Stuff That’s More Important Than Homework

It’s no secret to long-time readers of this blog that I’m not a fan of homework.

But… Flea goes to a school that gives children homework. Since she was four, Flea has brought home a steadily increasing amount of work, and this term that includes spellings, sentences to write, a book to read, and a maths sheet to complete.ย On top of that, she’s expected to practise for her weekly guitar and singing lessons.

My issue is this: Flea gets up at 8am or thereabouts *cough* Monday to Friday to go to school. She generally gets home between 8 and 9 hours later, and has at most, three hours of free time before bed.

It doesn’t seem right, or balanced, to me that she spends up to a third of that time on further learning.

For me, childhood isn’t a training camp for being a good worker or getting good A-Levels, so I don’t mind if the only thing Flea achieves in a day is to have a lot of fun and get dirty. And actually, you can learn a lot of good stuff having fun and getting dirty.

I didn’t do homework until I was at secondary school. Neither did Flea’s Dad. And between us, we have two degrees, four MAs, and a certificate for typing. We did fine, academically.

To be fair, we’ve been really lucky with Flea’s teachers in that they have generally been pretty understanding of my point of view – and this year her teacher has said providing Flea keeps up with her work, don’t panic about doing homework every day. It’s okay to miss homework on any given day if there’s a “good” reason, and Flea catches up later.

I just wonder – what’s a good enough reason?

How about the evening Flea doesn’t tend to do homework because she has cubs and gets home too late to do anything? Or the evening she goes for her swimming lesson? Those seem like solid Good Reasons.

Butย what about the evening she’s collected from school by my parents, and taken out for an early dinner with her cousins, before going to their house for an hour so they can play together? In our family, it’s the only time we’re all together each week – it feels pretty important to me.

And how about the Friday afternoons when I pick Flea up early, dash to the cinema to catch a film and then head out for dinner together? It’s a rare time in a busy week that I get to spend dedicated time with my daughter without phone, email or Twitter distracting us. It’s precious to me, and I think to Flea, too.

And of course there are Saturday mornings on the beach, or at the park. Getting some fresh air and some freedom to run around is pretty important for kids, I’d say. As is getting cosy at home on a Sunday afternoon and pulling out the big box of LEGO or Playmobil.

Here are some of the reasons Flea didn’t do her homework over the past week, aside from our regular trips to the park and beach, and swimming. Personally, I think every single one of these was more important than spellings and sums. What do you reckon?

weekend activities

  1. Spending an entire afternoon playing with Playmobil’s new Western sets
  2. An overnight residential trip with school. After being nervous for weeks, turned out Flea adored it
  3. Learning to use Skype and chatting with her best friend, who had made a Powerpoint presentation called MY BFF: Flea.ย 
  4. Visiting her grandparents, where she spent the afternoon drawing comic strips for them to read and admire
  5. Being invested and officially joining the local cub group
  6. Making home-made pizza after school and settling down to watch a movie together

I’d love to know – what’s on your More Important Than Homework list?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

33 Comments

  1. 2nd October 2013 / 10:10 am

    Completely agree. All of those things are more important than homework. I’m lucky, that mine don’t get too much . I’m even (controversially) sure that there are things more important in life than going to school a lot of the time. I saw a friend’s Facebook status the other day. “Wish I could turn Alarm off and stay cuddled up with my two girls.” Considering their Dad is in hospital very ill with cancer and they have had a tough year all around I wished they would just do it. I never have enough time to read all the books, do all the craft and have as much fun with my kids as I would like. They love school and get so uch from it, but I wouldn’t want it taking up too much of our home life…dreading having Secondary School Kids!

    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 10:46 am

      Hi Claire, I must confess (hopes nobody from school is reading) that we have a policy of, once or twice a year, allowing a Duvet Day, when we both stay home, and just do something really fun. Yes, Flea loves school and I’m thrilled she goes to a school where she’s happy, but there’s more to life that formal learning. And having lost two brothers at an early age (one in his twenties, one just into his forties) I am a HUGE believer that you don’t know what’s around the corner, so make the most of it while you’re here.

