Homework on Fridays

I wrote in the past about my views on British education and its differences from the American brand. The main gist was that under the right conditions, British system looks somewhat superior, but in the state educational environment on grammar school level, I don’t see much of a difference. I kept forgetting to mention one issue that always bothered me, and now it is sort of coming to a head.

Throughout her two and a half years at a state grammar school in London, Kimmy has been given homework only on Fridays, to be turned in on the following Friday. Most of the time, she can breeze through an entire assignment in 15 minutes.

15 minutes of homework a week.

My memory is failing me here, but I am pretty sure that even in the first and second grades in a New Jersey public elementary school she had daily homework assignments, something not too taxing but aimed at reinforcing what was recently learned and at developing a habit of independent work on the course material.

Without such a habit, she is getting to the point where she resists doing her homework even when she knows that she can easily complete it. It’s boring, it’s a waste of time, and all that. And since homework has never been established in school as an important part of the studying process, whenever she gets to something that she cannot easily do within the assignment, she dismisses it as unimportant.

We are pretty relaxed about maintaining any sort of study regimen for our kids, but we always did plenty of extra-curricular studying with them. Kimmy has fun with that. I always held that I did not particularly care about the quality of school instruction on the elementary school level, because it is more important what you do with the kids that age at home, IMHO. But, nevertheless, I’d like the school at least to refrain from instilling bad habits and negative attitude in my child.

So, Natasha has long been supplementing any extra-curricular learning activities with exercises directly related to Kimmy’s current school subjects. We privately expressed our disdain with the homework practices, but Kimmy has always been near the top of her class in all subjects, so there was not a reason for a real concern.

Now she started acting out against homework. She is ok with doing things with Natasha, but not ok with doing her once-weekly school assignments.

We either need to find a way to seamlessly incorporate the actual homework into the stuff Natasha does with her on the side, or to force her to spend a set amount of time on homework every day to work her into a more rigid structure of studies. Which is going to be really silly – stretching those 15 minutes over the course of a week. (It will probably be more strictly-regimented overall studies, both homework and the fun stuff on the side, which has a clear danger of making the latter less fun.) In either case, I feel we’ll be treating the symptoms rather than than the cause of the problem.

I am more than a bit put off by this. Becky, who may have not been much challenged in her elementary school years in New Jersey, but who always had some homework to complete, never had this type of a problem…

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I fully recognize that this post can be seen as a negative generalization of the British education approach, a generalization based on a highly-unscientific observational sample of a single school. I admit that I have no knowledge as to whether Fridays-only homework is a standard practice in state British grammar schools. Anyone reading this, whose child goes to a state grammar school in the UK where homework occurs daily, I would greatly appreciate a shout to help me properly qualify my statements.

5 comments on “Homework on Fridays”

  1. Janiece

    Ilya, maybe you should just set aside some time specific to school assigned work (like Saturday morning – that’s when I do mine), that must be completed before other recreational activities can be pursued.

  2. Kisintin

    We actually have the same problem now, with Russian weekend school. The teacher there does give a bit of homework, that even a 4-year-old can complete under 15 minutes. Yet she always drags it out for an hour, with fits of “boring”, “i can’t do it”, “i need a two minute break” and so forth.

    We have tried to set a practice as Janiece mentioned, but it does not work. I guess she does not understand the causality of “do now, or you will have less time for fun later” 🙂 What have partially worked is setting a daily regiment of small partitions. It works a bit better.

    If you come to a satisfactory solution, by all means let us know!

  3. Ilya

    Kostyan, I doubt that our solutions will work for you. A difference between 8-year-old and 4-year-old is too great, IMHO.

    Janiece, that is exactly what I mean by a “more rigid structure”. Whether this will work I am not sure, especially since I never held much belief in positioning anything as a reward for “being good”.

  4. Brian Greenberg

    My kids are in third grade & kindergarten. The mantra in our house has always been, “do what you have to do first, then you can do what you want to do.” When my kids come home from school, they are allowed a quick snack and a bit of television to unwind, but then they need to go up to their rooms and do their homework. Over the years, we’ve also added “read a book” and “practice your piano” to the list of “have to do’s.” Like you, Ilya, my main concern here is establishing the right study habits. The material is mostly inconsequential, as the six hours per day of school reinforces it well enough. But five years down the road, elementary school will turn into high school, and they’re going to have to handle a couple of hours of homework each night, including some things that are self-directed (research papers, etc.) If they don’t develop a “do a little every day” attitude now, they legitimately won’t be able to handle it then.

    For what it’s worth, I think what Natasha is doing with them is excellent. My only tweak would be to make it an independent activity (Natasha “assigns” work, but Kimmy has to do it on her own. That way, you’re reinforcing a commitment to schoolwork/responsibility, rather than reinforcing “play with Mom” time.

    One other idea: my older son was showing a lack of patience with reading comprehension a while back. My wife and I began sending him a daily e-mail with a link to a news story (there are lots of websites that do “news for kids” kind of stories), and we’d write four or five multiple choice questions based on the story within the e-mail. My son would have to check his e-mail, read the story, and reply to the e-mail with his answers.

    It did three things: 1) got him used to using e-mail as a communication tool, which I think will be important to him later in life and is something the schools just don’t do, 2) increased his awareness of current events (a side benefit, to be honest), and 3) got him to practice his reading comprehension. The other neat thing about it is we don’t send him the e-mail and then tell him to check for it – we expect that he’ll check regularly on his own. Again – personal responsibility and time management. All very key.

    The goal of primary education, IMHO, is to teach the kids to love learning, so when they get to actual learning (junior high, high school, college) they are prepared to receive it. The 15 minutes of homework isn’t here nor there, but being committed to studies and understanding the concept of daily responsibilities will always serve them well.

    OK, now where do I return this soapbox? 😉

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