The homework debate continues to rage on, with people lined up at one end advocating no homework whatsoever, and parents clamouring to tutoring centres and instilling strict regimes at home, down the other end.
So, given that I’m in the business of creating educational activities for primary school aged children, I thought I should spell out my view on it. I’m not going to provide a lit review on the topic: you can read as many academic articles for as against (try ACER and the education department in your state, as a starting point). Suffice to say, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests the quality of homework set by teachers is much more important than the quantity and that the observable benefits of the homework tend to increase as the ages of the children increase.
My view . . .
As a parent, I’m not an advocate for large amounts of homework for primary school aged children, but I do think there is a place for learning at home. I don’t think it has to be a mind numbing rota of workbooks and drills, or more time in front of a computer. You also need to be realistic about the amount of time allocated to homework – for a 7 year old, 20 minutes might be it. It is a little more time and work to create activities at home that are not such obvious ‘homework’. However, the pay off, for me and my kids, is so much greater. I like to be involved in their learning and understand what it is they’re doing at school. At home, there’s so many different opportunities for learning in a less structured way that really appeals to a lot of kids – it can be anything from my son timing himself running at the park then working out the difference in his times, through to my daughter collecting gumnuts on the way home from kinder and using them to spell out her name.
How we do homework . . .
We read with our kids each night – that’s a given and not something I really include as ‘homework’. So, we read a bedtime story and since my son has been at school, he reads us his reader. He usually runs through his word list, but as he’s not a ‘sit down and learn by rote’ kind of kid, this is often a physical or creative activity. Sometimes the words are stuck up around the house for him to shoot with a nerf gun or we sit down and make up a story together, writing as we go, to include all of the words from his word list. It’s a pretty good activity to get the kids calming down before bed. (As opposed to the aforementioned nerf gun – that’s more of a morning activity!)
Our 20/20 deal
Then, each afternoon when we’re home from school we have a deal: my kids spend 20 minutes on something I want them to learn, then I give them 20 minutes of me doing something they want. It usually means I spend 20 minutes kicking a footy or a soccer ball then 20 minutes building Lego or making a cubby. There’s worse ways to spend 40 minutes! Although I recommend a gin and tonic to hand once you get to building Meccano sets.
The brilliance of Brilliant Boxes
Of course I’m going to tell you how awesome our own Brilliant Boxes are . . . I alternate between a maths and English based activity, each day. I have a huge range of activities from our Brilliant Boxes to dip into, so I try to mix these up with the odd page from a Star Wars work book or something I’ve seen, the teacher has suggested, and so on. To give you an idea of what these Brilliant Box activities could be:
- a game with dice for practising addition and subtraction and identifying shapes
- a set of measurement challenges to complete, to practise using a ruler and estimating
- cooking, for reading, following procedures and weighing/measuring
- card games to practise sight words and story writing
- telling time games
My daughter is preschool age, so she loves activities to practise writing her name and identifying the letters of the alphabet. Chalk on the concrete outside is a winner with her, as well as getting her to draw pictures of things that start with different letters of the alphabet.
Why homework works for us
As the kids get older and start receiving more homework from school in the way of projects and so on, I know we’ll have to adjust, but this works for us right now. And this is why it’s working:
- The kids aren’t bored and I understand the way they learn best after doing these activities with them.
- My son gets quite anxious at school when he feels he may not have understood something new or is one of the last to finish, so at home, he can take his time and ask questions, without that classroom pressure.
- At this young age, kids really want their parent’s attention. This way, they get 40 minutes of my attention doing something that doesn’t make me want to poke a stick in my eye.
- It’s a routine – the kids know what to expect, it’s all at home and I can work it around any after school sport, etc. I go quietly mental if I don’t have some semblance of a routine.
- A purely selfish motive: we get to high five ourselves for being awesome parents and hope that it makes up for the odd day when the kids watch way too much Netflix.
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