  2. 2nd October 2013 / 11:03 am

    I’m no fan of homework. I used to have it in the final year of junior school to prep us for the step up to Big School but now, it seems like it starts in reception. It’s not just the expectation you will do two or three set tasks with the kids a night either, it’s the expectation that they will do the majority of their learning at home too. Even in year one, the actual amount of learning time during the course of the day is numbered in minutes rather than hours. It sort of makes you wonder why bother sending them to school in the first place, why not home school and send them to a variety of social clubs, that way at least you’ll be teaching them before it’s dark and they’re tired and cranky.

    Whilst not being a fan of homework, I think the housing market is a good analogy. House prices round us are stupidly high. I wouldn’t (be able to) pay ยฃ1.1m for a 5 bed new build with a garden big enough for either a BBQ or your friends but not both at the same time but that’s apparently what a 5 bed new build is worth, because they’ve all sold and there are none left. If you want a 5 bed new build, you’ve got to play the game. And it’s the same with homework. You’re lucky that Flea is bright and inquisitive and to a degree, being a single child has also benefited her as she doesn’t have two or more siblings hanging off you demanding attention when you’re trying to do stuff with her. But imagine she was academically average. Imagine that 31 kids in her class of 32 were all doing regular homework, or going to one of those out of school learning clubs that seem to have popped up to prey on parents fears, or that they even have a private tutor, what then? Do you stick by your principles and run the risk of her being put in a lower band at secondary school and missing out on the opportunity to flourish or do you begrudgingly play the game even though you don’t believe in it?

    I hated doing homework when I was a kid, and I hate doing it with my kids.
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 10:55 am

      It’s an interesting comment. I don’t agree, but it’s interesting.

      If I bought into the idea that it’s at all important for seven year olds to be “high achievers” academically and *if* I bought into the idea that high achievement at 5, 6, or 7 years of age was a reliable predictor of overall lifetime happiness and success, AND if I believed that homework promoted additional learning rather than serving as a box-ticking exercise, a way for parents to feel involved in school, and a way to reinforce existing learning, THEN (and only then) might I think homework is important.

      But I don’t. I am perfectly happy that there may be kids doing an hour or more of additional formal learning at home with their parents, and those children might be out-performing Flea in the classroom right now.

      But can those kids make their own sailboat? When their grandparents die, will they be happy to know they spent time getting to know them properly? Can they climb? Do they know the fun of going home after a long day on the beach with sand everywhere, and skinned knees to boot? Do they regularly come home and get engrossed in an imaginary game until the last possible moment before bedtime?

      My kid knows those things. And to me – and to her – they’re more important than all the extra spelling coaching in the world.

      And if – and it’s a remote possibility – not doing homework now means Flea achieves less academically at 14, 15, 16, then I’m comfortable with that. Because life’s for the NOW, not for the future, which may or may not come to pass. I’ll be content that she was well educated but also had a childhood, and freedom and learned all the lessons that don’t come in books.

      • 3rd October 2013 / 11:27 am

        It doesn’t matter if you buy into it though does it? That was sort of my whole point. Plenty of secondary schools use the year 6 SATS for banding pupils on ability and plenty of primary schools will focus their attention on the mid to high achievers when coaching them for the SATS because league tables are their focus rather than bringing up the bottom level kids to an average level.

        Our kids school day is 8.45 until 3.15. They’re always up by 7 and don’t go to bed until 7.30. That means they get over 6 hours outside school a day. That’s more than I get outside work. I don’t see why it has to be so black and white- homework or something else. There is plenty of time outside of school to spend ten minutes, 20 minutes or even half an hour doing a bit of school related stuff without impacting on the fun. Even if I believed in it for the sake of it, which I don’t ๐Ÿ™‚

        Let me try to explain it in another way:

        If a group of kids are given a project and three of them are excited and go and get the stuff to go on with it but the 4th is sitting there still sounding out the objectives 5 minutes later, will that 4th child think reading (or even learning) is fun or will they think it’s stupid? Our eldest sat in the lowest reading group, with kids from the year below for a large chunk of year 1. He regularly said reading was stupid and it was a struggle to get him to read a book but we persevered because for him knowing he was behind his peers was putting him off learning. It wasn’t an impetus to try harder, it was effectively putting him off trying at all. Eventually it either clicked or the hard work paid off, I couldn’t comment on which but he know reads comfortably within his age bracket and his peer group. He enjoys going to school.

