So it is, every Sunday, a good part of what should be my 'rest' day, or at least 'recreation' day, is spent, not only with refereeing a dozen impromptu fights that break-out between my two junior-school-aged daughters and their younger brother (normally resulting with one of them being banished to their bedroom), I find myself overseeing a number of assignments specially designed to royally screw my weekend. At first, when my eldest daughter brought home homework, it was a novelty. Find out a bit about this, or a little about that. Build a model of this or design a plan of that. Nothing too onerous or stressful... out comes the PVA glue and Pritt stick; it was quite pleasurable helping the children look up facts on the internet. We would make all manner of things! But after time something has changed, almost like some narcissist takes pleasure in bringing misery to others. No longer do they come home with a request to find out something or other, or make something quick and simple; they are now tasked with compiling great big write-ups or enlisted to construct complex models, requiring vast amounts of research and big chunks of MY day. I'm not even joking!
Currently, Sophie, my middle-child, is learning about the human body at school. She's in year three. It's a good topic for school to teach. Each week she is bringing home a large, A3 piece of paper on which she needs to fill up with information about how a certain body part works, with illustrations and diagrams. It usually comes with a list of questions to help get you started. The first week was the eye, last week was the ear, and I dread to think what is next.... It's interesting stuff, and Google has all the information you'd ever need, much easier than it would have been back in my day (though there's something amiss when school's make the assumption that EVERYBODY has access to the internet!). Simple you would think. I help find the information, all Sophie would need to do is read it, and copy from it, right? Wrong! I end up, after a lot of debate, dictating, word-for-word, almost everything she writes (and then make her re-write as she has spelt everything wrong!)... Maybe I'm taking too much credit, but this is a (sort-of) routine that is becoming a regular feature of my Sunday. Sure, the finished article looks good (too good, some might say... but hey, what do you expect from a forty-one-year-old school pupil!). Then Rebecca, who's in year five, brings home maths homework. It's not much to do, about eight questions in all. She should be able to get on with it no sweat. But no, she can't work out half of the difference between two large numbers (what-the-!). I come over and help her work it out, showing her how to manually calculate it. This should be enough to see her through to the end. And it helps... but not without some careful guidance and a little steering from me (and the use of an eraser!).
But homework doesn't stop there. Both my daughters bring home a list of twenty words of varying difficulty to learn each week for spelling tests, and there's reading to do every day (and log down), and daily violin practice (all requiring mine or my wife's attention in some shape or form). Honestly, I do more homework now than I ever did when I was at school. In fact, I probably do more school work now than I actually did whilst at school, period!
Of course, maybe I'm exaggerating a little about my involvement... and it's nice to have some quality time with my children, interacting with them in some capacity, and it gets them off their tablet computers or away from the TV for a while. But I do wonder, is it adding value to their education and life? Is there too much? If it looks like (and sometimes it does feel like) it's a pain for me, it's nothing but an ordeal to them, who often moan about not having enough time to 'play'. And I see their point. In addition to their homework, they partake in a number of after-school activities which is encouraged by the school (Brownies, swimming, netball, youth group, orchestra, roller-skating, all which they want to do) which fill their evenings and their weekends extensively. Finding time to fit homework in is a challenge at times, and it's not uncommon for them to be finishing-off assignments at the breakfast table on the morning it needs to be handed in.
When I was in junior school (many years ago now), I never had homework, not in the sense we refer to it. The only homework I had was spelling and reading, and that wasn't too strenuous. It wasn't until I was in high school that homework in the traditional form was given. And now, on reflection, even that was a bit of a breeze compared to some of the things my kids bring home.
Not all schools dish out such volumes of homework. In fact, some don't believe there are many benefits from it. Earlier this year, one school (Cheltenham Ladies College) publicly announced they would not be issuing homework in an attempt to eradicate anxiety and depression that was affecting their pupils. Anxiety and depression? That's probably a bit extreme. I shouldn't think kids get depressed from doing homework. Miserable, yes, anxious - possibly (if they weren't doing their homework). But depressed? Too many people throw that word around to describe unhappiness. Whatever the rationale behind it, personally I think that it was a positive step they've made.
I'm not against homework for kids, but in moderation, and for a good purpose, not for the hell of it. I do sometimes feel that I am being substituted for a primary school teacher, and doing part of my school's job. Is it not enough for a parent to bring a child up, to teach them right and wrong, and to learn all the basic 'functions' of being a person? It certainly isn't easy being a parent these days, and it's a role I often think I am under-qualified for! I just wonder where it is all going, and whether the time afforded to 'homework' could be better spent on fun activities that actually contribute to children having a happy childhood and nurture them into being better human beings.