I've been very me-centric here for a while, so let me just very quickly explain what has been happening with school homework here. The boys, year 1 and 4 (ages 7 and 10) have been complaining more and more about homework. They don't have very much to do but it has become a very big issue in our house, with far more time spent arguing and cajoling than actually working. I've done a little bit of reading (Louise Porter is my go-to on all things child development related. I find her approach makes a kind of visceral sense to me and works for family).
It came to a point where I re-read Louise Porter on homework and decided we had to change something for everyone's sanity. I talked to other parents and realised that I have too much going on in my life to take this up with the department of education or the school, but I could address it individually for my kids with the teachers. I don't like singling my kids out - part of the reason they go to school is to learn to be herd animals - but this was causing significant disharmony, so first I spoke to the kids about what parts of homework they thought were valuable (spelling words and writing - reading doesn't count because it's one of our leisure activities) and talked to them about the idea of 'opting them out' of homework. We agreed it would be a good plan. At this stage they have the option to do any homework they want to do and need to do the big annual projects. They don't get out of spelling tests or any other regular classwork. The other big change is they need to help more around the house. More home work less homework and it is now their responsibility to cook dinner on Monday night. It has started well, and although they require lots of help they are getting the hang of the idea, and that cooking dinner includes planning, shopping and cleaning up, which makes my heart sing.
I spoke to their teachers, who were surprised but supportive and I followed it up with an email. I'm going to include the email here (names etc redacted) in case I can inspire others to have a full and frank discussion about homework in lower primary school and potentially provide a template for them to opt out too, if homework is causing trouble. Significant thanks to my dear friend Tanya for her copy editing genius!
Dear Jxxx and Txxx
Thanks for meeting with me - this is just a follow up to that conversation. Firstly, let me thank you both for working with our kids this year. Axxx and Kxxx have been extremely happy with their classes and they both have great respect for you, their teachers. I feel like you’ve really heard our concerns that at present, homework is detrimental to their learning and causing distress for both boys at home. Both Sxxx and I feel strongly about this, and he’s asked me to make it clear that this email comes from us both.
Accordingly, we’ve discussed homework with the children and the two things they feel are valuable are reading and spelling words. They will also be expected to continue with any tests and work done by the other kids. They will also participate in big projects ('all about me', dioramas etc). As a family, we’ve decided to make any other homework optional and focus on more holistic learning opportunities at home instead. For example, they will need to cook dinner one night per week. My hope is that this can help them with maths (shopping, measuring ingredients), literacy (reading recipes, interpreting recipe information), science (heat/oxidation reactions, physics of liquids etc, biology, ecology), PHPE (nutrition, self-efficacy and fine motor skills improvement).
We want to decrease our family conflict around homework, leave space in all our lives for other pursuits, including letting kids be kids and leaving them outside to play freely as well as relieve you both of one set of homework-marking.
Thanks so much for reading this. I'd very much like this to be the start of a conversation about homework, and I'm more than happy to work with you to ensure there is minimal disruption to your classroom.