Stop Giving Children Homework NOW!

This is not something I am writing on a whim.

Fair enough, yesterday I went through the trauma of supervising my seven-year-old son while he did his Italian Grammar homework. This was not only traumatic because I didn’t know the right answers. It was also traumatic because he was tired, bored, and doing all he could to get me to play with him, and genuinely distressed that I refused.

Once he’s done his day’s work at school, he wants to use his imagination. He wants me to tell him what clouds are made of, where more oxygen comes from since humans keep using it up, and why grown-ups have hairy armpits. (If anyone knows the answer to that last one, please submit your anwer below: my son is waiting.)

sleepy

He also wants time to invent stories and tell them to me. He wants to use his soft toys and action figures to act out tales about making friends with people, about people being mean and how to deal with that, and about what it would really be like if we all turned into bacteria and lived inside somebody’s intestine.

He also wants time to be downright silly, for us to tickle each other till we can hardly breathe, to make ridiculous jokes and talk in silly voices, to have cushion fights. He wants to jump up and down on his bed, when I am in the other room, and he thinks I cannot hear the hideous twanging sound of semi-rusted bedsprings being stretched to hell and back so that his bum nearly touches the floor when he goes to sleep at night. Above all, he wants to hang out with his friends, running around among the trees pretending to be aliens and robots and superheroes, or playing football with some squidgy oranges they found lying about.

Yet, the government has decided that, instead, he should spend his afternoons the same way he spends his mornings: doing maths and grammar exercises, perfecting his twiddly Italianate handwriting that he’ll never use because we all write with computers when we grow up, and working on elaborating his nervous tic over the whole wretched thing.

Here's a sample of my son's handwriting homework. On average, it takes him seven hours of threats, two packs of encouraging frooty sweets, and nine outbursts of tears and snot to complete a page of this.
Here’s a sample of my son’s handwriting homework. On average, it takes him seven hours of threats, two packs of encouraging frooty sweets, and nine outbursts of tears and snot to complete a page of this.

Although I’ve already made it clear that my son is being deprived of the time he needs to grow up in varied ways, there is an even more important reason why I am against homework for primary school children. Let me tell you about my father.

His parents were teenagers when he was born, and they were both semi-illiterate. His father started work as a coal miner full time at the age of fourteen and his mother seemed to spend her life doing laundry and making pastry. When Grandpa read things, he would run his finger under the writing and mouth the words out under his breath, generally looking very perplexed. I remember getting birthday cards from them each year, written in a strange jumble of capital and lower case letters and all spelled wrongly.

Well, my father was a dental surgeon. He had the largest vocabulary of almost anyone I have ever known. There was almost nothing he didn’t know in the field of all the sciences, and world history, and geography. He was such a voracious reader that our house looked a bit like the public library. Primary school children were taught everything at school by the teacher when he was a child, and sent home when the day’s learning was done. Do you think my Dad would have ended up achieving what he did, if he had depended on his parents as his teachers for half of what he learned at primary school?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am fully in support of homework at secondary school. By the time people are in their teens they should be able to study independently, manage their time and workload, and be self-motivating.

What I am against is giving homework to primary school children. There is no such thing as a primary school child who can study without adult help. Giving homework to little kids simply means teachers are abrogating part of their teaching job to the parents.

For the children with educated parents, with a stay-at-home mother, that’s fine. No doubt this private tuition works out great for those children whose mother books them piano tuition when they’re five and fills their toybox with those real wood, aesthetically pleasing hand carved crashingly boring toys from The Early Learning Centre. It may be fantastic for the kids whose mothers bought giant earphones to play Mozart to their uterus while they were pregnant, thus optimising the development of their foetus’s mathematical capabilities during gestation. For kids from families like my Dad’s – why shouldn’t they get the same chances? Don’t they deserve the same start in life as everyone else? How many really clever children are going to waste?

We’ve gone back to the old days, when people were born into a certain socio-economic class, and could never rise out of it.

