Healthy work habits start with homework

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am


My son's homework has increased dramatically now that he is in Year Six, and he is refusing to sit down and do it. Each night is a battle, and there have been tears and quite a bit of stress for everyone.

Homework is one of the simplest and oldest elements of formal education, but is often subject to the most complex practical difficulties and differing opinions.

The issue can be further complicated in a place like Hong Kong, where everybody is busy and it is not unusual for pupils to take part in a range of social and extracurricular activities that can eat significantly into their leisure time.

However, homework has many advantages. Exercises and practice activities can reinforce what has been learned during the school day. Completing these successfully can boost pupils' confidence, making them ready for the next day in a kind of virtuous circle. As pupils progress through the school, more creative and open-ended activities enhance thinking skills and promote more effective problem solving.

Regular homework develops a healthy work habit that not only is good in itself but also helps prepare pupils for the transition to secondary school, especially as they reach Year Six. You do not say if your son has a comfortable work space free of distractions. Although this can be difficult to provide in Hong Kong, it is as essential for children as it is for adults.

Teachers work hard to set appropriate, productive homework. However, unless they have only a few pupils each, homework can be virtually impossible to tailor to each child.

This is where you can make the most valuable input. Schools generally have a homework policy that will set out objectives and often gives clear guidelines about expectations. These guidelines should include the types of homework to be set and an approximate idea of how much time it should take. Finding out exactly what these details look like at your son's school will be a good start.

Talk to your son about the value of homework. Offer to help him, but don't do it for him. He needs to be independent and take more responsibility for not just his own learning, but also his time management as he gets older. Good habits last for a lifetime. Share your concerns with his class teacher. He or she may be able to adapt some elements of the homework and give extra encouragement, at least in the short term, until things get back onto an even keel.

Households vary and specific circumstances can have an enormous impact. You do not say who is there when your son arrives home, for example. Nor do you say what your own attitude is regarding the right balance of his homework and recreational activities.

Children's needs also vary with how much energy they have left when they arrive home and their inherent levels of commitment and concentration. Some prefer to get homework over and done with, while others need some down time to recover from a busy day.

You should be positive and persevere. Gentle encouragement and patience may be necessary in the short term.

Getting homework done is important, but developing the right attitude is vital. In the end, homework works best when it is a positive experience.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school