My son is in year one at school. He has recently come home saying that his teacher has said that if homework is not complete that playtime will be docked. I worry about playtime being taken away as a punishment. One of the homeworks is computer based and it has a leaderboard. The teacher has said that they should all try and beat one boy who is a regular user on it. I don't know if I am being overly sensitive as so many other parents do not seem concerned about playtime being threatened or the competitive element of this approach.
This type of punitive discipline is damaging and the competitive approach to learning isn’t helpful either. I know the teacher is trying to motivate the children to do their homework and to improve their skills but there are many other ways to do that which don’t have such a detrimental effect. This kind of coercive approach is likely to stifle any enjoyment of learning and make the children resentful and perhaps rebellious. And encouraging competition between classmates encourages them to see their peers as rivals, people to get ahead of, rather than friends and collaborators.
On top of that at this age it is really vital that kids have breaks from academic work to relax, run around and engage with friends. Much learning happens in the playground too.
Many parents of children this age feel a bit resentful that their children have to do homework at all. The children have already had a busy day at school and they’re tired when they get home. Parents hate that homework becomes a battle ground. Professionals are also divided in their opinion of the benefits of homework for young children.
You are not being oversensitive –you are showing a more enlightened approach than the school or other parents who just accept this. However you do need to uphold the authority of the school because if you undermine them your son may not do what he is asked to do and get in trouble. This can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem. So you can move him to another school (not necessarily that easy) or you can speak to the school about why a more positive approach would be more effective.
Homework doesn’t have to be a battle. Here are 7 ways to make it easier:
If you do decide that you will accept that this competitive approach is the school’s way I think you can still give your son alternative messages. Teach him to do his work without reference to the leaderboard. Tell him that it is much more fun to do the work and just enjoy it (and the learning in it) rather than doing in order to beat others. Give him the message that tasks become less enjoyable when they are all about winning. Reinforce this by a healthy attitude at home to mistakes and failures. We all make mistakes and must not be afraid of them. It’s how we grow. Focus on the learning/ fun in a task rather than the outcome. Never ask your son if he won a match or what his score is in academic tests. Focus on his effort instead. It doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate achievements but when he does well in something refer that back to his efforts. Eg you did really well at this …because you were concentrating really hard.
It’s tough to be our children’s advocate in a school environment that doesn’t share our values but remember that your child picks up his values at home.
Do you find you have to text or What’s App or message your child on one or other social media platform in order to get their attention? Even though they may be in the same room as you? Does your child get a rabid look about them if you try to prise the controls to their Xbox out of their hands so that they will go and have a shower? At least every third day? Do you sometimes look up from the TV on Friday Family Fun Night and find every member of the family is on a handheld device as well? Yep, we know, you’re all multi-tasking…Does your teenager not feel any experience is complete without having photographed it and posted it on Instagram? Maybe your child has forgotten what her friends look like without the added whiskers offered by Snapchat filters. Your child may be constantly online chatting with friends… while doing their homework (honest mum!)… but may also be worried about a toxic troll culture in that environment. Do you worry about their communication skills as conversation is reduced to 140 character soundbites? (Apparently now that Twitter allows 280 characters the average length of a tweet is 33 characters. Go figure.) Have you calculated how much time your son has spent watching cat videos on YouTube?
If this is your experience you’re not alone. There has been a marked increase in parental concern about their children’s use of technology and parents are finding it harder than ever to control it. Often suggested solutions are technological ones, and that will be part of it. Parental controls are a good idea and so are controls designed to help us help ourselves like iPhone’s Screen Time. The irony of using a device to help us monitor the use of our devices!
But technological controls will only go so far. There was a piece in the New York Times in the summer about parents hiring coaches to help their families wean themselves off screens. Whole new businesses have evolved offering prescriptions of a very basic nature such as reading books, going outside to play and getting a pet. Other solutions are more extreme such as technology abstinence pledges.
At The Parent Practice we believe that children need to be educated in screen literacy and digital citizenship at home. I was interviewed by the Evening Standard on this topic last week and gave my top tips for managing screen life at home:
Top tip: Do not buy your child their own device until they are of secondary school age. Even if they need to use a device of some kind for school work or you’re happy for them to entertain themselves on screens within limits the device itself should be a family one which the child borrows for limited times and for specific uses.
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