Balancing homework and family life; it’s difficult

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Homework; how much is too much and does it impact on your family’s life? Pic credit below.

My eldest daughter, Helen, recently started Year Two at primary school. As she’s getting older, her education and the teaching methods used are getting more formal. This is hardly surprising, it’s what you’d expect.

There has, however, been one very significant change; homework. The quantity and variety of homework has increased exponentially.

It isn’t the first time I’ve written about this subject (see here and also here). It seems, however, that the fears I expressed in those earlier blog posts have come to pass.

In Reception and Year One, homework largely consisted of reading. Now Helen is six years of age and in Year Two, she’s expected to read every night. In addition to this, she is expected to undertake oral maths homework where we discuss a few different maths problems. On various days during the week, she is also meant to be doing a literary exercise, written maths exercises and learning spellings for a test that takes place ever seven days (note to non-UK readers; Year Two is, confusingly, the third year of formal schooling for children aged six to seven).

By the time you’ve done 10-15 minutes of reading, your oral maths homework and another exercise, you don’t get much change out of 30 minutes. If fact, it’s quite a struggle to complete within 30 minutes. Luckily Helen is very driven and thoroughly enjoys her learning so we’re coming up against minimal resistance to completing her homework. It is, nonetheless, quite a task to fulfil when you have another child to look after and need to get both kids fed and bathed before bed.

Despite my use of the term “we’re” in the previous paragraph, it is an undertaking that I largely have to deal with on my own. My wife is out of the house for 12-13 hours a day. She often gets home when the kids are in the bath. Helen has to do her homework before my wife returns or else she is simply too tired and that would be unfair on her.

This leaves me with a dilemma; what do I do with my toddler while her older sister completes her school work? I’ve tried giving her arts and crafts and other activities to keep her entertained. When I do this, I can guarantee she’ll get stuck and need help, thereby breaking her sibling’s concentration.

Thus far, I have caved in and resorted to screen time to keep her occupied while I focus on overseeing homework. Regular readers will know how much I hate doing this. We’re only four weeks in to term, I’m sure I’ll figure something out as time goes on. For now ‘though, it’s the one fix that keeps my youngest child occupied while I deal with her big sister.

Homework is also curtailing participation in other clubs and activities. In total the girls do four a week, two of them on week nights. Although there are activities Helen has expressed an interest in, I just don’t think it’s feasible to take on any more right now. Once Helen has participated in an after school activity, completed homework, had a bath and eaten, it is time for bed. On the days an afterschool activity takes place, the evening routine tends to run behind schedule, thereby leaving mum and dad with little time to spend in each other’s company once the kids are asleep (needles to say, mum will almost certainly have to work late at least once a week).

I’ve spoken to other parents. I know I’m not alone in facing with this issue. Nonetheless, I’m also not suggesting homework is a bad thing. Academically Helen and her peers are far more advanced than I was at their age. Modern teaching methods, of which homework plays a part, must be partly responsible for this improvement in standards.

Even so, the expectations for Year Two children have been increased and I am reeling at the impact it is having on family life. It’s quite a struggle fitting it in while also giving both my kids the opportunity to undertake fun activities and get them to bed both calm and on time. It just strikes me that it’s a bit too much and the policy makers in the Department for Education haven’t really considered how much pressure this amount of homework can place on a family with more than one child.

Things will only get more complicated when Toddler Adams starts school. At least in her case I’ll be ready for the sharp increase in expectations when she starts Year Two.

Can you relate to my concerns about homework? How do you deal with homework in your household? Are you for against children of Helen’s age receiving so much work to do in the evening?

Pic credit: Cat Branchman. Sourced from Flikr.com and reproduced under Creative Commons agreement.




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38 thoughts on “Balancing homework and family life; it’s difficult”

  1. Homework can be a nightmare! What I’ve found in my 10 years of having kids at school is the homework policy at our primary school changes every couple of years! We’ve had ‘home learning’ which is more creative stuff and going for nature walks etc, we’ve had comprehension exercises and maths sheets. Currently we’re back to basics – tables every day and a set of spellings every week. The kids have to write a sentence for each of their spellings to prove they understand what they mean and can use them.
    It is really difficult when you have two or more children doing it at a time. I remember a lot of tears (not always mine, but sometimes!) as I juggled three of them – some of them unwilling!
    I have reverse problem to you – it’s not homework stopping after school activities, it’s after school activities stopping homework! My kids do a fair bit at weekends and also go to bed late, but they would do that anyway!

