herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Daddy Day Care: Homework hell starts at age six

ANNIE'S in second class now and all of a sudden there's homework.

Loads of it. I thought I'd finished with homework 20 years ago. Now I have to start all over again.

She's six. She's just started staying at school ’til three. Now they expect her to put in another half an hour when she gets home. There are 40-year-old civil servants out there who do less work.

Generally speaking, Annie is the diligent one. She's the one who looks at me sternly and asks me if I washed it when I give her an apple. So when we sit down and I open up the homework copy and see the long, long list, it's me who jumps up and down screaming that’s “not fair”. Well, maybe I don't, but I sure as hell feel like it.

Bloody homework. What's the point? I went to her teacher on the second week back and asked her. She said she had another parent in the previous day asking why they got so little homework. Mother of God. “Give me the name of this person,” I said, but she wouldn't. So I talked to other parents and, it turns out, it's them that want all the bloody homework. One mother said she was scaling back the ballet and the camogie this year, because she wanted her child to “concentrate on the academic side”. “Academic side?” I said. “They're six! There's no academic side!”

TEACHING

Primary school is all about trying to get on with other humans. If you pick up a bit of reading or maths along the way, great, but that's not really the point.

I'm not the only one who thinks homework is for the birds. There was a story in the papers recently about the Irish Primary Principals’ Network. They said that effective teaching in the classroom far outweighs any value there might be in homework. Their director, Sean Cottrell said “homework can often be the source of a huge amount of stress between parents and children”. He said that quality time among families on weekday evenings can be scarce, and this time can be spoiled by homework.

He's bang on. I mean, Annie is, by far, the most responsible person in the household — when her mother's not around at least — and she struggles with it. We've done this deal where she does the homework straight away when she gets home, then she gets 15 minutes of TV. But if she's tired, or stressed about some little thing that happened in school and then doesn't get a maths problem out first time, it can send her into tears. And trying to help her out can cause even bigger problems. My attempt to straighten what I thought was a fairly basic subtraction issue only confused her.

But the real battles are in the post. Mike has just started school. He hasn't brought home any homework yet, but when he does, it's going to be a right laugh. He never sits still. Even when he's asleep, he throws himself around the bed. He hasn't even settled on which hand to write with. He rarely answers to his own name. Lately, he's spent most of his time being a monkey called ‘Joe Frank'. It's going to take a lot more than 15 minutes of TV to get Joe Frank to the table.

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