Homework for three-year-olds? They’re too young to enter the rat race

Posted on: 2018-10-19 05:45:00

Between the hours of 6.30 and 7.15pm nightly, we sit down in my house to do homework. This has been a surprising addition to the schedule, given that my children aren’t yet four years old. More surprising has been my enormous hostility towards it; while my daughters happily apply themselves to reading and writing practice, I pace in the background, indignant that the tiny amount of time we have in the evening has been annexed by the New York City Department of Education.

What’s particularly weird about this is that I never had any objection to doing homework myself. I’m a fairly obedient person. If as a child I’d gone to a progressive school, I doubt I would have liked it, and I sometimes thank God no one thought of forest schools in the late 1970s. As an adult, I belong to a personality type that has never grown out of needing sharp deadlines to function, and I believe, somewhere in my core, that missing one means I will actually die.

"Slogging through work sheets at night when they have already spent six hours in the classroom seems absurd"

Plus I approve, at least in theory, of stretching a child intellectually. But slogging through worksheets after having spent six hours in the classroom seems to me, at this age, absurd. I have always been suspicious of the idea that some children and not others qualify for the tag of “free spirit”, and before now would have scoffed at the idea that homework puts undue pressure on the child. Well, not any more. (There is another gripe relating to the total lack of accommodation for working parents, who don’t see their kids until after 6pm, when everyone is done in for the day. But that’s a separate issue.)

There is data to support my annoyance. In Finland, which routinely tops global education rankings, children only start school at seven – after years of state-funded nursery placements – and there is minimal homework, if any. Homework starts much later in many Manhattan private schools too, most of which work on a theory of play-based learning, only piling on the pressure when the kids hit third or fourth grade.

The city’s state schools, however, are horribly shackled to the timetable of standardised testing. The rat race starts so young in New York that both my kids have been tested for selective state primary schools and will sit more tests after Christmas. And already I’m done with it, eyeing the progressive schools, dreaming of moving to a small island where they can knit their own curriculum and learn to press flowers.

Instead, here we are, past bedtime on a Tuesday night, my daughters’ attention starting to wander while I beg them to do one more page and avoid a minus sign in the margins to indicate poor effort. After 15 minutes, they start losing interest and marking the wrong answers just to be enraging, and I find myself getting short with them. Welcome to the treadmill that will last roughly for ever.

And so I do something that makes even less sense than issuing homework in the first place. After they are in bed, their worksheets half done, I pick up a felt tip and, putting it in my left hand to increase authenticity, do a poor job of colouring in a picture of an ant. This is a one-off, I think; a stopgap until we can better manage our schedule. Who am I kidding?

Emma Brockes

Source: The Guardian

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