MALE OFFSPRING: Arrrghhh! I can’t do this! I HATE this! I HATE it!
ME: Oh for…..(stopping myself)…it’s just homework! The sooner you get it done – the better.
MALE OFFSPRING: That’s alright for you to say! You said you never had nowt given you as homework when you were a kid. But I’m just 6! It’s not fair! I HATE this! I HATE my life! I keep telling you! I’m supposed to be HAPPY!
ME: I did get homework. But not until I was about 12.
FEMALE OFFSPRING: Well that’s because you must have gone to a rubbish school.
ME: I didn’t actually. It’s just that things were different in those days. Plus… if you didn’t do your homework… your parents didn’t feel the need to try and bail you out. Or to feel guilty that they might somehow might be turning out to be a crap parent.
FEMALE OFFSPRING: You just swore!
ME: No I didn’t. You must have misheard me.
FEMALE OFFSPRING: No I didn’t…
ME: Anyway. I’ve had enough of this. I’m going upstairs. Or out. I’m sick of this every night. Don’t do your homework. See if I care if you end up on the streets at the age of 16 with no qualifications and you can’t even do your 5 times table!
FEMALE OFFSPRING: Oh that’s very mature, Mum.
MALE OFFSPRING: Good. I don’t care. I’m not doing it. Goodbye stupid numeracy book!
FEMALE OFFSPRING: That’s so unfair! So he doesn’t have to do his? Just ’cause he sits there and cries and whines like a big baby brat?!
MALE OFFSPRING: (whacks her with the exercise book) I HATE YOU.
ME: I can’t do another 10 years of this. I’m off. Make your own tea.
This is no exaggeration. This tends to occur most nights of the week in our home. Yes it is stressful. Yes it will get worse as the kids hit secondary school age and as fully-fledged teenagers, learn even more arsier tactics than blubbing, whacking each other with homework books or spitting grapes at each other. I know that.
But I’m actually thanking my lucky stars. It could be much worse. We have some great advantages on our side:
1) We are a 2 parent family. We can take turns to lock ourselves in the bathroom and have the odd swig of Listerine when it all gets too much.
2) We both work flexibly. We are around a lot more than most parents in order to supervise homework.
3) We possess a wonderful Grandma who sometimes takes over when the going gets tough in terms of weekend homework burden.
4) Our kids go to excellent local (state) primary schools where the teachers listen to the different needs of our kids and don’t pull our finger nails out if we occasionally don’t deliver the scribbled goods. They even let us choose reading books for our dyslexic daughter (how cool is that?)
5) We ban the TV from Monday to Friday. Okay… this is not so much an example of luck. We just know that the more that the TV is available, the more paddying occurs and the larger the flying missiles become.
So it was a super-duper irony today – when right in the middle of a blazing homework tantrum – the nice people from BBC 1 TV Breakfast Time called. They wanted me to come onto the show in the morning in order to talk about the latest research by think tank OECD, that compares the number of homework hours spent between different countries. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30417132
I hope that the Beeb were not too disturbed by the freakish laughter that emanated from the other end of the phone line.
Either way, I’m always happy to talk about this issue. In terms of the research, I do find it rather strange that our kids in the UK are being compared with kids from the other side of the world (i.e. Shangai, Singapore) who operate within very different cultures, historical contexts and economies.
But I certainly welcome opening the dialogue – particularly in relation to the differences relating to the ‘homework question and class’ here in the UK. There are huge differences between the expectations and standards placed upon kids from more working class backgrounds and those born of the middle classes (dare I say it… the latter parents falling rather more into the competitive parenting pool. Whilst parents from working class backgrounds are less obsessed with an exterior sense of academic achievement.)
I probably veer between both camps, if I’m honest.
So if any parent is reading this and finds that the level of stress in their household is worse than our own and wants to dampen things down a bit, here are my tips:
1) If you are a lone parent – find another partner in crime quickly to help manage the burden of homework management. Doesn’t have to be someone from your preferred sexual orientation. Old Mrs Milligan next door might be worth her weight in gold (pay her in cans of Stella, or whatever her tipple happens to be.)
2) If your child is doing too much non-homework screen-time, do as we do. Ban the TV in the week. Hide the screens. If the kids are older and have screens in their rooms and deliberately disobey you – fit a trip switch into the home so that all electric goes off in their room (brutal perhaps but some kids need the iron fist approach.)
3) Speak to the school. Most teachers are utterly sympathetic to the plight of homework clapped out and downtrodden parents. Negotiate with them about what can constitute as ‘learning’ for your particular child and their needs from time to time. And if it means getting a bit more creative about how homework is presented (i.e. using a video camera, a dictaphone, a blog post, having a parent transcribe a story – all techniques which we have used in the past) then bite the bullet.
4) Stay away from the competitive parent sorts. Certainly don’t cosy up to them on Facebook. Perhaps think about talking to yourself in the playground instead (believe me – having a little chat with oneself DEFINITELY keeps the other parents away from you if you are really struggling to keep them at bay…)
5) Set up a list of *fun* activities that you consider to be learning/homework opportunities. Stop thinking about academic achievements for your kids. Start thinking about them being helped to become well-rounded individuals who have good logical and problem solving skills and who love the world and who will have a lifelong interest in society and the environment. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not the sort to try and push the wisdom of a former Tory MP onto you… but one of the best buys that we have had in recent years along these lines is a tome produced by Gyles Brandreth ‘The Lost Art of Having Fun.’ Go and treat yourself to a copy!
(And no. I am not sleeping with the fella.)
6 year old boy has just peered over my shoulder and shrieked “Are you mad? Why are you writing about homework – you weirdo!”