Children must learn that homework is their own responsibility

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am


My son is only in primary school, but he has a lot of homework and it's a struggle to make him do it. It sometimes includes lengthy research projects and he also gets Chinese homework as well as maths and English. All he wants to do after school is play sport, play with friends or go on the computer. It is causing a lot of arguments and homework takes time at the weekend when we want to go out as a family.

Your son is still young and it is natural for him to want to let off steam, relax or follow his own interests after a long day at school. Down time and play for children can be undervalued and are crucial for their natural development. Getting a work-life balance is so important for everyone - happy, healthy people perform more effectively.

It is impossible for schools to please all parents where homework is concerned. Parents have differing opinions about how much homework is appropriate and what it should consist of. Hong Kong parents typically have high academic expectations of their children and, therefore, prefer to see more rather than less homework. Some also regard homework as a useful time filler for their offspring, especially if they work long hours and want to feel that their children are doing something 'productive'.

The issue can be further complicated in a place like Hong Kong where children themselves are busy, many attending a wide range of sporting and academic extra-curricular activities that can eat into their valuable leisure time.

Every child has a different level of commitment and concentration. Some prefer to get homework over with, and others need down time to recover from a busy day. You can play a pivotal role in helping your son create a written schedule that balances homework and recreation. Ask yourself whether your child does too many extra-curricular activities? Some children have too many commitments, and this can create stress and be counterproductive.

Some schools design their homework timetables to allow work to be completed either during the week or at weekends, giving flexibility for different family situations.

This is something you could discuss with your son's school.

Homework can be the bane of many parents' lives and you would be far from the first to have problems getting your son to sit down and do it. But be aware that the child, not the parents, should take the responsibility to start and persevere with homework - with your help and support in the background if needed.

There is research that shows that children who manage their own time and generally complete their homework independently with little interference from parents tend to be more successful in the long run. Therefore, 'helicopter parenting' is not necessarily helpful.

Making sure your son has a comfortable, uncluttered work space free of distractions is also very important. Space can be tight in Hong Kong, but turn off the television and computer games and keep all other noise to a minimum. Controlled access to the internet can be particularly important, and general access to the computer should be restricted to encourage other interests.

Another strategy that may help your son to focus is to arrange for him to work in a different environment, such as a library. Hong Kong libraries have dedicated study facilities with access to physical and electronic resources. Help him to come to the realisation that if he completes his homework quickly, he will have more time to do other things.

Developing the right attitude is vital. Talk to your son about the value of homework. Help him understand his activities will reinforce what has been learned in class and should increase his confidence. Discuss the importance of fostering independence and time-management skills that will prepare him for secondary school and, eventually, a career. Encouragement and patience may be necessary in the short term. Small rewards or incentives could be useful initially, but in the long run, good work habits are their own reward.

As students progress through primary school, they may be given more creative and open-ended activities including the research projects you have mentioned. These often enhance thinking skills and promote problem-solving but can be time consuming. Schools generally have homework policies that give clear guidelines and objectives. If you feel that your son is getting too much homework discuss this with the school so they can gauge parental views.

Of course the type of homework your son is doing helps you to understand the kind of work he is doing at school. In the midst of all the activity, don't forget to encourage your son to read for pleasure. A genuine enthusiasm for reading is at the root of learning. Some form of homework is essential for students. Do all you can to make it fun, flexible and fulfilling.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong