James's blog: Finding time for children to be children...

Last year I attended a career development course provided by my (then) employer.  One session in particular on the course struck a note with me.  The session took as its starting point the premise that to become an expert in a particular field generally takes about 10,000 hours of practice or experience.  The presenter then invited us to analyse how much “free” or “spare” time we might have each year based on certain assumptions around working hours, sleep patterns, time spent on activities such as personal grooming, meal preparations, eating, exercise etc.  The purpose of this exercise was to encourage people to use their spare time most effectively.  Instead, it drove a number of the course delegates to despair.  I’m pretty sure that I was not in the minority in the room when I calculated my spare time as being negative based on the amount of time that I really should be spending on essential activities such as sleeping and eating (I gave up on personal grooming and exercise a long time ago!). 

I was reminded of all of this during the recent Christmas school holidays.  By the end of term, my 5 year old daughter was completely exhausted.  It took her about a week to fully recover from the effects of the previous term.  Other parents that I have spoken to recount a similar story.  When I look back at her routine during term time it is not difficult to see why she was so tired.  During the week my daughter will generally wake at around 7am.   She then has an hour to get ready before we have to set off for the walk to school.  By the time she gets home in the afternoon it is about 4pm.  She has an hour before tea time and then, after tea, about 45 minutes before we start the bedtime routine.  During that hour and a three-quarters she generally has to read a school book to me or my wife, and do a little bit of homework.

On a weekend, she gets what I consider to be an excessive amount of homework.  This weekend, for example, she had two maths sheets to complete, topic-based handwriting practice, a topic-based project to complete and spellings to practice.  We tend to eschew most extra-curricular activities, however, she does have a swimming lesson on a weekend and, because she was desperate to go, has recently started going to Rainbows on a Monday evening.

If the school gave her less homework, I imagine that I might question whether they were really pushing her enough.  But I don’t recall having homework in infant school and (I like to think) it did me no harm.  When the Christmas school holidays came around all my daughter wanted to do was play.  She seems to get so little time to do that these days and it seems to me to be such a shame that she is losing that opportunity at such a young age.  The impact of this is seen daily when she has a meltdown when she is told that the limited time she had to play is up.

What I really want is to take away the pressure of having homework and let her spend some time each week doing the things that she wants to do.  How ridiculous it has become was highlighted recently when I told my wife that I was contemplating removing some of the sheets from her homework folder and claiming that they were never sent home.  People may think I’m being irresponsible but I’m on a crusade against the school.  We want less homework please, and more time for children to be children!

James and his wife are both lawyers in the City. Both work part time to try to juggle school pick ups for their young daughter.

Category: A Cityfather's Diary

Comments
Benjamin Laurence - 22/01/2019 - 17:57

A thought-provoking piece. This sounds all too common... as a father of two (younger) I have exactly the same worries for the future.  More so as the internet increasingly takes up time that would be better spent reading, playing, or interacting with real humans (and on the bright side, it sounds like there is the chance at least to interact a bit based on your daughter's homework). 

Is there a role for national education authorities to set a more manageable curriculum?  Or could they find a method of teaching that allows a little more personal time?  Are we really competing to get 5 year olds ready for key stage learning?  Could everyone afford to slow down a little bit?  I have a feeling this might be the view of the silent majority...

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