        So whilst I would rather have not spent a fair number of my evenings wrangling him with a book, I did, because he would have given up and revelled in being the class clown otherwise.
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        • Sally
          Author
          3rd October 2013 / 11:45 am

          Well as to your first point, Flea’s school doesn’t do SATS so it’ll be hard to band the kids based on that. Maybe they’ll have to rely on teachers knowing the kids and their abilities. Go figure.

          Your family life obviously leaves a bit more room for homework than ours. On a day when there are no formal after-school activities (two days a week) Flea gets home at 4.30pm. Fitting 45 minutes of homework in to those three hours and still having time to get changed, read, play a game, eat dinner, and have a bath? That’s a big ask.

          On days when there are activities it’s even harder. If Flea visits her cousins, she gets home around 6.30pm – that’s barely time for a bath and a book before bed at 7.30pm. After swimming lessons, she gets home around 6.15pm and has to shower (the chlorine irritates her skin) then we make dinner, eat dinner and hey presto it’s bedtime. Her cub group finishes at 8.15pm so she has a late night on Mondays, and goes to bed as soon as we get home.

          So I don’t think it’s possible to fit in the homework that’s expected of her without impacting negatively on family life and her overall development. Yes, I could make her get up early to do her homework before school, or send her to bed later, then send her to school tired but surely that’s an even bigger recipe for academic underachievement? I can’t magically invent extra hours in the day and if we don’t have time during the week, it means there are around 4 hours of homework to be squeezed into the weekend – and that’s just ludicrous, in my opinion.

          Having said that, books are the exception. We read all the time, every day, and I am a passionate believer in reading as being hugely important to children in all sorts of ways. Just not necessarily as homework ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Sally
          Author
          3rd October 2013 / 11:47 am

          I should also add if you read the post *stern glance* you’ll see my attitude to homework is very much based on the notion of “so long as she is keeping up”. If a child is struggling or lagging behind their peers, then as a parent, I think it’s natural to do whatever you can to support the child in keeping up with classmates and being able to make the most of lessons.

    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 10:56 am

      Aint that the truth.

  3. 2nd October 2013 / 12:33 pm

    I was lucky in that my kids only had 1 piece of homework and a spellings list per week up until aged 9. But now my 9 year old is at middle school there seems to be an hour a day. This is far too much. School means he is out of the house from 8 until 4. I dont want him doing homework after 7 at night because he is winding down for bed and homework seems to inevitably be stressful. I dont want him doing it the second he gets in the door- this should be time to wind down, and let off steam in the garden. He cant do it while eating a meal. Or having a bath. Finding an hour to sit down and do it is hard. It is becoming a battle ground to get him to do it each night. And it is a battle which I resent having to be part of, as I think it is too much! 30 mins a day should be the maximum, right up to GCSE age!
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 10:58 am

      Isn’t it hard to find time? We get home, I want Flea to change, to play while I make dinner, then we eat dinner and there’s not much time before we’re into bath and bed routine and REALLY trying to find an hour to just sit and go over worksheets can be a real pain.

