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A Parent's guide to homework

Homework tends to receive a mixed press. While some parents complain their children shouldn・t be asked to do work at home until they reach secondary school age, others consider that children, particularly those aged 7 to 11, are not given enough.

One thing is certain, since government guidelines were published in 1998, homework for primary age pupils is here to stay.

This article covers the four questions most frequently asked by parents;

  • What is homework?
  • What is its value?
  • How long should it take?
  • What is the best way to help?
What is homework?
Homework is any task set by a school that children undertake without direct instruction from their teachers. It may not even be done at home. Many schools nowadays have study support programmes running before or after school where children can complete homework under careful supervision.

Don・t expect every homework task to have written outcomes. Your child may be asked to play a game in order to reinforce a maths skill, share a book with you, learn something specific such as spellings or tables, collect a series of items or even to make something following a set of instructions.

Some homework obviously will be recorded. Your child may be asked to write notes after watching or listening to a particular programme, interviewing a friend or undertaking research using books or the Internet. On other occasions a maths worksheet or a written comprehension exercise might be the homework activity. Sometimes a task will have been planned and prepared at school and brought home for completion.

In other words homework covers a multitude of activities reflecting the variety of educational experiences your child receives at school.

What is the value of homework?
Each day at school your child will be covering a range of subjects and learning many new skills. Focused homework tasks encourage your child to revisit, practise and reinforce this new learning thus making it more secure. Homework undertaken with your interest and support will also encourage your child to develop positive attitudes to learning, in a wider context than just school. This will allow subjects to be covered in greater breadth and depth.

You will benefit by becoming familiar with your child・s particular strengths, difficulties, preferred learning styles and the curriculum areas being studied. Your child・s school will gain by having motivated pupils and well-informed parents who are fully involved with their children・s education.

How long should it take?
Government guidelines suggest that children aged from 5 to 7 years should spend about an hour each week completing homework tasks. These will probably be activities associated with reading, spelling and number work. By Year 3 and 4 when children are between 7 and 9 years about 1.5 hours a week is the recommended allocation.

The major focus will be English and Maths with the addition of subjects such as Science, History and Geography. Towards the end of Key Stage 2, in years 5 and 6, about 30 minutes each day is suggested. English and Maths will still retain a high profile combined with a wider range of subjects to help prepare your child for the homework demands of secondary school.

The above times are recommendations only. Children will obviously complete tasks at different speeds. You wouldn・t stop a child who was deeply involved and obviously enjoying an activity just because the time had passed, but if after a good attempt homework has still not been completed, don・t insist, particularly if your child is becoming distressed. A short note attached to the work stating time taken will alert the school to possible difficulties.

Remember: The time your child spends doing homework should never interfere with other out of school pursuits such as brownies, cubs, sports and music.

What is the best way to help?

  • Ensure you are familiar with any school guidelines concerning homework.
  • Ask for copies of any leaflets about parental support at home.
  • Watch out for school newsletters advertising forthcoming parents・ subject sessions. (These are particularly useful for learning about modern teaching methods).
  • Nominate somewhere at home as a homework area with a
    • Flat surface,
    • Good light source
    • Resources such as pens, pencils, rulers, scissors, glue, dictionary and notebook to hand.
    • Establish a daily routine.
    • Ask your child to explain the homework task and how it follows on from what has been covered at school.
    • Be interested and available and talk to your child about what has been learnt so far.
    • Help your child to develop independent learning strategies by modelling how to look up information or find a word in a dictionary rather than simply giving an answer in order to get the task completed.
    • Don・t be tempted to teach your child methods you used at school.
    • Turn off the television while homework is underway but don・t discourage listening to music if your child finds it helpful.
    • Use home/school books to note how your child tackles the task, what is done well and where difficulties arise (remember your child is probably one of 30 so keep your comments brief), read carefully any comments that your child・s teacher makes in return.
    • Discourage your child from copying when undertaking research tasks. Talk about the information together, tease out the key facts and help your child to write these down as brief notes.
    • Be positive about your child・s attempts. If you have concerns about your child・s progress make an appointment with the school.
    • Don・t let homework become a chore. Make it a special time that you both look forward to.
Word of warning: Schools are extremely keen that parents become fully involved in their children・s education but please don・t be tempted to correct homework and make your child copy it out. Schools need to know how much your child understands and can do independently.

Most important: Remember to have fun and enjoy the learning experience together.

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