Written by: David Thomson
You’ve had a hard week at the chalkface, a challenging albeit rewarding week; the commuting takes its toll; there are early starts and long days. And there is the pressure to perform. Still, some great things happened. Progress was made. You were pleased with what you did, trying to do your best and you put your heart and soul into your work. Sometimes you were challenged by one or two of those around you, (relationships can be tricky at the chalkface) and you travel home on Friday night feeling pretty whacked. Faded. Not your usual bouncy self. And you are looking forward to some down time. No pressure to perform. Recreation. Re-charging. Family time.
But, now you are being told that you need to keep working, after formal working hours, in your spare time, in your home, when you hoped to just chill, and, yes, you HAVE to, and if not tonight, then tomorrow (on your weekend) and if you don’t…there will be sanctions.
Actually, come to think of it, that little scenario happened every night this week and everyone got upset.
And you are 8 years old.
Commuting, working, trying hard, doing your best and now you are, simply, ‘knackered’.
My views on homework are simple. Why is this ‘extra’ load on top of the long working day necessary? What is driving the collusion between adults to do this to young children? What histories and stories and legends and myths? What fears? And what is the impact on family and mental health, on family relationships? Those fears can even lead some to provide even more schooling with a tutor in the evenings and at weekends. And I know some prep schools where the Head of the Lower school has told me that parents are tutoring their children, yes, in Reception. These well-meaning parents may not realise that the relevant parts of the child’s brain haven’t grown yet.
That extra time, too late in the day or in down-time taking away from that critical downtime, is it really worth it? Is it valuable? Generative? And what about that issue of homework wars/prep wars when families are left in stress? One of the issues that comes up most in my work with parents is prep wars.
The UK Mental Health Foundation states that, “The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.”
How does that relate to our children?
Finally, and on a positive note, you will find generally, that most schools will be more flexible than you might think about what is handed in or not. They too have one thing in mind and that is the welfare of your child and your family. Raise the issue. Discuss it. Say “No, not tonight”. Try not to bow to social or peer pressure. Manage the load for your child according to their capacities. Avoid piling on the pressure at home. (And I strongly believe that this applies equally to schools as it does to parents.)
After all, isn’t life as an 8-year-old wonderful? Aren’t family and friendships, play and freedom from stress essential parts of that life? We should all be a part of keeping it that way for the sake of our children’s mental health.
David Thomson is a Director at Rafan House and engages with families and their children in educational conversations. These include managing the professional and family pressures of modern day life with the demands of schooling. Although he began his career in Banking, he moved into teaching in 1980. He has worked as an Educational Consultant for the last seventeen years in the Independent Preparatory School sector as the Founder Director of Futuremind Ltd. Prior to that, he was Academic Director at St John’s College School Cambridge for nine years where he was also Tutor to the world-famous St John’s College Choristers. He has been an ISI (Independent Schools Inspection) inspector. David took an MPhil at Cambridge in the University Department of Education and is a published author on Study Skills for young children.