(The hell of) homework

This morning, I was doing homework with child 1. He doesn’t like homework. (The rights and wrongs of homework for a five year old would take up a whole other blog so I will leave that there) I don’t like homework either but I’m not a rule breaker and I don’t want his teacher to think I’m an uninvolved, neglectful mother. Hence we’ll just have to have the homework fight every Sunday morning (and when he gets older, presumably every night too) until he leaves school. Conversely, child 2 would love some homework and doesn’t (thank god) get it yet in reception; she often asks to do some of his at the same time. This isn’t especially helpful either.

The homework session (and all homework sessions) went something like this:

1. In somewhat forced, deliberately cheery fashion, I said ‘time for homework! Come on, let’s get to it!’ Every week I cultivate the vain hope that the more positive I am, the more likely that he will suddenly develop huge enthusiasm for the task and say brightly ‘yes Mummy! Let’s do some number bonds!’ This is yet to happen.
2. He pretended he hadn’t heard me, and disappeared up the stairs at top speed. I contemplated leaving him to it and having another cup of tea, which seemed an infinitely more desirable way to spend a Sunday morning.
3. Maternal guilt reared its ugly head and got the better of me. I trudged up the stairs to where he was playing with Lego wearing his best innocent face, and retrieved him.
4. He had to write some sentences about animals. I attempted, in true teacher mother fashion, to make it more interesting, and suggested he cut some pictures out of animals and then labelled them. He agreed to this with somewhat muted enthusiasm, but you know, at least he willingly sat down at the table. Small victories and all that.
5. We (I) found some pictures on the internet. We (I) printed them out. He cut one side of one, and lost interest. Frantically attempting to maintain some focus on the task, I cut the bloody pictures out and gave them to him. In my head, I could hear my mum’s disapproving (and correct) voice saying she never did things for me and he should learn to do things for himself.
6. I had a whole internal argument with myself, one side of me saying calmly and reasonably that indeed he should be doing it for himself, and the other side hissing that if I left it to him it simply wouldn’t get done. He couldn’t care less if the teacher would like him to have done his homework, (I’m not sure the teacher does either) given that he’s five, and really, this whole homework thing is about me and my middle class desperation that I should be doing everything – EVERYTHING – to help him succeed at school.
7. He wrote some sentences about the pictures of animals, badly and at top speed, because he wanted to play with Lego.
8. I attempted not to lose my patience, even when he incredibly messily scribbled over a word he had already written – in his homework book! That his teacher would see! A word that he is entirely capable of writing! My inner OCD demon was not coping, but I did manage to stop myself grabbing the pencil out of his hand and redoing it myself. Just.
9. He refused to do any more, even though he was only halfway through. I lost my patience. His sister decided this was the best time to be Golden Child, and presented me with her own words about animals, while saying smugly and entirely unhelpfully, ‘I’m a good girl aren’t I Mummy? I try really hard at my writing.’
10. I felt excessive guilt over losing my patience and overdid the subsequent praise. He remained entirely unaffected by either approach, hardened as he is from six months of OT exercises and specialist handwriting practise for his fine motor control. (Sometimes he says to me, world-wearily, ‘I know these things just have to be done, Mummy.’)
11. In despair, I offered him a smartie for every sentence he wrote well.
12. I watched him write several sentences perfectly and tried to quash any thoughts of how children in my day never had to be bribed to do their homework, and what sort of parent am I to be setting this precedent?
13. He finished his homework, took his smarties, and went back to his Lego, entirely unscathed and unbothered. I felt like I’d done an entire day’s work in the fifteen minutes of homework and made myself a cup of tea that really wasn’t enough to mitigate the overwhelming sense that somehow homework is yet another one of those good-mother tests that I had failed spectacularly.
14. I found him playing with his Lego and said to him, ‘you did some amazing homework in the end, I’m so proud of you.’ He looked up and smiled at me with his beautiful, unspoilt, little boy smile, and said, ‘thank you Mummy.’ I couldn’t have loved him more.

There’s an important lesson to be learned here: (well, a range, possibly: don’t bribe? Just accept that homework at five is ridiculous and is driven by middle class parents and their well intentioned but a bit mad complaints to primary schools that all children need homework to progress? Or that no five year old would choose to do homework and it is merely a necessary evil that has to be endured and he should learn this early?) No, mostly what I have learned is this: do homework at 6pm so that afterwards you can have an entirely legitimate glass of wine.

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