.