‘I didn’t like homework as a child, but I hate it even more as a parent’

Novelty of back to school has well and truly worn off

“Happy mum equals happy child,” it is said, and I have long since held this claim as a statement of fact. What’s a slightly more uncomfortable truth, however, is that I’ve found the reverse, give or take a sidestep, to also ring true – “cranky children equal cantankerous, exasperated and fed-up mum”.

The novelty of back to school has well and truly worn off and I’m once more wholly resentful of the surrender of our evenings to homework. I didn’t like homework much as a child, but I hate it even more now as a parent. It’s an exhausting battle of wills with tired, frustrated children who have already spent most of their day seated at a desk, concentrating and focusing on lessons and new concepts.

Trying to convince them that they should continue in a similar manner now that school is over is a challenge in itself.

And I don’t believe it’s a battle worth winning, except maybe of course for some afternoon peace. With plenty of research suggesting that not only is homework non-beneficial for primary school children, it can actually prove counter-productive as children become bored and unhappy, I’m ready to throw in the towel.

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As I watch my children’s faces fall at my suggestion that they start homework straight after their snack, I’ve seen how homework daily sucks the joy out of our evenings. It impacts family time, time with their friends and even after school activities and general “down-time”.

Distraction

There’s a rough guideline set aside suggesting how much time children should spend at their homework, but like many things in life – theory and practice don’t always correlate.

Having more children than tables in my house means a table or desk share is unavoidable. And try though I might to carefully choose my pairings, anticipating the ones that will result in least distraction (and arguments) they will always find a way. Because in practice, life continues on around them as they do their homework. There are younger children to be taken care of, dinner to be prepared and in our case this week, water running down the walls from an upstairs leaky radiator to be managed – because life is what happens when you’re busy striving for ideals.

Although I’m there to oversee, and help where needed, everything moves at a painfully slow pace as littles gaze wistfully out the window wishing they could ride their bikes or play chasing and football with their siblings or friends instead of going through the motions of Irish grammar and maths.

And going through the motions it is. The ones who have already grasped the concepts from the day’s lessons see it as further drudgery. And those who haven’t yet – well is the best time to tackle it again really when a child is tired after a day at school? The phrase “flogging a dead horse” springs to mind.

On the days that homework takes longer than the “suggested recommendation” for whatever reason, I try to stop my children. Where once the promise of a note to teacher explaining that it was my decision to call time on homework for the evening was sufficient, now some of my children rail against me. The desire to get outside and play is not as strong as the need to please. The fear of breaking “the rules” or being seen as not capable drives them on – and our mutual frustration with it.

Exercise

We live in a time-poor society now, one in which childhood obesity has become a serious concern. And though many factors may contribute to it, one thing that cannot be denied is that many children are not getting anywhere near the recommended levels of exercise.

I’ve often wondered if homework for primary school children was to cease, might we see an improvement in our children’s overall health – more free time to play, run and skip outside (my generation’s main exercise), and the happy side effect of improved mental health too.

Regardless, for now homework is here to stay. All that I can be grateful for so far this school year is that a project has not yet arrived home and the few laughs that “put these words in sentences” can bring. Like the recent sentence my son wrote with the word “boss” – “My daddy think he’s the boss but really mammy is the boss”. That boy has wisdom beyond his years.

“Homework for primary school children should be banned,” I grumbled to my husband after yet another fractious afternoon of homework battles while simultaneously coping with a tantrum-throwing toddler who couldn’t go trick or treating as it’s still September.

“Maybe we should opt out – we can do that apparently,” I added, before stopping, realising that much as I believe it, I’m not sure I’m ready to break the rules just yet. A rule change would suit me and mine far better.