As a teacher I can totally see the value of homework. It cements the learning we did during the lesson, it gives an opportunity to practise the skills we covered that day and it allows time for finishing work without distractions. Sometimes it can even be fun! Watch a soap and spot on-screen product placement, Google a news story and see how it’s presented in different ways, have a conversation with someone in your house about their favourite food. (Ok, these sound fun to me but then I peruse Waterstones for fun and would happily while away an afternoon rearranging my craft boxes. I’m a geek and I’ve made my peace with it.)
As a parent however, the amount of homework Little Monkey gets is quite stressful. For me. He couldn’t give a toss. He trots out of Pre-School on Wednesday afternoons with his piece of buff coloured paper and an almost inaudible but collective sigh goes through the waiting parents and grandparents. More homework.
“Ooh, what is it this week?” I enquire in my best enthusiastic mum voice.
“Homework.” He replies. Once he’s handed over that piece of paper he thinks that’s his job done. He’s three years old and the concept of homework is beyond him.
“Practise writing numbers one to ten. Yippee.”
We talk about it on the way home. Did I mention he’s three years old? Once he’s done three hours at nursery he’s absolutely shattered and all he wants is a ham sandwich, some juice and his bed.
“Mummy I don’t want to do any more numbers. I already done some today, I worked hard!” And I have no doubt that my Little Monkey who, although mischievous and wilful, only wants to please has indeed worked very hard on his numbers in school. So we leave it for today.
‘Create your favourite book character out of a potato’. Please don’t choose the Gruffalo, my craft box is looking barren and we haven’t time to nip into town for more PVA and lollipop sticks.
‘Research Mexico, talk about the people who live there, the type of food they eat and what the weather is like. Encourage your child to find Mexico on a map.’ Ok, we’ve never been to Mexico but surely this is what Google was invented for. We don’t have a map. Or a globe. Bad parents. Off into town for PVA glue, lollipop sticks, coloured paper, might as well get more glitter and feathers and a map.
‘Your child needs to recognise their own name and the words of every day items.’ My handwriting is a typical teacher’s; scrawls akin to an ink covered spider running around the page, he’d never understand it. Better buy him some flash cards; add those on to the list.
‘Your child should be able to draw a simple circle shape and use dots and lines to create a face. Practise this at home.’ Little Monkey wears glasses and developed an aversion to any kind of drawing, colouring or painting because prior to getting his glasses, he couldn’t see anything up close so this is an absolute point blank refusal.
Yes we all sigh at the sight of those buff coloured sheets but slyly we all turn in our detailed homework assignments. A laminated mood board of Mexico, the whole cast of The Gruffalo in potato effigies complete with the deep dark wood backdrop, ten sheets with numbers one to ten in rainbow colours traced and drawn on, homemade flash cards with a paragraph to explain how they were recognised and now firmly cemented in the brain. Yes we do well with our homework, us parents. We spend a small fortune on craft supplies, pens, paper, wipe clean boards, laminating pouches and printer ink. We don’t want to be the family that doesn’t support our little darling’s progress. We want to be encouraging and motivating and make homework fun and engaging. We want the world, and especially his teacher and those other parents, to know that he can recognise his name AND sound it out AND write it himself AND draw a picture of himself.
Except we all know it’s a load of bollocks. Because while I’m slaving away making a potato look like a bloody Gruffalo, he’s outside washing his bike, planting daffodils with his dad and splashing in muddy puddles. Or he’s asking if we can make cakes so he can take one for Amelia because he loves her and she is his best friend. Or begging me to take him for a big walk so he can spot the birdies and look at the pretty flowers on the way.
I’m not saying that setting homework is pointless or fruitless. I’m saying setting homework and accepting that the child won’t actually do it because his parents will have spent the whole weekend laminating pictures of Mexican food is. I’m saying that at three years old he is far more interested in the park and the duckie pond down the road than Mexico. He is far more excited by the oddly decorated fairy cake he only stuck his fingers in a couple of times on the way to school before proudly presenting it to Amelia than whether he can recognise the word ‘cake’ on a flash card. He is certainly more eager to point out yellow daffodils while riding his bike than writing numbers one to ten until he knows them all.
Obviously those are important skills but when you’re three years old life is exciting and interesting and every day is an adventure. Why spoil this delicious innocence and genuine delight in the simplest of things; like the sun making the pond look like glitter, or the duckies quacking all together and sounding like they’re singing? Harness this enthusiasm and leave the name-learning and number-reciting for school hours.
So the next time we get a buff coloured sheet which tells me to draw a picture of who lives in our house, I’m going to take a photograph of us all having a picnic in our coats and hats and scarves in the middle of January in the back garden, just because Little Monkey thought it would be fun, and send that in instead. It was far more fun and we learned all about the blackbirds who nest in our privet hedge.