The Cost of Homework

‘The claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.’

(Charlotte Mason, 19th Century Educator)

Driving to work last Friday I heard an interview on the radio with the lovely VP from the primary school in Cork that has hit the headlines for replacing formal homework with ‘Acts of Kindness’ for the month of December. The initiative has been widely praised as heart-warming and innovative and has been described as spreading the true meaning of Christmas.

I enjoyed the interview and the promotion of a positive school culture. The VP explained that the children were given Kindness Diaries with a suggested focus for each day – these ranged from spending time with an older person to helping with the dishes at home. I was particular pleased to hear that one day focused on being kind to yourself. The VP spoke of mental health and encouraging children to do things they enjoy such as reading or drawing.

I enjoyed the interview, but I was also frustrated –  not with the school – but with the fact that we consider this to be innovative.

Surely these activities are the stuff of normal life that homework actually prevents families and children from having the time to do? We should not need booklets to introduce the idea of drawing, helping in the kitchen and spending time with people in our community. After six hours in school, this is simply what a child’s afternoon should be like.

Ordinary life is not an initiative and  the entire  month of December is not long enough.

Well over a century ago the educator Charlotte Mason warned of our  endeavours becoming ‘fussy and restless’ when it comes to our children and suggested that ‘we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.’

Kindness Diaries sound lovely, but ‘wise and purposeful letting alone’ sound like words to live by.

Homework costs our children connection and rest, leisure and relationship, creativity and variety and fresh air. We wouldn’t need good ideas to replace it if it wasn’t a bad idea in the first place.

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