Search icon


11th Jun 2015

The plague of homework: Our Office Mum diarist on the tedious task

“School days are the best days of your life,” is what we were told when we were kids, and indeed, I do have great memories of being in class, playing in yard, and going to friends’ houses on Friday afternoons.

But what I didn’t love was homework. Whether it was a rainy Tuesday in January or a sunny Wednesday in June, there was always something else I wanted to do – something that didn’t involve sitting at the table, learning the Tuiseal Ginideach. So one of the greatest things about finishing school and college, was knowing there’d be no more homework. Ever.

Except of course, that’s not true at all. Because if you have kids, homework is back, and it’s bigger than ever.

If you’re responsible for talking a distractible five-year-old into sitting down to do her Phonics, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Homework can be a pain when you’re doing it yourself, but it’s twice as hard when you’re trying to convince a small child into it. Or two small children. While entertaining a third. Or just stopping him from scribbling on their school-books. In fact, give me the Tuiseal Ginideach any day.

Like last Tuesday for example. The sun was shining, it felt like ice-cream weather. Garden weather. Or “daisy-chain” weather, according to my five-year-old. Days like this are few and far between, so the sensible thing would be to abandon homework, and play outside. But then who wants to face into Jolly Phonics or Biff and Chip readers at bedtime? Or a wordsearch, or a big page of sums? It’s easier to get it over and done with before they’re exhausted. And even then, it can be difficult to keep them focused. Actually, at any time of day, homework is a challenge in our house.

Like when my five-year-old insists on saying the opposite word to the one she’s supposed to be reading – so she reads “arm” as “leg” and “silver” as “gold”.

Or when my seven-year-old says she’s doing her reading “in her head” and I know she is, but I feel ethically bound to hear at least one paragraph out loud if I’m going to sign off on it in her journal.

Or when they insist on colouring every single picture on the page before starting the written work, and it takes an hour and a half.

Or when they refuse point blank to believe me that 23 plus 11 makes 34, because “teacher said it makes 35, and teacher is always right.”

Or when someone storms off because the three-year-old is singing, and nobody can concentrate.

Or when there’s not one single sharpened pencil in the house.

Or when I’m chastised for forgetting to sign one of the eighty-four things I was supposed to sign the day before.

Or when homework involves a wordsearch. For the love of all that’s good and holy, I can’t understand the point of wordsearches. I’m sure there’s something great they’re learning from them, but I don’t have time to google it, because I’m too busy completing today’s wordsearch for my daughter. I’m utterly convinced that the word “hungry” is definitely, definitely not in this wordsearch – I can’t find it anywhere. There’s a mistake in the book. But faced with signing off on incomplete homework and admitting defeat to a frustrated seven-year-old, I persevere. Eventually, I find the word. It does appear in the wordsearch after all. Backwards. And diagonally. How is finding “yrgnuh” diagonally any help to a child’s vocabulary or reading? Especially if she’s chasing her brother around the table while her exasperated mother does the searching.

Homework is particularly hard if you’re trying to do it after a long day at work, or even just checking it over. Kids are tired too, and the short, precious window between end of work-day and kids’ bedtime seems wasted if spent on spellings and sums.

In fact, there’s research to suggest that homework isn’t necessary, and can be counter-productive. One Stanford study found that too much homework can cause students to experience “academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.” And in “The Case Against Homework”, authors Bennett and Kalish drew on research to come to the conclusion that “there is almost no evidence that homework helps elementary school students achieve academic success and little more that it helps older students.”

I suspect this research is particularly true on the brightest, warmest days. Like last Tuesday, when the sun was shining and the daisies looked ripe for picking. So we compromised. We did the homework in the garden. And happily, this time, there was no wordsearch.

Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after the kids, Elissa, 7, Nia, 5 and Matthew, 3, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.