    1. It hadn’t even occurred to me the homework policy may change over time. Now you’ve mentioned it, I can imagine it happening with irritating regularity!

  2. My eldest has just started in year 2 aswell but his school doesn’t have this level of homework per day. In fact the teacher said to the parents at the beginning of term that they should be doing an hour of homework a week.

    That said, the expectations are that they read every day, and practice spellings and writing. But there are no weekly tests. They then have one piece of main homework to do each week. That could be maths, some writing assignment or a drawing.

    I combine the daily spelling practice and writing into one task. So he has to write the 10 random words from his list he has to spell.

    But yes, it is a struggle to fit it in with activities and siblings needing attention. But it’s also interesting to see how schools differ with their homework.

    You’re not alone!

    1. This has really opened my eyes to how each school varies. Policies are so different all over the place. Thanks for commenting Niklas.

  3. We struggle with homework. My son used to love it but then he had to write an a4 side of paper after each book he read (the expectation was one book every 1-2 nights in Year 2). He felt he was being punished for reading so absolutely refused to read school books after that for a long time. He did, however, continue to read his books from home and is an avid reader. We often have weeks where he doesn’t complete his homework as there is simply too much of it and he gets tired. He accepts that he will miss a lot of his play times during the week as punishment. It is extremely difficult, as you say, with a toddler there too. I have also had to resort to screen time. I agree that children should have homework but not this much. As a teacher, I see each parent having strong opinions on homework. For some there is not enough and for others there is too much. I know teachers who get daily complaints from both viewpoints, within the same class. It is difficult to get the balance right, as a teacher, while keeping within the homework policy and government rules. As a parent, I do not like the amount of homework we have to get upset over each week.

    1. It’s reassuring to know others have also resorted to screen time! It makes me feel bad but Helen and I need the uninterrupted time together. As you say, some homework is good but it seems like too much to me.

  4. I have 1 child at secondary school and 3 at Primary School, my eldest at primary is 10 and in P7 (NI equivalent to year 6) he has at least 3 pieces of homework a night, spellings, writing a sentance per spelling word, a piece of maths work and depending on lessons that day an extra piece plus reading! My daughter who’s 8 in P4 has spelling, sentance for each spelling word a literacy sheet and maths worksheet (admittedly she is given more as we moved from England and she’s a year ahead of her peers), my youngest in P3 has a list set on a Monday which comprises of a piece a night plus spellings everyday and reading. Our eldest in Primary was up until gone 9pm one night down to his maths homework, I hold my hands up I did not understand it and so our daughter at High School sat and basically taught him what his homework was about. It’s unacceptable in my mind to set so much and also expect children to be well rounded sociable people via school clubs or outside activities. Homework dominates afterschool in our house and often my younger 2 battle against more work after a full school day, on a wednesday my boys take their homework to their grans whilst my daughter has dance and by time we get home its time for tea which means shes up late with her homework. Somedays I can’t help wondering how much they are taught in school when so much comes home.

    1. Wow, I can only imagine how things work in your house. That seems like a lot of pressure on you and the kids. It’s exactly the point I was trying to make, it’s exceedingly demanding on the whole family, not just the school kids.

  5. It’s a tough one. At juniors, the Tubblet got one big piece of homework a week, plus reading and spellings. Now she’s at Secondary, they can get up to three pieces a night! It’s come as a shock! It’s hard fitting it all in.

  6. JJ is in Year 1 so it’s pretty gentle right now as you say but it does worry me for the future and I agree that the policy makers haven’t thought the implications through. I too worry for what I’ll do with EJ during JJ’s homework next year and what’ll happen if he doesn’t want to do it and also about the fact that EJ will have to go through all this a year earlier being summer born. Two lots of homework? Might as well forget the after school activities. I think it is too much too soon but we’ll have to wait quite some years to find out whether this experiment by the government has a positive impact on the economy. Thanks for linking to #thetruthabout John

    1. It could be an interesting one when Toddler Adams starts school too. She’s a lively individual and may not be so keen on completing her homework. Best of luck to you! Wonder how we’ll both get on.

