IT’S almost like clockwork. Monday to Thursday, from around 3pm onwards, my school mums’ WhatsApp groups start to fill up with messages: ‘Anyone got the Irish spellings?’ ‘A copy of Mental Maths page 43?’ ‘I can’t get into Seesaw, do I need a new code?’ ‘There’s something here about a project. What’s that about and when is it due?’ ‘How have you all finished with the homework already, we haven’t even started here and now I have to cook dinner!’
The accompanying emojis speak for themselves.
Most discussions around homework tend to centre on whether it is beneficial for children’s learning and development or not.
We do, perhaps, speak less about the toll it takes on women’s time.
Dads help with homework, too, of course. But when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts logistics of making sure the work gets done, and done correctly, and with the least amount of frustration possible, fitted in amongst other activities, mealtimes, and everyone else’s work, it is another domestic responsibility that does largely seem to fall to women.
Add more than one child to the mix and it can feel like a full-time job.
Because supervising homework, for those with primary school going children at least, is not for the faint-hearted.
It’s not even really about the homework itself, we all know that if everyone just sat down and did it, it might not be such a hard thing to get through.
But chances are that a book was left in school, that instructions weren’t taken down in a decipherable manner or at all, that something is just unclear, that something gets forgotten about until the last minute.
Chances are even higher that a lack of motivation and general frustration with homework-related tasks require Olympic levels of motivational skills – at least in my household, although a bit of research within my WhatsApp group reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that ours is not an outlier in that respect. And this needs to be part of the discussion.
We need to talk about the impact on women’s time of always having to be available to supervise homework, to stay on top of requirements for Pritt sticks, copy books, logins and passwords. Of making sure there are devices available to everyone who needs them. Of figuring out how to minimise text boxes in Seesaw. Of checking school app notifications. Of trying to find the best time to get children, often tired after a long day and already mentally done with school, to see some value in actually sitting down and doing the work.
Or to just sit down and do it, regardless of its value.
Women are already stretched to the limits. Why are we adding this to the mix?
Personally, I am quite hands-off when it comes to homework. If books are left in school, I don’t go out of my way to locate the missing pages. If we can’t remember what the spellings were, we tend to just skip them.
I really do try to minimise the impact homework has on my time. I’ve plenty of other things to be doing, and we do need to take some responsibility for what we choose to take on in our lives. A lot of my coaching and leadership work is precisely around enabling women to set clearer boundaries in this regard, and I do try to practice what I preach.
Yet the thing about homework is that, once assigned, you can’t manage it away, no matter how hands-off you try to be. It will hang there, like a guilty conscience, an unwanted guest until, somehow, you find a way to get it done.
Many are the evenings I have offered to write a note explaining why we simply didn’t get around to doing homework that day - if we were busy, or it proved particularly frustrating to get through it. My children almost always reject this offer: it is clear that in their eyes the authority to issue homework passes does not lie with me. And so we enter into what I like to call the Schrodinger’s cat homework situation where they simultaneously want to do the work and don’t want to do the work. An unsolvable equation.
There are those who feel that homework plays an important part in teaching children responsibility, preparing them for further education, providing respite from technology, connecting home and school – and that the value of this outweighs any negatives associated with it.
I know of schools that have attempted to introduce no-homework policies and have received backlash from parents who feel strongly about this.
I’m not so sure. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that homework increases academic achievement - at least not for younger children.
We know how important it is to be able to switch off from work when you get home.
I decide to check in with my fellow WhatsApp mums again. Some do see value in revising work done in school. But mainly homework is a source of stress and frustration, at best a box ticking exercise, something rushed through with children who would much rather just chat or play.
Stressful situations tend not to be conducive to an effective learning environment.
“A pain in the hoop,” one of the mums said. That seemed to sum it up for most.
We cannot ignore this full picture, real-life, impact of homework. We need to take into account the time, effort and frustration levels that go into managing the logistics of it.
We need to look at who this work falls to. We need to weigh up the real pros and cons, the real costs and benefits of homework to everyone involved. And only when we do that can we make informed decisions about whether it is worth it. Or not.
My youngest son is very excited about this article. The other night, as he was unenthusiastically scribbling down answers on his maths sheet just so I could sign his homework journal, I felt I had to set some expectations.
“You know my article mightn’t make any difference,”I said.
“Well, you never know,” was his response. His eyes lit up. “Imagine if there was no more homework! In all of Ireland!”
As much as I love his optimism, I have my doubts. But if we can at least have an open and honest conversation about homework and all that it entails, it would be a good start.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ingrid Seim is a psychological coach and the founder of Avenues Consultancy & Coaching. She works with women who want to set themselves ambitious professional goals without sacrificing their work-life balance, and with organisations eager to support and retain their female talent.