Picture the scene.
Hassled mother of three has a deadline. All day she has been finishing off artwork to get over to the printer so that thousands of notebooks can be printed, sent to her as quickly as possible so that she can photograph them, artwork a catalogue that will then have to go to the printer to be printed in time for the most important (expensive) trade show of the year.
At 3.10pm, she peels herself away from the computer screen, grabs coat and rushes to school on the bus, grabs three children in pretty much the same manner as she grabbed the coat 20 minutes earlier and listens to them chat about lunch time decisions, yucky vegetables eaten and naughty boys named Harry. They all arrive home and mum slinks back into office for half an hour, finishes uploading artwork, breathes and joins the children at the kitchen table.
Two boys in year 2 and a girl in year 3, homework diaries dutifully laid out in from of them.
As usual, it’s half an hour of reading EACH, impending spelling tests to prepare for (what 7 year old needs to know how to spell inarticulate?!?!), and some maths. Doubling up and making the most of the whole twin thing, I can test both boys at the same time on their spelling, but nothing gets me out of the total one and half hours of reading I am supposed to be doing.
I am tired. No, I am worn out. But I’m still in the rational phase and as I begin to get cross with one son who clearly hasn’t actually tried to learn how to spell inarticulate, I take a moment to visualise the scene objectively
and I breathe for a minute.
and my silence starts to freak my children out.
‘Ok guys…’ I start – I’ve really got their attention now.
‘It’s not up to me to make sure you do all this stuff. It makes no difference to me if you don’t do your homework. I’ll sign your planners for the rest of your school career without checking once. If you need my help, I will always try (but don’t bank on my maths knowledge getting you past Year 4)’.
They stayed silent.
‘But…’ (they knew there would be a but).
‘If I EVER get a phone call from your school saying that you’re not doing your homework, or your teachers even hint at you not spending enough time on your homework, all hell will break loose’.
Bear in mind that the conversation didn’t stop there. In fact, 8 years on, the conversation continues.
My rationale from the beginning, still, I believe, is strong.
If a child doesn’t understand the lesson and doesn’t manage their homework, then the teacher needs to know and either tailor their teaching (if more than one pupil didn’t ‘get’ it) or spend an extra 5 minutes with the child to run through it again. If mum takes up the slack and either does the homework for the child or RE-teaches them, then what is the point of being educated during the day?
What are they going to do when they get to University? Wait until mum calls them to check that their dissertation writing is on track for that term?
What is the point of alienating your children arguing with them about something that they simply need to take responsibility for? I nag them enough with helping out around the house, keeping in touch when they’re out, being generally civil during hormone surges – why would I want to have another item on the agenda of ‘things to bat you around the head with’.
I have better, more constructive things to do with my time.
How can you actually make a child learn? It is possible to punish them for not spending enough time deemed necessary to sit at a table and write and look through books and practice, but if there is no joy in a) actual knowledge gathering and or b) feeling a sense of achievement when the hard work pays off, then forcing them to sit there whilst time seems to wade through treacle seems utterly pointless.
And finally… and I think most importantly,
When my children get good exam results I’m able to say ‘you must be feeling terribly proud of yourself, well done’.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?
For the record, one son didn’t do his latin homework sufficiently for quite a while and ‘concerns’ were raised at parent’s evening. He dropped the subject 2 months later in his GCSE options but is still able to remember more than the ubiquitous Caecilius est in horto.