October 07th, 2019

Your question answer - When school and home aren't aligned

My son is in year one at school. He has recently come home saying that his teacher has said that if homework is not complete that playtime will be docked. I worry about playtime being taken away as a punishment. One of the homeworks is computer based and it has a leaderboard. The teacher has said that they should all try and beat one boy who is a regular user on it. I don't know if I am being overly sensitive as so many other parents do not seem concerned about playtime being threatened or the competitive element of this approach.

This type of punitive discipline is damaging and the competitive approach to learning isn’t helpful either. I know the teacher is trying to motivate the children to do their homework and to improve their skills but there are many other ways to do that which don’t have such a detrimental effect. This kind of coercive approach is likely to stifle any enjoyment of learning and make the children resentful and perhaps rebellious. And encouraging competition between classmates encourages them to see their peers as rivals, people to get ahead of, rather than friends and collaborators.

On top of that at this age it is really vital that kids have breaks from academic work to relax, run around and engage with friends. Much learning happens in the playground too.

Many parents of children this age feel a bit resentful that their children have to do homework at all. The children have already had a busy day at school and they’re tired when they get home. Parents hate that homework becomes a battle ground. Professionals are also divided in their opinion of the benefits of homework for young children.

You are not being oversensitive –you are showing a more enlightened approach than the school or other parents who just accept this. However you do need to uphold the authority of the school because if you undermine them your son may not do what he is asked to do and get in trouble. This can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem. So you can move him to another school (not necessarily that easy) or you can speak to the school about why a more positive approach would be more effective.

Homework doesn’t have to be a battle. Here are 7 ways to make it easier:

  • Think of homework as an opportunity to help your child become an independent learner and to cement in what he learnt during the day
  • Plan to make the homework environment calm, without distractions and, ideally, with your company. Give him choices over when and where it is done
  • Show an interest in the topic/task and ask him what is interesting or useful about it
  • Break it up into smaller sections if necessary and set time limits for the work. The school will give guidelines for how long it should take. If he is focusing well but it takes longer stop work and let the school know that. Children can really only focus well for an amount of time equal to their chronological age plus one. So a 5 year old can focus on a learning task for 6 minutes
  • Ask him what he has to do and how he is going to do it and then let him do it himself with occasional dollops of descriptive praise from you about how he is working, the effort he is showing and any useful strategies he is employing
  • Empathise if he doesn’t want to do it, but be firm that it needs to be done
  • When it’s finished find 5 things to descriptively praise and then ask him to improve one thing

If you do decide that you will accept that this competitive approach is the school’s way I think you can still give your son alternative messages. Teach him to do his work without reference to the leaderboard. Tell him that it is much more fun to do the work and just enjoy it (and the learning in it) rather than doing in order to beat others. Give him the message that tasks become less enjoyable when they are all about winning. Reinforce this by a healthy attitude at home to mistakes and failures. We all make mistakes and must not be afraid of them. It’s how we grow. Focus on the learning/ fun in a task rather than the outcome. Never ask your son if he won a match or what his score is in academic tests. Focus on his effort instead. It doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate achievements but when he does well in something refer that back to his efforts. Eg you did really well at this …because you were concentrating really hard.

It’s tough to be our children’s advocate in a school environment that doesn’t share our values but remember that your child picks up his values at home.


Posted in: Homework





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