How much should parents help with homework? Donegal mum and teacher Maria Rushe studies the issue...
As a teacher, I can never discredit the importance of homework. It compliments learning and encourages independent study and learning.
I do however have a strange attitude to homework, it seems.
The teacher in me says that it is necessary…essential even. It allows students to check that they understand what was covered in class. It promotes responsibility for learning and pride in their own work, and it allows the teacher to evaluate who, and how well, their students have been learning. It also lets parents see what their kids are doing and how they are getting on.
But all of these advantages ONLY work when children do their homework for themselves. And it seems to be becoming more and more ‘normal’ that the homework being sent home is becoming the homework of the parents.
When we were at school 359 years ago, we did our homework and took it to school, where the teacher commented on it. If it was incorrect or insufficient, she or he told us; marked where we went wrong and showed how to fix it. If we made mistakes, we realised them.
If we couldn’t do it, we asked our parents to help and show us. They didn’t have Google, so if they couldn’t help us, they told us to ‘ask your teacher’. We learned to ask for help if we needed. And we learned that needing something explained again was normal.
IF a child doesn’t get the little x or the comment or the example of how to improve from the teacher, how are they ever supposed to learn?
Homework can be viewed as an essential part of learning, but with the increase in the pace of life and the massive timetables and routines in most homes nowadays, it can also be seen as a torture.
Me? Now, as a Mum to a dizzy seven year old, I am absolutely aware of the royal pain in the bum that homework is. I would like to see less written work some evenings, especially for little ones. I like the idea of set homework days. So many of us spend evenings taking them to other classes or activities, all of which are important for their development and confidence too.
And in some houses, there is very limited time between home-time and bedtime, and family time is limited because it’s spent trying to get through hills of homework, never mind cooking and feeding them and trying to fit your whole day into a few hours.
I don’t know about your kids, but mine is knackered after a full day at school. She wants to play with her toys, or read her books, or go bounce on the trampoline, or sometimes just watch TV … and by Thursday, she’s as done in as I am.
I see more and more parents online and in groups stressing about their kids’ homework. I had this conversation with a few friends recently. One stated that she feels like the homework is testing HER, rather than her daughter. Another commented that he feels useless as he’s unable to understand the homework his 8 year old gets.
And another said that the homework was taking nearly 90 minutes in the evening. Her children are 4 and 5. I stood pretty quietly if I’m honest, the Mammy guilt creeping in, because I am one of those BAD parents it seems. Because Mini-Me’s homework is HER homework, not mine.
You see, in our house, SHE does the homework.
I check it and I sign the diary. If I see letters back to front or a very silly mistake, I’ll point it out in a question. ‘Do you think that’s long enough?’ ‘Is that 3 written right?’ and ‘Will teacher be happy with that?’ work.
If she thinks it’s fine, I won’t correct her, even if I know that it’s not good enough. I’m very aware of how she is getting on and what she is struggling with, but I don’t fight with her. Because to be honest, she won’t listen to me anyway. Me telling her something is wrong goes over her head. Teacher telling her something is wrong, however, is GOSPEL. And I won’t have my children growing up thinking that their school work is my problem. It’s theirs.
Why? Am I cruel? Am I lazy? Should I not be sitting down and guiding her through the work every night so she can present perfect homework to Teacher every day? Because that is what many parents do. And the kids go to school with perfect work and get no red marks and everyone is happy… until they do a test and it becomes apparent that actually, Nancy doesn’t get long division, or Jimmy doesn’t know his vowel sounds.
How she learns and grows is not going to be dependent on how well I understand her multiplication or Irish verbs. And when she gets to secondary school, she needs to be able to manage her time and to take criticism. (And trust me here, that is a skill that our kids need. Because the number of teenagers who are genuinely unable to take criticism of ANY kind is unbelievable.)
The New Junior Cycle is so full of home-based projects and self-evaluation, that if we don’t allow our young children to do their own work, take the comments on it, apply them and understand, we are simply setting OURSELVES up for a lot of work when they get to secondary school.
I asked my followers what they thought about homework during the week. Here are some of the replies:
71% feel that their kids get too much homework.
“I feel I am putting more pressure on my child after school is over.”
“Yes. My son is 7 and his concentration is gone by the time he gets home”
“Yes. It’s a struggle every day, especially if they have activities or classes to go to too.”
“I stopped checking their homework in senior infants. 100% result not true. They need to see the x marks.”
“Not every night, but my 9 year old is overwhelmed sometimes.”
“Life is too precious for homework, get out and explore!”
Then I had a few primary teachers reply:
One said that as a Mum, she hates it, but that as a teacher, she has to give it.
Two said that they hate to think they are putting pressure on parents but that it is a necessity for learning.
Another said “Under pressure to give it!”
One said that if she didn’t give homework “there are so many kids who would spend the whole evening in front of a screen,” and this of course is also true.
And a few reminded me that there are time guidelines that should be adhered to.
So it’s very much a double edged sword and I am the perfect example of the sword bearer.
The teacher in me gives it (although I limit it. I feel that if they’re engaged and attentive in my classroom, they don’t need daily home activities from me.) The parent in me hates it, but agrees that it is important too…
But ONLY if they are doing it themselves and it is functional and meaningful.
It’s her homework, not mine. She needs to be able to take comments and criticism if necessary. She needs to learn the process of what she’s doing. If I do it for her, she’s learning that I’ll do it for her and that she can opt out.
But am I going to stand up in her exams and give a talk on how I created something? Am I going to sit her exams for her? Am I going to be there to explain to the teacher how I got an answer that she couldn’t do?
But I will be there to smile at her when SHE gets 8/10 or to let her rant about being scolded. I will be there to cheer her on when SHE gets the best mark SHE can get. And I will be there to praise her when she finally figures out that maths thingy that she couldn’t do.
Because I’ve been to school. (I’m still there!) I’ve done my homework. I learned what I learned and I failed if I didn’t work. But NEVER, did my parents do any of it for me. And NEVER did they make excuses for me if I didn’t do it right or didn’t do it at all. And as much as I grumbled and complained about that as a teenager, I am now grateful for it.
There is no right or wrong here. Each house is different and every child has different strengths and abilities, and every parent knows what works for their kids.
But I’d love to know your general thoughts on homework.
Leave a comment below to share your opinion.