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Is Children's Down Time No Longer A Pastime?

02/11/2016 14:24

I'm writing this just half a term into the new school year and I'm already fired up about homework. Before I get shouted down for not caring about the importance of education, I'll point out that I am someone who takes education extremely seriously which is why I am driven to write this post. I wholeheartedly understand that there are children who thrive on academic learning and need something more stimulating than Cbeebies or Minecraft when they get home. But what about the children for whom, school drains all of the energy from? Let's not forget that children are often just four years old when they start primary school reception. My daughter is unfortunate in that her birthday falls right on the cut off date of the school year - 31st August. She had only turned four just a few days before starting school. It seems unfathomable that such children should be expected to complete a long day at school only to come home and have to do more "work" when really what they need more is down time with family or friends, reading and engaging in leisure activities.

I agree that all children need encouragement to progress and succeed. But is a meaningless literacy worksheet (in which connectives, adjectives and determiners must be used) the right way to go about it? What even IS a 'determiner' when it's at home?! I would love a world where schools and teachers encourage our children to learn at home through a different medium. Less pressured. Dare I say it - Fun?

When researching this topic, I took to a well known parenting website, and put the question to other parents to see if it was just me or if others felt the same. The feedback I received was incredible. The general consensus was that there is too much, too young. One of my biggest frustrations as a full time working parent when my daughter started school, was that by the time I had collected her from after school care, fed her, bathed her and read with her, there was no time for anything else. What about the parents who work shifts, or away from home? Not a chance. Time is precious. Every minute you spend with your child, regardless of whether you are a working parent or not (although I would at this point just like to note that there's a strong argument that being a stay at home parent is one of the hardest jobs you could ever take on!) is a gift that should be treasured. Arguing over the filling on of worksheets don't really fill this brief.

I'm sure if you have any interest in this topic, you would have read about or already know, that in Sweden, children don't start school until they are 7. The Swedish education system encourages outdoor learning, and entirely discourages any competitiveness (no sports day!). There are some schools that operate the whole school day outside - whatever the weather. There's a big argument that supports the idea of us learning from our Scandinavian friends - who seem to have nailed all areas of bringing up happy, healthy and well rounded, knowledgeable children.

I was hugely interested to hear views from primary school teachers, both new and experienced. One experienced teacher and parent of primary aged children told me that whilst she doesn't support the act of giving children homework, she had been harassed by parents who think their children don't get enough! She also made the extremely valid point that the dreaded "worksheet" - that is the bane of many parents' lives - is totally worthless as there's zero evidence of how much input the parents have had in it and how much understanding the child has of the task they have completed. She said that she would always encourage activities such as teaching children how to tell the time, how to tie shoelaces, using money in the shops, etc.

I suppose there is no real conclusion here; I will always have a problem with this and I'm unlikely to ever come round to the idea that all this pressure on children outside of school is beneficial to their development, but the fact remains that we are in an education system where more likely than not, we will have to support our children doing homework so I suppose all we can really do is bite our tongues and brush up on our subordinating conjunctions.

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