The benefits and pitfalls of homework for young children
By Amreen Pathan
This was the tweet posted by UK based US comedian Rob Delaney that fanned the flames of the ‘Great Homework Debate’. Should children really have to complete so much work at home? Or should homework be banned in primary schools?
Well let’s ask de-facto expert Piers Morgan shall we? Because of course, no debate would be complete without the wisdom of Morgan who waded in as he usually does, uninvited and unfortunately ubiquitous. This is what he had to say in response to footballer Gary Lineker’s support for Delaney’s ‘motion’:
Comparing UK’s progress with China based on the hours designated for homework is not fallacious at all but thank you Piers for you customary balance of tact and sensitivity.
A brief history of homework
Researching this generated interesting results. Some claim that a Venice based teacher Roberto Nevilis invented homework as a means of punishing his underperforming students. If substantiated, then this flags up the concept of homework as negative in theory. Punishment is undesirable and by association, so is homework.
Monks in 1859 have also been accredited with this invention as they were asked to practice their singing outside of their vocational lessons.
A majority point to Pliny the Younger, politician, judge and author in Ancient Rome, as the inventor of homework when he asked his followed to participate in at-home activities.
Different sources will yield different interpretations but homework was born somewhere in the misty depths of History and both the pros and cons cannot be overlooked.
Five pros of homework
- Mastery of skill: repetition reinforces learning and makes the conscious subconscious. By repeating the skill or knowledge learnt in school, the concept and content becomes easier to understand and/or apply and remember.
- Time management: completing homework within a specific time frame teaches children the skill of organising their tasks and meeting deadlines, which is something they will inevitably have to do as adults.
- Parent involvement: homework set for younger children will require the assistance of parents. This will get the parent involved in a child’s learning journey and set mandatory quality time between parent and child.
- Independence: By completing homework, a child will assert some control over their own learning thereby encouraging them to be independent and use their own initiative.
- Communication network: Homework bridges the gap between teacher, child and parent. It provides parents a glimpse into the child’s school life and provides teachers a glimpse into the child’s home life.
5 cons of homework
- Quality control: if the homework set by the teacher is not meaningful, then all the pros of homework will be negated. There will be no repetition or reinforcement. Whatever time is spent completing the homework will be squandered time.
- Disparity: Not every home can provide a beneficial learning environment. Some pupils will have access to tutors or just parents who are heavily invested in their education. Meanwhile, there will be others whose parents are unable to provide support or do not see school as their responsibility at all. Bottom line: no home life is the same.
- Creativity: an hour spent on homework is an hour less on pursuing hobbies, reading, and just playing. Playtime alone encourages creativity and nurtures the imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. The importance of free and guided play is referred to in this podcast hosted by Academica Mentoring.
- Evidence: there is a lack of evidence that homework impacts achievement positively for primary children. If this is the case, then homework could actually be detrimental as it could cause stress for parents and children as well as reducing the time that important skills could be learnt.
- Cheating: homework can encourage cheating. There is so much information available on the internet just screaming to be used and the temptation can be too much to bear. I myself have found some instances of brazenly copied work (poems and essays alike) particularly over the lockdown period. This also means homework cannot be a true reflection of a child’s potential and achievement.
Since 2012, schools have been free to make up their own minds about homework after former education secretary Michael Gove did away with previous guidelines set by Labour in 1997.
As a teacher, what are my thoughts about homework and why?
Homework is important for secondary pupils. Contrary to primary, research suggests a link between homework and achievement grades in secondary school pupils and with a packed curriculum, homework relieves some of the pressures off teachers too allowing for consolidation of learning, application and retrieval outside of the classroom. Homework at this stage also allows scope for creative projects and independent research, which is equally important as traditional ideas of homework.
The case for primary children is different however. What is to say that it is not parent’s adults completing the work set for children because sometimes the practical nature of the homework is just a little absurd? Homework can also present massive challenges to families with SEND children and I have seen first-hand the impact homework can have on the self-esteem and mental health of a child who thinks they must endure the impossible topic learnt at school at home too.
This is not to say all homework is bad and homework should be banned for primary children. Instead, the way homework is perceived should change. Homework should be reading, sporting activities of choice, leisurely strolls, baking, household chores, drawing, gardening , looking after a pet, maybe even educational games – the options are categorically endless.
- What pros and cons can you list for homework?
- If you were in charge, what types of assignments would you ask teachers to set as homework if any and why?
- How much parents should be engaging with their child’s learning in terms of homework?
- Should homework be banned in secondary schools too?
I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts. Please leave your comments below!