The unbearable burden of homework - at four

17th October 2008 at 01:00

It is nearly half term and I am looking forward to spending a few days with my four-year-old, free of the pressures of work and the monotony of the school run. I am hoping that we can enjoy the great outdoors, catching the falling leaves in the park and playing hide and seek.

But since my little boy started in reception, all he seems to be bothered about is completing his set homework.

Don't get me wrong: this is not a bad trait, and one I hope will continue into his teenage years. But homework has started to consume my son's life in a worrying and unnecessary way.

Every night his first thought on arriving home from school is to open his folder and learn some more words.

I must admit the rather jolly game for learning words devised by his teachers - modelled on a traditional board game - makes for a relatively pleasurable pastime. But the evening last week he started bawling and getting very upset because he "couldn't do it" was when I realised my son was under pressure.

He has started school life in a class of 24, with a qualified teacher and two teaching assistants. According to the experts, he is in the perfect environment for the foundation phase to flourish and succeed.

A week into term, he started bringing home a folder with a wordless picture book and key words to learn. Then the weekly letters piling on the pressure started to arrive. "Please could all parents ensure they practise key words with their child every day," said the latest.

Well, excuse me, when I was studying for A-levels, Friday night was always homework free. And so was Saturday.

Two things worry me. The first is that parents have not been trained to teach synthetic phonics, and how do we know that the manner in which we teach our children is compatible with what is taught during lesson time?

The second is the guilt trip that parents - many of whom are in full-time jobs with long hours - appear to be sent on if they do not do homework with their child every night.

So, the little time my family spends together in the evenings is now spent almost entirely in a homework ritual, teaching words on demand.

I have always read to my son and will continue to, but I am not sure about the insistence on this structured homework.

Other mums are also complaining of feeling under pressure. It's not just me.

My son is young and will develop in his own time. If he takes after me, he won't reach his full potential until secondary school and beyond.

Isn't pressure on children supposed to be making them unhappy and depressed, and the reason Wales did away with Sats? It seems that, testing regime or not, there is still pressure on teachers in Wales to meet key stage 1 targets, and this makes a mockery of our education system.

Nicola Porter, Editor of TES Cymru.

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