I get a lot of correspondence from my old university, which comes under criticism for the fact that very few of its students are from state schools, from working class families, and from poor neighbourhoods. Somehow, talking heads in the government think it is the university’s job to fix this. Instead, may I humbly suggest that we go back the primary schools? That’s where the problem is being caused.

Do you agree with me about this? I’d really like to know what you’d think.

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41 thoughts on “Stop Giving Children Homework NOW!

  1. Your argument to me sounds logical and correct, I never went to uni or even college and was lost doing my kids homework with them too so not sure that I am in a position to give a educated answer.

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  2. I totally agree! Even as a former education major, someone who wanted to be a teacher, and mom of three, the thought of having to endure the fuss of homework when the kid is already fried, and I’ve got dinner to make and whatever else is going on…is scary. It’s not a good combination, at all. It’s time for the school system to evolve (this is not the only thing wrong) or we will remain stagnant…

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  3. I just could not agree more. Our children’s primary school send far too much work home. Comprehension, for example. They seem to spend very little time in school actually reading or being read to or talking about what they have read. My girls read TWO PAGES in class-once a week-, then get sent home to finish the book and complete a piece of comprehension work about it. This typically involves lengthy discussions about alternative endings or Googling for research about the subject. This is before the maths and spelling task PLUS an optional homework task. It’s all optional to me. They are six and eight years old. I’ve been to the school and had a surprisingly pleasant conversation with the teacher explaining that I would not be calling my children inside to do homework when they are playing on their bikes or in the garden. They’ve had all day inside, they need fresh air. We live in Scotland- we have to take these opportunities to play outside when we can! I explained that I felt these homework tasks were too much for home, requiring significant support and discussion- something say, a teacher, could be doing. They have far too much ‘Golden time’ at school (free choice activity time earned for good behaviour).
    Homework should be FUN and minimal and if I don’t think theirs is, we don’t do it I’m afraid. We read all the time, just not their school books if they find them dull. I want them to enjoy reading- whatever it is- not force them to trawl through boring stuff they hate. Spelling and grammar will all follow naturally if they develop a love of reading.

    Oh my gosh! You set me off on my favourite rant!

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    1. I really agree about letting them read what they enjoy, rather than boring books set by the school.
      My son luckily loves his school reading book and when he gets set a reading homework (which is always one page) he wants to keep going and finish the whole book! At least that’s the one homework I am always happy about.
      It’s the mindless repetitive tasks that really bother me. He had to draw a picture of each number from 70 to 90 in Cuisinaire rods and colour them in last week. That was basically 15 pages of drawing and colouring orange columns.
      I don’t want to let him just not do homework, partly because I want him to learn about obligation and self discipline for when he’s older, but also because if the kids in Italy miss too much they get kept back and have to repeat the year. Anyway, with the cuisenaire rods I did that homework for him while he read a pop-up book about the human body. That was what led to questions about the circulation of oxygen/carbon dioxide on planet earth and aspects of the human digestive system.
      If his HW were that type of thing I’d be happy to do heaps of it with him, but that does still leave the problem of some of his classmates whose parents are too busy selling drugs in the afternoon to help their kids do any homework, ever.

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  4. homeworks equivalent to taking work back home…just not done.
    But the one thing I like about homeworks is that it gives an opportunity to parents to see what the child is learning at school. However, it should be in moderation. Not more than 1-1.5 hours of homework.
    thats a really sweet picture 🙂

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    1. it’s true that it’s good to keep apace of what my son is doing.
      Glad you like the photo! That was taken a couple of years ago actually, after he did an assault course in a forest. He was so exhausted after swinging from tree to tree that he fell asleep in that position and snored like that for 4 hours.

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  5. I also agree that homework for Primary School children should be at the very minimum. My son may be going to school in Germany in the future and I have heard nightmare stories about the amount of homework they are given once they finish school at around 1pm! Even in Malta we finished school at 2.30pm. What time do they end the school day in Sicily?

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      1. Yes it is. All the parents complain, like me, that their kids are going to develop health problems because they literally never have the time to run about and engage in physical exercise.
        They have no sports lessons at school whatsoever.

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  6. Until a few weeks ago I homeschooled both my children. My seven year old son elected to go to school and he is very happy there. I am less happy with the academic standard which is too low for my liking in some respects. He gets homework only only once a week but I do additional stuff with him at home. I agree, too much pressure just teaches kids to hate school and hate learning. What a pity. My son prefers reading non-fiction books over fiction. But then he is an odd duck, he prefers Downton Abbey over Transformer re-runs. The basic fact though is, both my kids love learning and will be life-long learners because they never learned to hate school and learning. As to learning cursive, I think it’s still a nice idea, even if not terribly useful in the modern world. Still nice. I am amazed they are already doing cursive at his age though. Many children simply don’t have the fine motor skills yet at that age.

    One more thing, his ‘Italian’ homework looks suspiciously English. hahah.

    Once again you wrote a great post. Thank you!

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    1. I would love to do extra learning with my son – he’s so hungry for knowledge – but neither he nor I feel like it after the obligatory homework is finally done.
      I do think children need to learn cursive BTW, but not the way my son did. He spent the whole of his first year at school learning three different types of handwriting, and nothing else. Literally, handwriting and nothing else for a year.
      He knows how to write Copperplate cursive, something Italians call “print” which is essentially Times New Roman, and another type of print which looks like Arial. As you said, he doesn’t have the fine motor skills, but this is Italy, where form is more important than substance at every stage of the way.

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  7. I don’t think that homework is the problem, but the amount given per age group. Here in the States, we are now giving Kindergarten-aged students homework, and some primary grades have at least an hour’s worth each day. I agree that is excessive, but the idea of homework for that age is not a bad idea. It prepares them for the next grade–the next level up. Still, young children do not need to be bombarded with it.
    Keep on your child with good study habits. It will serve him well in the end.

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    1. I agree with preparation and learning absolutely, but I just think it is a social injustice that this depends so much on the parents, so children from certain families literally don’t get that part of their education at all.
      Like Sydney Fong said, everyone wants their kids to beat the competition, and make themselves a winner.
      But I am a teacher myself and I just look at the poor little kids with plain awful parents, and often see so much potential in them, which is never nurtured. It is unfair and tragic. I am old enough to remember a different system where people like them DID get the same help as everyone else, because we didn’t have homework. The teacher taught everyone everything.

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  8. Here in France the law states that no written homework can be given to primary school children. This is all very good on paper, but when Little My came home with some history to revise and had a sentence 110 words long about the French revolution to read, I got a little annoyed. I’m all for homework as my kids needed it to get into the swing of things for the comp, but not ten tons of it.

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    1. That’s very interesting about the law in France, I didn’t know that.
      I wonder about the other European countries???
      When I was a kid there was no homework for primary school kids in England, nor in Italy. Yet nowadays the whole system has changed. For the worse.

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  9. Definitely agree with you. Play and creativity are so important at primary level – love the list of things your son would prefer to be doing. My children are now 20 and 21 years and are doing fine – but I feel that there was too much unnecessary pressure from school to ‘achieve’ and reach various ‘targets’ at set times.

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  10. You raise a lot of good points, and, being an education major in my fourth year of college, this topic is one that I’ve heard debated many times. However, I’ve never heard the idea of giving kids homework in secondary schools only. It’s a really interesting thought. Your son sounds so creative and I agree with you, I don’t see the point of him doing that kind of homework. It’s a shame that can’t take that young imagination and use it to design appropriate, fun, and engaging work.

    And I, too, wish the laws of education would get out of the government’s hands and into the hands of actual educators (and maybe even parents) who directly see how policies are influencing children.

    I’m so glad you decided to share your thoughts on this topic! 🙂

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    1. I agree with all of this.
      When I was a child in Britain (in the seventies and eighties) the idea of giving homework to primary school children was unheard of. So really I was advocating a return to the older system, which really did work so much better.
      Are you American? Have they always given homework to primary school kids in America?