  4. 2nd October 2013 / 12:37 pm

    I’m going to let you into a little secret here; teachers hate homework just as much as (if not more than) parents and children. I used to hate planning it, setting it, explaining it to the children (and sometimes the parents too) I hated the extra marking. I hated the fact that some parents took it as an opportunity to try and show off their own abilities and would then want detailed feedback. I hated everything about it as a teacher, and as a parent I fear I will be making a series of stands and excuses about why my children haven’t done it.
    As you’ve said, childhood isn’t about preparing to be the workforce of tomorrow. And I’m pretty sure most adults appreciate the ability to just switch off their work head and take time off, so why aren’t children allowed that? I’ll tell you why, because the government say so. Setting a certain amount of homework (defined by their ages) is a requirement; so teachers set it and hate it, and parents and children hate it too.
    I’ll get off my angry homework soapbox now and just say that the only thing that I ever felt was really worthwhile for parents and children to do outside of school to support their learning is reading. Reading reading reading. And imaginative play. And adventures.
    Which it seems you do in abundance with Flea, so I say stuff the homework, the life experience she’s getting is invaluable. x
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 10:58 am

      Thanks for the comment – I suspected as much ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. 2nd October 2013 / 3:34 pm

    I’m with you Sally. Jen is unwell, I’m not making him do homework. Big bro D has two bits of homework tonight alone. By the weekends, which should be family time, he normally has to sit at the table working for around 6 hours. It is not right. My boys are 5 and 11.
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 10:59 am

      Six hours is just shocking. I think sometimes though, remember you’re the parent and you’re in charge. Just say NO! I did see in Flea’s homework book recently that Flea’s Dad had written a note to the teacher to say, “After an hour, I stopped her working, this is too much to expect of her.” Which I thought was pretty cool.

  6. 2nd October 2013 / 3:45 pm

    Absolutely agree. I think they start formal education starts far too young and aggressively in England. They are there full time time five days a week. Childhood is far too short and precious and I refuse to let school devour family time too. If my children want to do their homework they can. If they want help they have it by the bucket load.

    Both of them are also academically several years ahead so our approach obviously hasn’t negatively impacted on their education either.

    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 11:01 am

      I do really feel very sad about the English educational system – kids here start such formal learning so young!

  7. 2nd October 2013 / 6:14 pm

    Do not get me started! I dread the day Frog starts school and brings homework back with her. I hear stories of some three year olds coming home from pre- school with homework which, to me, just seems ridiculous. But then, I’m not a fan of primary aged kids in uniforms either. Regardless of the fact children learn in lots of different ways, there are also lots of different THINGS they can learn about which aren’t covered academically. Learning to love the people close to them, to enjoy the feeling of the sea on their toes etc etc. These types of things might not be “quantifiable” in exam terms later on, but they’re all important aspects of being a healthy, well-rounded, well adjusted, HAPPY child (and adult, come to think of it).
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 11:02 am

      The happiest people I know are not necessarily the most academically talented, definitely.

  8. 2nd October 2013 / 7:05 pm

    My daughter came home with her first piece of homework last week. When I say “came home” I really mean “bounced out of school yelling Mummy! Mummy! I’ve got homework!”. She was very excited about it – I think because she’s seen her older cousin doing it and thinks it makes her grown up. I have reservations about homework – like you I never had any (other than spellings to learn) until I was at secondary school, and I did fine in the academic stakes too. As long as it remains fun and not too time consuming I’m not going to kick up a fuss. But I’m not sure I’m prepared to fight her to get it do homework that she doesn’t think is fun. I’m definitely going to play this one by ear.
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 11:03 am

      Yes, best of luck!

  9. 2nd October 2013 / 8:09 pm

    I loathe homework to be honest. Resent having had to make my 5 then 6 and now 7 year old have to complete increasing amounts of photocopied sheets that do nothing to inspire learning. Gah! On my list pretty much anything and everything is more important than homework. She will have plenty to do when she’s older and it becomes more important. But not in primary school as far as I’m concerned.
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 11:03 am

      I wonder when it changed – I remember no homework in primary and then feeling quite excited and grown-up when I did get it at secondary school (a rather transient feeling, obviously)

  10. Nikki
    2nd October 2013 / 9:35 pm

    Our school say that at year 4 they should be able to do 30 mins of homework each night….Typically that’s a spelling sheet practice of just 6 words, her school reading book – read aloud to us, time tables practice and then a sheet of maths, English and a reading journal activity per week. I think that’s a lot to squeeze into 30 mins a night – which I must admit we get Jenni to do the moment she gets home – with a snack to counter the argo – but that’s just it- it’s agro – she’s already shattered from school, grumpy and just wants to play.

