What is the value of school homework?

The right questions from parents is key, writes Helen O’Callaghan.

It’s a question we need to start exploring, says Áine Lynch, CEO of National Parents’ Council Primary. “What do we want homework to do,” she asks.

Some parents like homework to reinforce what the child did in class. But is there a benefit to repeating at home work already done in the classroom?

If a child’s struggling at school and repeating this at home, you’re reinforcing the struggle in the home context.

And if the child knows the work done in school, then they can already do it. Is there any point in repeating it?

Lynch points to recent studies that suggest repeating schoolwork at home isn’t the most beneficial kind of homework.

Yet, for children to have good learning outcomes, particularly at primary level, she says it’s vital parents engage with learning at home.

Research finds the most beneficial homework requires the child to engage with someone at home about a particular bit of work they did at school.

“It could be telling their parents three facts about history they found out that day. It’s a different focus — the child is passing on to parents the knowledge they’ve learned.”

Lynch cites three stages of a child’s learning: hearing information, understanding it and passing it on. The final stage shows learning has been integrated.

“If they’re able to go back and say what they’ve learned, they’ve reached a very advanced stage of learning.”

If you, as parent, want to move your child’s homework beyond the basic repeat-what-we-did-at-school variety, you must ask the right sorts of questions and not ‘What did you learn in class today?’ This, says Lynch, is too big a question and is likely to elicit ‘Nothing much’ as a response.

“Ask questions in a way they can answer. Start with closed questions requiring a yes or no answer ‘Did you do maths today?’ Then open up the questioning: ‘What subject did you like best? What did you like most about it?’

“Such questions allow more reflective conversations with children. They show a real interest in how the child is experiencing things at school.”

When parents engage in such conversation, the benefits of homework can be enormous. You learn if your child is struggling or needs to be further challenged. The conversations can spark follow-on home activities — ‘you’re learning about the Vikings, let’s look at some Viking ships on the internet’.

Ultimately, says Lynch, homework should be about fostering the home learning environment.


* Discuss school with children — ask small questions they can engage with.

* Let child see you value school/education.

* Respect learning habits: would you like to do homework straightaway or would you like a break first and then do it?

* Ensure suitable homework environment. Does child like doing homework in kitchen with you nearby — or in bedroom with possibility to check in with you as needed?


Carol O’Callaghan sets out to prove how in the right hands items like discarded chairs can be transformedRecycling old chairs? Here's some practical advice from Cork experts

People and their businesses find themselves in an unprecedented moment.Designs for life: How designers are responding to the Covid-19 crisis

Spring is here and with it every reason to get out of the house and start planting veggies with the children. No garden? Not to worry, a large flower pot or plastic tub will produce plenty of edible greens. Helen O’Callaghan reportsWatering can-do: Veggie growing with the children

More From The Irish Examiner