It's the start of a new year. With children set to go back to school this week, comes the inevitable return of something not only children, but parents have come to dread - homework!
Picture the scene; the homework war zone. Barricades are up, high pitched voices shoot like missiles, tear gas is aplenty.
This has become my weekend and as the sun rises on a Saturday morning the tension builds inside me as I know... it's time to tackle homework.
How hard can it be? My 6 year old needs to write 4 sentences using 4 different words from her phase 5 phonics sound mat. It's not too onerous - it shouldn't take too long?
After chasing her around the house for half an hour, then coaxing her out of the barricade she made herself under her desk, tackling some hundred avoidance tactics (I'm sick, my leg hurts, I've got something in my eye, I need a drink, I only want to use my favourite pen and it's at school etc.) and me throwing in some embarrassing bribes (maybe even begging!) we sit down to do it.
All is going well.
We'd agreed on the words. She'd written them carefully using her best handwriting and we'd just got to the end of the third sentence when... she changed her mind, she didn't like what was written and shock horror TORE UP THE PAGE!
That was it; I was done in, and throw in the towel. 14 years as an educator and my 6 year old daughter has defeated me. I admit to the world that I HATE HOMEWORK.
Ok, it was a low point (and there have been more - for example the time my 8 year old needed to write an opener to a scary story but insisted on writing about sunshine, balloons and butterflies - head in hands). I've spent years giving advice about such things; I've tutored hundreds of children without this kind of stress and yet here I am facing my biggest challenge yet.
I know I am not alone and parents throughout the country struggle with this very challenge every week. So here's the thing - I don't have the answers but am on the journey too with a dogged determination to overcome this biggest of hurdles and try to remove the pain from homework.
This is what I've tried so far:
1. Speak to the teacher - admit that it's not going well. I have two studious girls so it was a surprise to the teachers that even they were not taking well to the homework tasks. We discussed the more popular activities e.g. they prefer maths over written work, doing anything online over written work, research/collecting info over written work - basically anything that isn't writing! They agreed to keep a good mix of activities. We also agreed an appropriate length of time that they should spend on a task e.g. 20 minutes for my 6 year old, 30 minutes for my 8 year old with a maximum of two tasks so an hour in total.
2. Make a plan with the kids - we discussed that on Saturday we would need to fit our homework into the day. We planned out all the activities that we wanted/ needed to do and then committed to the 20 minute/ 1 hour block that they would do their homework in and I would be free to help. Different times for each of them but they should plan a quiet activity while the other was doing homework. We wrote it up on a planner and I got them to sign their names to agree to it!
3. Do some prep - before it was homework time I made sure their desks were clear and I looked at the activities we needed to do. I got all the resources together that we would need (I hope that they can do this themselves eventually but for now it avoids unnecessary delays!)
4. Make sure everyone is occupied in a quiet activity - I set up my other daughter with a quiet craft activity with my husband.
5. Set the timer - we agreed the time and set a timer in the room but we also agreed that if they stopped or got distracted at any point then we would pause the timer. We would stop when the timer beeped.
6. How I would help - I promised to stay with them the whole time and that they could ask me for any help they needed.
7. Do not bribe - I avoided bribing e.g. afterwards you can watch TV etc. We had agreed the time and so that's what we were going to do.
8. Remain calm - I tried very hard to keep my patience and one time where I knew I wasn't going to have the time to do it I got someone else involved (getting Grandad in to help with homework was a real treat and was very well received!)
Both my girls completed their homework without tears. My youngest still tried avoidance tactics (I'm too tired, I don't want to do it etc.) but I reminded her of the agreement that we made. She didn't try for too long before she settled down. My eldest actually kept going after the hour was up because she was into what she was doing at that point but I encouraged her to finish off so we could stop on a positive note. It's still early days but it's something that I will continue to work on. I know if I can crack it now it will place our family in good shape for the years to come where the importance of homework and the amount of it becomes much greater.
The way things are done in schools has changed dramatically since most of us were in school. I'm fortunate in my role to be abreast of all these changes but if you find anything confusing or unclear, it is always best to ask the teacher for clarification or use a school mum's group - the one we have for my daughters' school is invaluable! Or come and see us at Explore Learning - we hold sessions with parents so you can get up to date with the latest teaching techniques and methodology and be fully up to speed on how to help.
One day in 2016 I hope to be able to report that I no longer hate homework and maybe even enjoy it!?! Let's wait and see but removing the tears and the battleground is a fantastic place to start.