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      1. Yes, I’m American. I don’t know about always, but I would assume so. I know that I always had loads of it when I was younger!
        That’s very interesting…I didn’t know England had been like that. A return to the older system would be ideal!

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  11. Last year I spent my evenings helping my 6 year old daughter conduct surveys and draw graphs of the results. My 9 year old son thought her homework was “too hard”. Besides sitting down with her and getting quality time talking with her, I didn’t see academic value in these activities. If kids are going to get homework, they should be able to do it on their own.

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  12. Preach it!!

    I’m livid about the amount of homework my 10 year old is bringing home. The latest project – building a math game – took hours to finish and was also expensive to complete. I’m very thankful we have the time, resources, and energy to work with her to do these #$%& assignments. I keep thinking about the children whose parents might not have the same luxury of time never mind anything else. This is causing a very unfair learning environment.

    You’re absolutely correct that is subtly creating very visible socio-economic rift in the classroom.

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    1. I remember reading about that maths game thing on your blog and thinking OMG.
      Basically, that is not homework for a child, That is homework for their parents.

      My nephew (also 10) was told to make a model volcano with erupting channels inside it, at least 12 inches high, out of plaster of paris, for homework.
      So my sister had to drive him to several shops to get materials, help him go online to research what volcanoes are like inside, supervise him in the kitchen with a giant sack of plaster of paris etc….
      Like I said, it was a homework assignment for HER, not for HIM.

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      1. I’ve only heard about that volcano project – please that it never shows up here as an assignment. The mess alone would do me in.

        You know what else bugs me? The fact that your sister and 20+ other families all own giant sacks of plaster of paris never to be used again.

        If we ran the world……. 🙂

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  13. You are totally correct about this issue. Your delightful, creative, inquisitive son is the karmic twin of my own, same-age grandson. They are trying to doing what kids are SUPPOSED TO DO at their developmental age. The school day should be just long enough to cover appropriate work. (Cursive writing is no longer taught in the USA.)

    I did have homework in the early grades – but not much, and my parents did not help me with it or even supervise. It was considered MY job and if it occasionally became too onerous, they were quick to tell the teachers it was just too much or too difficult. And this was despite the fact that my teachers were scary nuns in full, black habits and my parents had only 8th grade educations themselves. (All three of us kids got college degrees – eventually.)

    Also, if a child has to do some work, quietly, at his desk, IN SCHOOL, the teacher can be sure the child, not the parent, is the author. The teacher can see where the kids are having problems RIGHT AWAY, before things get worse. I do remember that we were usually directed to start our “alone” work during the last ten minutes or so of each subject class. That way the teacher could see any difficulties and clarify confusing problems. And, the kids had no alternative to doing the work right then – no toys, games, snacks, TV, playground, loving parent, etc. to distract them. It gave them confidence that the could do the work.

    Get a posse together of concerned parents and bring it up at the PTA or whatever? Sorry this reply is so very long, but I, too, feel strongly about this issue.

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  14. I love love love LOVE this post!! I’m in my early 20’s, and though I graduated high school at the top of my class, and graduated college (NOT at the top of my class, haha)… I did the bare minimum in school – the bare minimum to get a 4.0 in high school, that is. I was NOT an overachiever, this was actually EASY for me. Now, when I got to college.. that was a different story.

    But let’s go back a few years — Jr. High/ Middle School and Elementary school (This is what we call them where I’m from). I remember doing very little homework in Elementary school (1st – 5th grade). Jr High/Middle School – I was studying, it seemed ALL THE TIME. I think this is how it should be. My parents were basically helping me with math, and my dad helped me with my science projects. I would have been stuck in those grades FOREVER if it wasn’t for my parents. I think that school system over there where you are may need a bit of work – that type of intense homework for a young child, no way!

