Tuesday, July 3, 2018

How young is to young for homework?

How young is too young for homework? Is it really beneficial to our children's learning or is it just another society and cultural pressure. Is it merely the fear of teachers and schools failing that transcends down on to our children being set homework at 5 years old. Ava is 5 and she already knows the pressure of doing homework and as her mum I also feel the pressure, the struggle to balance what is right and also going against my real feelings that at 5 children should be exploring , developing socially and build a base on fun learning. Ava has already had homework set and there is an internal struggle inside of me of wanting her to be able to come home relax, play barbies run around like a lunatic and still find comfort in reading through bed time stories rather than the pressure to be blending, sounding out and mastering Jolly phonics ( a whole new language for parents to learn). When Ava started school I expected reception to be a fun stage less intense learning more about developing friendships and relationships. But I feel that although the is an element of fun our children are still being prepared for assessments, tests and exams. I feel that the pressure put on our teachers from OFSTED, failing schools and parental expectations has taken the real joy from learning. We are now focused on tests, exams, measuring abilities and grouping children. Do we really benefit by putting children in to set groups. If your child is in set 1 and doing well does the pressure to maintain that become to much? Do the children in lower sets feel disappointed at themselves, lose drive and become demoralised because the expectations of them are lower. Some will argue that sets allow the children to be taught at their level. My personal opinion is set groups stifle learning they are based on some exams set from year 5 and then again year 9 so 10 years old and 13 years old. Is that fair pressure to put on children at such a young age and separating peer groups. I know from my own experience when I was put in the lower sets of all subjects. But I hated exams, I became nervous, anxious and stressed over them. But I felt like a failure my friends were put into the top sets and I was the only one in my peer group of friends that didn't achieve that. Now putting that in to perspective I was limited by the exams I could take. I had to fight to be able to be put on to the higher GCSE papers because I was determined to prove them wrong and the whole school education environment and that one box does not fit all. And yes I did achieve good grades. In music I was told by my teacher I would be lucky to get an E but I left with an A*. My teachers didn't believe in me because I was in the lower sets. Branded so to speak. However, I left university with a first class degree and the majority of my friends in those top sets achieved lower. Now I am not boasting or comparing but merely stating our school education really doesn't mean anything to what we can achieve as adults. But the school environment does limit children and risks stopping them reaching their potential. So now as a parent I find my own experience crushing down on me the fear of Ava being put in bottom sets and having the same struggle I had. The judgement from other parents, peers and teachers. And when I attended Ava's parents evening I was floored when her teacher said she was going in a group where she would receive a little extra help with reading. I felt gutted, I wanted to run out and cry what had I done that had meant she was struggling over her peers. I was never disappointed or upset with Ava. I am proud of that girl no matter what grades/ groups she achieves but I felt gutted that she may be on the same path as me and would she be strong emotionally enough to deal with that? So what did I do? ashamedly I first googled tutors and then thought maybe that is too extreme and we should up the ante at home first. So I went out and brought so many learning aids and then ordered pretty much every reading level book. We woke up at 6 every morning and did school work and as she did indeed improve, I felt I could breathe again. But now we have hit a wall and once again I am questioning my choices. Ava's love of reading is being diminished. She dreads it and she fidgets like no tomorrow as soon as we open a book and she has completely disengaged with it. A year ago she would run up to me with 10 books to read again and again. She still loves a bedtime story and even when I really don't want to read that bedtime story because I am shattered,finished work late or have work at home to do myself; I make myself open that book speak in silly voices and give my all to the story because I want her to love books for the opportunities they give, for the fantasy and escape they provide.
 So it has me questioning when is it too young for homework, should homework even be given and what lessons are we teaching them. Ava has learnt to compare herself to her peers, to lose her self worth and has had her bouncy personality stifled somewhat by being insecure. Is this what I want for her? NO but society expects it teachers are pressured by the government to measure, test, and rate. I see my husband planning schemes of work going to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning. I know to tiptoe around him during exam season because he knows it is really his work being scrutinised. But exams and tests aren't for everyone I prove that. But instead we fail those students, we don't adapt to their learning styles and abilities we expect the child to conform to our ideas. And then because spending the majority of there little lives at school isn't enough we give them hours of homework at home. Now I don't know about you but the thought of doing 7.5 hours at my work to then come home and do a further hour would be horrendous. When I am home , I am that HOME; I want to be with my family, snuggle them, cook terrible food for them, listen to all their ideas and set to work making that chinese dragon from a cardboard box. So why do we expect children to come home and do more? 
 So we are on a homework strike for how long depends on Ava. And yes school will not be happy, she may not be the best reader in her year for a while, her numbers will face backwards for a little longer. But I will give her opportunities to be herself, confident, happy, tenacious and stroppy. To be strong headed in her likes, dislikes and her opinions. Now it won't be a no learning environment; we will be going to museums, exploring the wild and learning together. But the pressure of filling a reading log book will be gone. If she doesn't read for 6 weeks then it's ok. She will be exposed to books she will learn how wonderful it is to be transported to a different world one where there are no limitations. And in Ava's case full of unicorns, fluffy clouds, and unlimited ice cream. What is not to like about that world? I want her to be sheltered from the feelings of pressure and expectations and embrace her for the character she is. 
 And I am not alone in my thoughts. And in other countries this relaxed approach has worked better. Finland is ranked 6th in the ratings for reading skills and the UK is 23rd. But Finland have later starting dates (as late as 7 years old), homework is minimal and if set it has a family approach. So for the sake of our sanity this house is officially Finnish. 

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