Should children of grade 0 to 3 get homework, and how much?
From a psychosocial development perspective, it is important to determine what the purpose of homework is during the beginning of school years, and how it can be used to the advantage for growth of the developing child.
According to the “Provincial Guidelines for the Management of Homework in Public Ordinary Schools”, during the Foundation and Intermediate phases, homework is seen as collaboration between the child and his / her parents to practice the tasks and skills learned in the classroom, and new knowledge to start functioning more independently.
It is true that not all children function on the same level of development, and is communication between teachers and parents of paramount importance to establish successful completion of homework assignments. Children who functions below the expected level of development, need more help and attention from both parties - teachers and parents. The amount and time spent on homework will also depend from the child's level of functioning.
Children between the ages of six and twelve years find themselves in a unique phase of development called middle childhood. This phase is characterized by development of physical, cognitive, personality and social levels that can be stimulated in doing homework in unique ways.
Physically, there is an increase in muscle control, concentration and coordination that can only be strengthened by repetition. Children learn to operate within limits e.g. writing and colouring within the lines, and also cutting on the dotted lines. This behaviour is like any other muscle training taught and reinforced through repetition. The repetition of the letter “a” over and over again at home, therefore has a motor- as well as a cognitive development function.
Cognitively, children in this age are described as concrete operational thinkers. Children start using their thinking actions for problem-solving and reasoning, especially when using numbers and simple mathematical calculations when adding, subtracting, multiplication and dividing. During this phase, children’s information processing increases gradually and the foundation of planning, executing functions, memory strategies and organising are laid. Gradual increase in cognitive ability must be continuously stimulated for growth to occur. Several learning and behavioural problems often arise because of a lack of sufficient cognitive stimulation. It is not always possible for a child in a classroom situation to exercise his / her unique thinking, but then usually takes place during the execution of assignments.
Personality development is characterized by the diligence to the inferiority phase. Children's competence with regard to adaption depends largely on their physical, cognitive and social functioning. If the child struggles with this, it can lead to the inferiority pole, rather than the power or self-assured pole.
On social level, the child starts to get more independent from their parents and starts to spend more time with friends. This does not mean that the child can now begin to function completely independent. Berk (2004) described it as a co-regulatory relationship that is starting to develop between parents and children, where parents should supervise whilst the child is allowed to start making their own moment-to-moment decisions. How parents therefore approached homework assignments, will to a great extent, how the child will approach it. Discipline here is also relevant and parents should teach the child what behaviour is acceptable and what not.
There is definitely truth in the statement that children learn through play. It is important to bear in mind that as the child grows and develops, there will also be change the chosen form of play too. Forms of play that specifically stimulates the four main areas of development are recommended.
How should parents approach their children's homework?
The value of homework between grade 0 and 3 depends largely on the appropriateness with regard to the child's age, level of functioning in the four stages of development and support of teachers and parents. Your child's level of functioning is also an indication of how much assistance and supervision he / she will need to complete the tasks successfully.
Parents and teachers must be congruent when it comes to the expectations of the child’s homework assignments. Communication between teacher and parents cannot be emphasized enough. Make sure your child understands the assignments and determine whether he / she is able to do it successfully. If not, contact the teacher to determine where the information has been lost. This will give you and the teacher an indication of a possible functioning area that needs stimulation.
It is important to remember that your child is in a process of development and your behaviour during the supervision and assistance when he or she is doing their homework, is an important learning opportunity of acceptable behaviour. The following can be considered by parents to identify their role in homework:
- Acquaint yourself with the guidelines for homework as by the Department of Education, and the school where your child is prescribed. In doing so, the expectation can be clearly communicated to your child.
- Work with your child and listen to his reasoning before you correct him. By doing this, you teach your child to consider active listening and other perspectives rather than experiencing failure.
- Provide structure for how homework time will be utilized, by doing this, you are teaching your child self-discipline and perseverance.
- Acknowledge your child's attempted solution of homework assignments in order to develop his self-esteem.
- Motivate your child to deal with difficult homework assignments from various approaches as a challenge and development of his cognitive skills.
- Evaluate your child's ability to cope with homework tasks on his own. Then move gradually towards more independent work as your child grows and develops.
- Help your child to set goals for completing homework assignments. This can be in the form of a list which can be ticked off as he works through it.
By Annelize Bonthuys, a Counselling Psychologist at the North-West University’s Institute of Psychology & Wellbeing.