Jim Kayes’ Blog: Too much homework

School-life balance becomes seemingly impossible for Jim’s daughter when she comes home with five hours of homework.

The eldest and I were driving to Lake Karapiro for her kayak nationals when text messages from the youngest began to come through.

“You should be proud of me Dad,” she opened. “So many kids got detention and I didn’t.”

It’s a strange opening play, an admission that you might have got into trouble at school but didn’t and that’s a good thing.

Of course, I asked what she was talking about and it became apparent a large group of her mates were in trouble for not doing their homework. I turned to the eldest and told her to text back, ‘That’s the least I expect from you’.

Then to soften it a bit, I got her to send a second text saying ‘Well done’.

“Dad,” the eldest claimed. “You really need to stop reading those parenting books.”

I’ve yet to read one but it was a hard-case reaction to me trying to issue a bit of tough love. Clearly, the girls see through the tactic. Homework is a vexed issue for busy kids and their exhausted parents. Some schools have canned the concept completely.

Homework puts pressure on the parents to ensure it gets done – usually at a time when we are all knackered, writes Jim Kayes.

Waitakiri Primary instead has “real challenges” that see the students complete a variety of tasks throughout the year that ranges from cooking dinner to visiting the elderly.

Principal Neill O’Reilly told the Dominion Post last year that research had shown homework didn’t work and he was surprised some schools persisted with it. Mr O’Reilly would get a high five from my girls, but Ponatahi Christian School principal Peter Bertram wouldn’t be so popular.

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He reckons all students, from new entrants to year 13, should get homework and that secondary kids should spend at least 90 minutes an evening doing revision.

“Students who think school stops at 3 o’clock are going to struggle,” he told the Dominion Post. “They are going to get mediocre results and we’re certainly not going to see any merit points.”

That’s in NCEA, though its days could be doomed too.

“After school, their time is their own time but if they want to do well and their homework is targeted, a lot of good can come of it.”

I reckon Mr Bertram and his school, like most schools and their principals, will also point to how good their extracurricular programs are and how the students are wonderfully diverse in their after-school activities.

It’s a double standard crock. You can’t be in the kapa haka club, play the flute, sing in the choir, captain the First XI, be the lead in the school play, have a part-time job, help with household chores and do several hours of homework a night – and get enough sleep for a teenage body. But some schools think you can.

The eldest came home the other day saying her homework would keep her up till 1am as there was about an hour’s worth to do per subject (she takes five).

I emailed the principal asking what, as a parent, I should prioritise because we want our girls to do well academically, but it’s also important they have part-time jobs and are active in other areas like sport and drama.

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Her response was superb. She agreed the workload was excessive and said she’d meet with my daughter to talk about balancing all the things in her life. That chat was really positive and left the eldest feeling excited about her year ahead and impressed with the intervention of a really busy principal (as was I).

One problem with homework is that it puts pressure on the parents to ensure it gets done – usually at a time when we are all knackered.

“We need to give our children a break and say just go and be a child, just enjoy being,” O’Reilly says (he’s my new hero I think). And then there’s the fact that many parents grapple to be effective help when it comes to finishing the homework.

That’s especially true with the eldest who is in year 13 (seventh form). I need a translator when she talks to me about science and health. The youngest, who has just started secondary school, isn’t far off the pace.

She came home from school the other day and asked where mum was.

“She’ll be home soon,” I said.

“Good,” was the reply. “I need help with my homework.”

Another reason to ditch it.

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