When my four-year-old daughter, who we call Flea, started school last September, we soon settled into a regular homework routine.
Flea would settle herself on the rug with some toys and a glass of milk, while I would take out the flashcards and reading book from her bag. While she created imaginary Playmobil worlds on the floor, I'd shuffle the flash cards, flick through the book, and put the whole lot back into her folder, ready to return to the teacher the next morning.
After a couple of months, I realised this probably wasn't the best example to set to an impressionable child, so I met with Flea's teacher and explained that we would not be doing any homework, unless there was a specific issue and Flea was falling behind her classmates.
Fortunately, the school has been supportive, but my decision has prompted open amazement among other parents. I'm regularly lectured about how Flea is missing out on learning about discipline, and how doing homework is vital to children's educational attainment.
Phooey, is what I say.
Your average four-year-old learns a lot more spending an hour playing than they do from a packet of flashcards – especially when they have already spent a full day in the classroom.
On sunny days, Flea and I head for the beach or the park after school. After a long day of sitting still, listening and following instructions, what youngsters need is space to run and explore and learn about the world through their own noisy, messy experiences.
Some evenings, we go for dinner together, and Flea will read the menu and ask about the different foods. Or we might settle down at home to read stories, or create imaginary worlds with hospitals and schools and space stations. Once a week, Flea goes to a local karate class, where she's learning self-defence, along with an impressive amount of Japanese.
To me, this sort of learning is just as important as anything Flea might pick up in the classroom. And the experiences she's having are the sort she will remember when she's older and has long forgotten about the bland adventures of Chip and Biff.
It's so easy to get caught up in competitive parenting and these days, the pressure on parents starts almost as soon as you leave the maternity ward. I remember attending a pre-school class with Flea for children aged 12 months and upwards that promised to 'boost' toddlers' pre-literacy skills.
It was run by some really lovely people, but I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I admitted to one of the class leaders that Flea didn't know her letters at the age of three. 'But that's where the downward spiral of educational under-achievement starts!' she told me.
I stopped attending the classes and instead, let Flea continue to follow her own path. That meant we barely looked at letters or writing, but spent whole days playing with tiny figures and cars, or talking about why the sky is blue and clouds are white.
In reality, children don't benefit from formal learning at this tender age. International research consistently shows that the countries with the highest overall educational attainment are those where children don't start formal learning until the age of six or seven. In the UK, where most children start school at the age of four, educational attainment is far lower than most of our European neighbours.
When she started school a year ago, Flea was the youngest in her class, and was the only child who couldn't write her name. I don't mind admitting I did feel a flutter of anxiety, wondering if my decision not to do anything in the way of 'educational activities' might hold her back.
But last night my daughter told me not to read her a bedtime story, because actually she wanted to read the last couple of chapters of her Enid Blyton book by herself. 'It's more fun when I read it in my head,' she announced.
What I've learned is that if we give children time and space to learn, they will find their own way – and they'll enjoy the journey that much more for having made it by themselves. And that's why we'll be staying a homework-free household for the foreseeable future.
What do you think?
Is homework in primary school a waste of parents and children's time?
Or do you think homework is an essential part of learning?
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