  7. We’re in the same boat with eldest having gone into year two, and I completely agree 🙁 I was really upset the other day when she told me she was kept in at lunchtime to do extra reading, because her reading record wasn’t full enough. Not because we aren’t reading every day but because I don’t always remember to write in it #mummyfail

    1. Well, Helen got told she hadn’t enough maths homework the other day. I wrote a note to teacher explaining tat she had done maths homework in a scrap book where she tends to practice before transferring it to her main book. I wasn’t happy at this, it suggested too much pressure.

  8. Meals and Makes

    This is an interesting post to read (and raises a secret concern I have too), my twins have just started school so are not doing any homework yet, but I do wonder how I am going to give each the individual support and attention they will both need in an evening where getting them to bed on time is hard enough. I think I may have to resort to giving each one a bit of TV time too, they will be too tired to engage in other activities- and we all need a bit of down time after a busy day. #TwinklyTuesday

    1. A little post school TV time never did anyone any harm. I hope! Fascinating how many people have commented on this post and admitted this is a concern of their’s too.

  9. Yes, wait till you have two doing homework! Thankfully my eldest can now do his on own, although I need to keep an eye on it, so I can help his brother. But, the wee girl definitely gets plonked in front of the TV. My 9yo has just gone into 4th Grade and his homework has doubled. Maths and English every night, with reading on top of that and a school project of some sort going on along side it all… If he manages to get everything done in under an hour, he’s doing well. Add swim team practice three times a week, and he couldn’t possibly do any more than he does! The 6yo has soccer and swimming as well as homework… Our weeks are rather full now! I hate to think what it will be like when I have three doing homework 🙂

    1. I may be wrong, but I imagine having two doing homework will be slightly easier than having a curious toddler interrupting and wanting my attention. Then again, things are never that easy are they???

  10. Mrs Puddleducky

    Wow this is a timely post! My son has just moved up to class one and were struggling too. My husband and I both work more or less full time, we also have a toddler and my son has three after school clubs! Just makes me tired writing it in black and white! The thing is, my son hates doing homework and we always have a paddy and I’ve stuck my ground and used bribery, yes bribery! That just about gets us through 10 mins of reading just two pages and spelling practice. It’s a struggle. Plus his behaviour gone down hill since moving up, he’s fine at the weekends but during the week he’s bloody hard work! Such an interesting post to read, reassuring in a way, if that makes sense? That were not the only ones struggling! I must write my own reflections on our experience one day.

  11. Times really have changed as I remember getting nothing really until I went to high school. I think having something does help children prepare for getting older and the vast amount that does come but I can see how hard it must be to fit it all in. It must be a nightmare for parents of a child who is not driven as well! Hopefully, Helen will start to manage a little more on her own and ask for help when she needs it as she gets older. Good luck! xx #thetruthabout

  12. Catie: An imperfect Mum

    I understand your frustration. Being a parent is such a balancing act. I have a conflict between wanting my children to do well at school and wanting them to have outside interests that make them a balanced well rounded individual. I should also state that I am a teacher. I strongly feel that children below 7 should not be expected to do anything other than read outside of school and should instead be encouraged to take up a sport or cultural club to develop their interests. The problem in my opinion is that school are under so much pressure to perform that they are outsourcing teaching to parents. I live in Holland and there is a lot less pressure as children do not begin formal learning until group 3 and don’t get homework until group 5 (except for learning tables and reading). As regards to time management I try to pop my youngest on a learning program or app whilst we are working, he likes this as he feels grown up too, like he is doing his homework. Good luck! #MMWBH

    1. Thanks for the good wishes. I get what you mean about schools being under pressure. It can’t be easy for teaching staff.

  13. Interesting post. My son is in reception and I kept him back a year because my gut instinct tells me kids start formal education too young in this country and I didn’t feel he was ready. I’m really happy with how school is going at the moment but am already steeling myself for the homework issue next year and beyond. Personally, I feel kids have too much pressure these days, and I know I’m going to find it very difficult to enforce homework should I meet with any resistance. In my mind kids should be chilling out after a full day at school, enjoying the freedom to pursue outside interests and friendships. Or just hang out with family. These things are surely more important than academic standards?! As for your problems amusing the toddler, it’s so tricky isn’t it? We don’t watch telly in the week so I find it really difficult to amuse the 2 year old while I’m listening to my son read. I tend to set her up with a book next to us and let her pretend to read to me too. Maybe your little one could have fun doing her own pretend homework?! Good luck! #thetruthabout