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  15. Here’s what I took away from your post: your kid wants to act like a kid, playing in trees and running around playing football. I think that is pretty damn great. All I hear from people nowadays is how their kids never want to go outside and just want to sit at the computer playing video games. You are one lucky mom!
    As for the homework…I don’t know, I grew up here in Europe, in a family of teachers. Lots of homework, always. When I went to study abroad, though, I was so far ahead of other kids they skipped me through grades. I was always terrible at math (2+2=banana), but abroad I ended up being 2 grades ahead of other kids. Maybe it was just the discipline I’d learned from doing lots of homework…I don’t know.

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  16. I wholeheartedly agree. My son is long grown, but I don’t recall his having been given homework in primary school, nor would I have approved of it had it happened. He grew up a carefree farm boy, spending the bulk of his time outdoors and cultivating tight friendships with all the barn cats, and falling into bed properly exhausted at the end of the day.

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  17. your post hit the spot. i teach english after school to two little boys, both aged 4…while they don’t have homework quite yet [they’ll have that joy next year] the school day is so long the poor little things just want to play cars, make igloos and poke wasp nests, and they’re happiest when they’re doing this [ie, learning], which means happy parents.
    the preparation for university [it’s the same in australia] seems to be the main drive. i got through school unscathed rarely doing my homework – both my parents worked so homework sessions usually ended in tears – everyone was tired and had had enough. what i did hand in to the teacher was pretty perfunctory unless it was something i enjoyed. most of the time instead, i rode bikes and horses, went camping, played with friends, drew pictures and wrote a lot.
    i went to university as a grownup, of my own accord, worked hard because i wanted to and graduated with a distinction.
    i don’t believe a child’s future is going to be terrible because they don’t do their homework.

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  18. Mrs Sensible is a teacher and I am sure she sends her chilblains home with lots of homework. They also receive homework that needs to be completed during the summer holiday. I will ask Mrs Sensible why they give so much work.

    I think this generation of Italian kids will all end up with bent backs, have you seen the size of the rucksacks they have to take to school?? We never had to carry books to school until we entered senior school. but that was in the UK.

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  19. Hi, I’m new to this blog, I stumbled across it as I was researching something else, and continued to read as I too am English and live in a village in the north of Sicily… small world!
    Regarding homework and your 7 year old son in the Italian system, (as like all English natives over here my occupation changed to teaching, and I have taught in language schools, state schools, private schools and the university,) I was at first amazed and then shocked at how much is not taught in the lesson. I also went to school in the 70s and 80s in the UK, and didn’t receive homework until I was 11, and that was only 1 – 2 hours. Here in Sicily, the system gets progressively worse so by secondary schools they are doing 5+ hours a day – and if its a classics school that will include comprehending English Literature that is way above secondary school level. Which is what brings me to my points,
    1)homework is often not given here to reinforce a lesson, but instead to do the teaching that was not done in class. Which actually reflects on the whole Italian education system, as teachers have often not gone through any form of teacher training during their degrees. They are not accountable for any results or attainment structures. They are not motivated to teach, through salary progression, career progression, as there isn’t any, and quite often don’t even want to be a teacher. They have just gone through the long line of waiting to get enough points on the list of seniority to get a “job for life”, and hang in there to get there much coveted Italian pension.
    2) Teachers likewise have gone through the Italian education system, which is where the tentacles of corruption first enter a person’s life. For example, marks are given throughout the year from elementary to university level via “oral interrogation” by the teacher, which involves regurgitating a memorised text or sometimes even answering questions on it, – what happens if you have a personality class with a teacher??? Or what if your parents aren’t as important as another classmates, who may offer favours or presents??? Of course there are the the class tests, but no seperation of pupils to prevent copying, or the use of books or Iphones under the desk. Then of course in teachers meeting the headteacher may ask a teacher to lower or higher a pupil’s marks to correspond with the above factors. I’m not entirely sure if the final middle and secondary school exams are marked externally as they are invigilated by the teachers of the school, which is certainly different to the UK.
    3) When I was at school, many moons ago, our homework was given to the teacher, who collected it, corrected it, and then returned it the next lesson. On my first Sicilian state school experience when I asked the students for the homework I had given, (N.B 10 minutes exercises to check they’d understood what I’d taught theem,) they looked at me gone out. Hence, I learnt, often teachers don’t check to see who’s done the homework, let alone if they’ve done it correctly and their own lesson understood.
    From what I have seen, the children who are unable to do homework on their own or with their parents, are shipped off to “dopscuola” for the afternoon, where a teenager or woman in her early 20s will basically do the group of kids homework for them, the richer have private tutors for almost everything, and the ingenious teenagers utilise facebook to divide their homeworkload, by delegating out subjects, scanning the homework and uploading it to their friends.
    Who knows what the future holds!

