gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

The Homework Question


If you had asked me in December where I stood on the homework, you would have found me faltering weakly on the fence. On one hand, I know there is a lot of research coming out that homework has either no effect or a negative effect on marks. On the other hand, I am a bit old school on issues like self-discipline and good work ethics.

But this year, I started to fall off the fence. Because my son is in Grade 2. Yes, you read right – Grade 2 – not Grade 4 or 7 or 9 or matric. Grade 2.

“I don’t really believe in homework,” said our lovely teacher at the beginning of the year. I still think she is lovely, but if this is someone who doesn’t believe in homework, then I don’t know what’s in store for us in future years. From an adult point of view, it’s not a lot of homework. Maybe about half an hour a day.

But seven year old boys don’t work in linear time, and my whole afternoon is taken up yelling, “Have you done your homework?” and “When you’ve done your homework”. As a result, my son doesn’t hate the homework, he hates me.

And then this weekend I bumped into a Grade 3 mother from my school, and she told me that next year they start doing so much sport (which is great) that they get home late (which is not) and have even more homework to do than before (which is terrible). It sounded like such a nightmare that I nearly lay down on the floor at Sandton for a cry.

As adults, we don’t expect ourselves to do a 7am to 7pm day, and then still work in the evenings. (Well, I don’t. If you do, you need to take a good long look at your life. Sorry, but you do.) But apparently from mid primary school, we expect this of our children.

And while it may help consolidate what they learn in the day, and it may teach some elements of self-discipline, from what other moms tell me, it mostly just serves to make life at home miserable. And home is actually where our kids are supposed to feel safe.

I’m still a bit on the fence. I don’t know that homework per se is the problem. But something isn’t feeling right when the part of my week that causes me to take the deepest breathes is Grade 2 homework.



2 thoughts on “The Homework Question

  1. The Waldorf schools don’t believe in homework, and don’t set any until about grade 6 other than a bit of reading practice. They get good matric results and their kids do very well academically. Having experienced both this system and conventional schooling as a parent, I am of the absolutely firm opinion that the only home work should perhaps be a story book that the child can read with the parent at bed time for fun. There is a lot of research showing that free play is critical for a child’s mental, social and physical development, yet between homework and extracurricular activities our kids are given almost no time for play.

    • Absolutely – that is the problem. But my feeling is that there is a slight stirring about this in academic circles and that maybe we will start seeing some new approaches in more traditional schools. I just hope that it is in time for me and my son!!!

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