  14. I hate homework! My son is in the third grade and this is also the year, here in MA, USA, that the children have to start taking the State standardized tests. He has math, reading, and spelling. The spelling consists of a lot more than just writing sentences and practicing the spelling. Oh no, they have to cut and paste and they have to know the long u vs the short u and so forth. By Christmas, they will adding Social Studies to his homework. It’s not the best way to spend quality time at home. Of course, the American Education system needs a serious over haul and I’m not the only parent who thinks so. Luckily my third grader is my last child so I don’t have younger one to contend with, which would make it harder to concentrate on homework. Best of luck to you this year. Visiting from #themadmidweekbloghop

  15. I’m in the U.S. so our school is probably structured a little bit different, but I also don’t like homework. I wish they didn’t get ANY until 6th grade (11 or 12 years old.) The school day is already so long that with only 4 hours from school bus to lights out, there’s an awful lot to do between snack,some downtime, homework, chores, dinner prep, bedtime, and some family time. And that’s if they don’t have soccer practice or piano lessons that evening!

    1. You’re so right; those four hours in the evening get used up very quickly, especially when there’s homework to do.

  16. Oh I’m so with you on this. My daughter has just started year 3 and the homework is a nightmare. She gets one maths task and one piece of writing to do (Set on Thursday and due on Monday). She also gets three chapter books to read per week – these are quite long so take up quite a lot of time to read (I let Sofia read these independently and then go over a few pages with me and get her to tell me about the story to check she has understood the story). There are weekly spellings to learn (I have a spelling hangman app that helps with this but we sometimes don’t work on these and just hope for the best in the weekly spelling test). Now we are getting daily recorder practice to add to the mix! I do wonder if I’m really having to push Sofia to get finished when she is tired if it is really adding her learning to do these tasks. We try to get the big tasks done at the weekend rather than after school, especially as we have 3 year old toddlers generally adding the after school chaos. I love the weeks where we get a really easy homework task that doesn’t take too much time to do.

    1. All sounds remarkably familiar….I just don’t have twins to deal with as well! That must make life very demanding when it’s homework o’clock.

  17. Hi John, homework is a tricky subject. Over here in Greece, the homework the children are expected to do is crazy. They don’t start proper school until they are six, but in that first year they have to study. Because of the way the Greek language is they learn verb tables and start writing sentences where they have to use a verb correctly (with the right ending) in sentences. It seemed to take all afternoon.

    I used to dread it as it could take all afternoon, but once we found a routine it was easier, although that did take a while. I can’t speak for the UK system, but in my opinion the Greek children are given far to much homework, and it can be especially hard for the children who aren’t so academically minded.


    1. Gosh, sounds like they are dropped right in at the deep end in Greece? I have to say, I’m really not convinced about the wisdom of teaching a six year old verb tables. Sounds like a very old fashioned approach. Pleased to say things aren’t that bad in Blighty, but the kids do seem to get too much.

  18. This is the moment that I dread! We currently both work full time and I don’t know when that will change. It worries me that when Zach starts bringing homework home, we somehow have to fit it in. He is currently at nursery two days a week and having just moved up to pre-school he is already bringing stuff home. Only a tiny amount, a biff book to look at and practicing writing his name but even that seems a bit much for a three year old! I’m all for learning though so if it means that he’s ahead of the gamr when he starts school then I don’t mind too much. I’ll just continue worrying about when it all steps up a gear in a few years time!

  19. Homework is a tricky thing and I wrote a post about it a while ago. The silver lining for me is, it helps us to see where the kids are needing more support so we can provide the extra support if we can or gain advice if we can’t. We tend to do homework once a week and our kids are in Reception (no homework yet), yr 3 and yr 4.

  20. Pingback: Having a bit of a tough time | Dad Blog UKHaving a bit of a tough time - Dad Blog UK

  21. Homework time is very hit and miss in our house. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes its just madness and turns into a real struggle. Then when you throw a toddler into the mix who just wants to draw in everyones worksheets and school books…well…you get it! But we handle it ike we handle everything. We just get it done. Plain and simple. Great post! Thanks so much for linking up with #MMWBH

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