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    1. All so true.
      I feel hopeless when I think of my son going through the whole corrupt Italian school system and I am determined to get him out of here, at least before he reaches secondary level.
      I’m waiting to see what this “concorso” for new teachers will do to change teaching standards. I wonder if anything will improve, though I have become so sceptical since living here that I suspect the whole thing will i being run in a corrupt way and will simply favour those with contacts.

      I’ve taught English to so many secondary school kids here, who couldn’t understand a question like “What did you do last weekend” yet wanted me to prepare them for an oral test on some original text by Shakespeare or even Chaucer… So I already know what you mean about this ludicrous difference between pretended standards and reality. Most of them are given a list of (grammatically incorrect) questions and answers by their teacher which they have to repeat verbatim, including errors, when prompted by the teacher. Pathetic.

      Most of my son’s homework is never checked or corrected by his teachers so I have taken to doing it myself. I don’t just mean I look to make sure it is alright, I mean I take my red pen to it and write the corrections and a total of correct/incorrect items in his exercise books. I’m just waiting for one of his teachers to dare say anything about this. My response will be ready…

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      1. Hope is the last thing to die as they say down here…. I actually don’t have kids, ( I met my other half about 14 years ago in America, and after moving here a little naievly about 11 years ago, chickened out as my “new world” enveloped me…) but I know from English, American and Australian friends and colleagues, they’ve had quite a few run ins with teachers, when their children have disputed corrections to their perfect English. But, don’t give up, just teach your son both ways of learning, and it’s not actually right to cheat and copy. There’s already a big enough “brain drain” in Italy, maybe your voice is what Sicily needs, ( you do by the way have a nack for writing, I have since proceeding to read your entire posts on this blog, not got got right to your old one yet, and so far excellent,) I would certainly go ahead for a book, if not to stand for local elections…., and please write a blog on the education system, you would be surprised how many Italian parents are surprised that when we study English in England we are encouraged to write creative stories from an early age, and after I’ve done it in a lesson, or for homework, actually encourage their kids to do it in Italian. Every child dreams, and sees the world uniquely. Likewise university stufents are fathomed by the fact, that not only are GCSES and A levels streamlined to specialisation and abilities determining their future degree and university, (unlike here, where you can go to a classics school and then do a science degree,) but, we are actually taught report writing etc – have you ever tried to translate careers teacher/counsellor??? Donot despair, just ensure you do what a mother knows best, and ensures he grows into a happy healthy young man, who is proud of both his cultures, his Italian high school diploma will qualify him also for a UK university,and you could always teach him a few GCSEs on the side…. – joking apart, you are aware of the dangers, and the potential, and won’t have him joining the other 7 year olds who are being frogmarched with their agendas ( or rather Ipads these days..) from after school activities of language lesson, music lesson, sports lesson, back to do the homework, before dinner and sleep before anothr whalloping day…
        Things could be harder for the kids, in China they go to middle school from 8am to 5pm, then secondary school from 8am to 9pm, and yes they have homework plus one timezone!!! – maybe it’s gone too far back to time and reverted to “children are not seen and no longer hear..”
        Keep writing,
        From the north east of the island

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  20. Thanks for that insightful piece! I really think homework at the primary school level deprives a child of arguably the most interesting time of his life. At this age their brains don’t need too much stress!!! Let them enjoy now; the stress can come later. 😉

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