I face a daily bat­tle with my daugh­ter over home­work

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family - John Sharry Send your queries to health@irish­times.com

QMy daugh­ter started first class in pri­mary school this year and home­work has be­come a real bat­tle with her. She usu­ally re­fuses point-blank to do it when she comes in and I have to spend the rest of the evening ca­jol­ing and coax­ing her to do it. We even­tu­ally get it done, but it is tak­ing far too long and some­times ru­ins the evening.

I have an older son and he does his home­work no bother, just gets it out of the way when he comes in. The funny thing is that my daugh­ter can eas­ily do the home­work (eg, sums and writ­ing sen­tences, etc), but she makes such a deal of it. The teach­ers have al­ways re­ported her as bright and well able in the class so I don’t think there are any aca­demic prob­lems. I’ve tried chang­ing the rou­tine of when she does it and let­ting her try it af­ter din­ner but that can be even worse as she is tired then.

What would you sug­gest?

AUn­for­tu­nately, your ques­tion is a com­mon one. Many par­ents I work with end up in home­work bat­tles with their young chil­dren ev­ery evening. These are good par­ents who want to do the best for their chil­dren and who see do­ing home­work as a key part of par­ent­ing. The prob­lem is that the bat­tles around home­work are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and likely to be dam­ag­ing if they hap­pen of­ten.

The truth about home­work

While of­ten a cen­tral part of the day in most homes, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that for­mal home­work for pri­mary school chil­dren in­creases their aca­demic per­for­mance or ed­u­ca­tional out­comes. How­ever, there is a lot of ev­i­dence that home­work bat­tles and stress around home­work have many neg­a­tive out­comes for chil­dren in that it can cause a dis­like of learn­ing and school­work and put con­sid­er­able stress on the par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship – put sim­ply it can ruin many evenings in the fam­ily home.

The im­por­tance of read­ing at home

The ex­cep­tion is read­ing. Read­ing at home with your chil­dren has many pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tional out­comes (backed up by many stud­ies) and this should be the main home learn­ing pri­or­ity rather than for­mal rote home­work. In­deed, in­te­grat­ing a re­lax­ing read­ing time into the daily rou­tine such as around bed­time is of­ten a spe­cial way of spend­ing time and con­nect­ing with your child.

So if home­work is not linked to ed­u­ca­tional out­comes in pri­mary schools, why all the em­pha­sis on it? This is a com­pli­cated ques­tion. De­spite the re­search there is of­ten a shared ex­pec­ta­tion be­tween teach­ers and par­ents about for­mal home­work. Some­times it is the way the teacher com­mu­ni­cates to the par­ents about what the child is cov­er­ing in the school cur­ric­ula (when this can be done with­out hav­ing to be re­peated in home­work). Some­times, it is out of a de­sire for par­ents to get in­volved in their child’s learn­ing. Par­ent in­volve­ment in ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant but can be done more ef­fec­tively by sim­ply re­view­ing the school day with their chil­dren with­out a long time in for­mal home­work.

Many schools do adopt more cre­ative home­work poli­cies and rec­om­mend more cre­ative and flex­i­ble learn­ing at home. In­deed, many of the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, which have the best ed­u­ca­tional out­comes, aban­don for­mal home­work in pri­mary school and en­cour­age play-based and fun learn­ing at home.

Take a step back from home­work So given the above re­search, it is im­por­tant that you take a step back from the stress­ful home­work pat­tern you have ended up in. You want to break this neg­a­tive pat­tern and rein­tro­duce some fun learn­ing at home. You can do this by set­ting a time limit on home­work (eg, 20 min­utes) and not wor­ry­ing if it is com­plete or not – let the teacher deal with this the next day. You can also talk to the teacher and ex­plain what is hap­pen­ing at home and get his/her sup­port around this. Many teach­ers are open to to a more flex­i­ble child-cen­tred ap­proach to home­work. Please see some of my other home­work ar­ti­cles on irish­times.com on set­ting up learn­ing rou­tines at home.

Fo­cus on play­time

As a par­ent the im­por­tant pri­or­ity is to have a daily fun time con­nect­ing with your child. This has the most ben­e­fit for chil­dren (and par­ents) in terms of their well­be­ing and it is also the time when they are most likely to learn new things. In the Par­ents Plus Pro­grammes we rec­om­mend par­ents set aside a daily play time, when they can be fully present for their chil­dren. The key is to fol­low what your child loves to do and en­gage in en­joy­able (non-screen) ac­tiv­i­ties.

These play­times can in­volve just about any­thing, whether this is draw­ing, lego, play­ing games, bak­ing to­gether and in­cludes out­door ac­tiv­i­ties such as skip­ping, foot­ball, cre­at­ing ad­ven­tures or do­ing a na­ture walk to­gether. Iron­i­cally, it is dur­ing these fun times that chil­dren are most likely to learn and ex­pand their mind, not to men­tion all the emo­tional ben­e­fits for the both of you.

Fo­cus on read­ing and fun learn­ing As men­tioned above, read­ing at home has enor­mous ben­e­fits for chil­dren and this is some­thing to in­te­grate into your day. Schools will have books you can read to­gether as part of shared read­ing but also you may wish to set up a bed­time read­ing time (if you have not done this al­ready). The key is to find books that your child wants to read – they don’t have to be for­mal “learn­ing books”, and books about their favourite movie characters or sports mag­a­zines are all great. Make a reg­u­lar visit to the li­brary and let your daugh­ter pick out books she loves.

John Sharry is founder of the Par­ents Plus Char­ity and an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the UCD School of Psy­chol­ogy.

Read­ing at home has enor­mous ben­e­fits for chil­dren and this is some­thing to in­te­grate into your day


My daugh­ter usu­ally re­fuses point-blank to do her home­work when she comes in and I have to spend the rest of the evening ca­jol­ing and coax­ing her.

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