    PLUS….this year, the teachers have said – I’m sure to try and help us out – that if they don’t do their homework, “don’t worry about it and don’t have that battle at home….send them in without it done….they’ll soon realise when they’re doing it in their playtimes and lunchtimes that they should do it without agro”….Hmmmm. Great, only I think that the kids need that break time more than ever given the pressure the children are under. So the pain continues at home….

    Dreadful eh? ๐Ÿ™

    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 11:04 am

      Flea gets to do homework at play time if she hasn’t caught up during the week. I can understand why, but it makes me a little sad.

  11. Isobel
    3rd October 2013 / 8:32 am

    I’m with you on the ‘no need for homework’ lark. Luckily, Fred goes to a school where, bar reading books and the odd (about once a term) piece of talking , they don’t set homework till Key Stage 2, and then it is minimal.
    Fred wouldn’t be able to cope with doing homework due to his extra needs, but regardless of that I think it is much more important that he is out collecting conkers, going to Beavers, playing with the rabbit – anything but worksheets!

    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 11:04 am

      Yes – conkers! Every year should have some conker time, which reminds me, we haven’t been out this year yet ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. 3rd October 2013 / 9:44 am

    Like you I’m a working single mum and we have little time during the week for formal homework. Yes we do reading and the odd spelling but not much else! Only 1 night a week when we are home by 5 from school with nothing on… Kids need down time too
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    • Sally
      Author
      3rd October 2013 / 11:05 am

      It is hard, isn’t it? I don’t like to play the single Mum card but God, trying to find time when we can fit everything in is hard enough as it is, and I want to have downtime with her. That’s got to be important, too, for both of us!

  13. Sally
    Author
    3rd October 2013 / 11:04 am

    Oh, you agitator, you… ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. 3rd October 2013 / 12:21 pm

    I try to take a long term view on homework. The fact I did quite well academically gave me chances in my adult life that my parents could never have dreamed of and I really hope that my kids will enjoy even greater opportunities than I did so if a bit of homework helps with that then I’m all for it.

    However I’m not convinced much of what kids this age bring home is of actual benefit to them but more a matter of coming up with an activity to fill 30 minutes. As Lucy said above, reading together regularly is really important while those skills are getting established but filling in another bloody worksheet just seems pointless. If I think an activity will help E I will make time to get it done but otherwise it’s back in the bookbag I’m afraid.
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  15. 3rd October 2013 / 12:34 pm

    My daughter since starting school has always had a small amount of homework but since moving to the junior school this term the amount is ridiculous. There is a weekly spellings test with the words given out on a Monday and tested on a Friday. Also on a Monday a sheet of maths homework is given out. This week it was double sided. Each night she is expected to read out loud to an adult and we have make comments on a sheet. There is another book which she has to read to herself. This is from the school library. How can she find the time to read her own books at home. We have also had to do research projects at home. I have seen her timetable and every morning is the same – maths then literacy, phonics and reading. There is no space on the timetable for history or geography. On top of this once the teacher has taken the morning register she goes round the class and each of them have to say a times table out loud. You can’t move on until you get that one right. It is simply ritual humiliation. The headteacher is obsessed with SATS results and is trying to get as many kids as possible achieving not just level 5 but 6 at age 11. Like yourself I never had homework until I went to secondary and yet seemingly managed to get a degree and further professional qualifications. My children have 5 years between them but other mothers are now having to help two or more kids with their homework and cook a meal plus give them time to relax. It’s madness.

  16. 3rd October 2013 / 7:41 pm

    I completely agree. I think homework is often set as much to please the parents than anything else. As a teacher, I do set homework, but it if often related to a further topic or to encourage reading at home and it is up to the child how much they do. However, as children get older I think an element of self study is necessary to prepare them for the responsibility of uni and they life ahead.

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