Monday, October 23, 2017

5 Ways to Make Homework Exciting

Far too often homework is assigned by teachers to satisfy parents who somehow believe that if their child doesn't do extra work at home that they will fall behind. As well, homework set by schools can often be the same as work set at school. There is little point in either of these practices. I've written previously about what's wrong with the way many schools do homework (HERE).

Instead, of making homework such a ritual and repetitive waste of time why not assign homework as a way for children to learn new things, develop unique knowledge and experience and to grow in confidence as learners.

Here are 5 Words that can shape exciting homework: 

Above: Sam goes fishing!






Each of the above key words can offer gateways to learning. These simple words open up possibilities to expand learning, while words like copy, memorize, drill, and practice tend to reflect practices that often limit options. Of course, the latter are still ways that we can learn, memorization, some drill etc., have a place in school learning. But at the end of a full day at school, they should not be the key focus of homework. Instead, as a parent I'd suggest that you offer options for your children that will open their world to discovery, new things and different ways to reflect on their learning. In my view, learning at home should expand upon what happens at school, not simply mimic or copy it.

Some simple ideas to illustrate

1. Imagine

Above: A cubby made from a box
Ideas to encourage imagination will vary depending on age and your child's interests. Here's a simple idea for a 6-year-old. Ask your children (alone or with other siblings) to make a cave using blankets (call it a cubby or a cabin if you like), a dining room table and some cushions. Allow them to 'furnish' the cave with some special things. Perhaps some books, a torch, paper, a game and so on. Ask them to imagine that they are in this cave deep in a forest overnight and cannot get home till the next day. Ask them to sit in their cave and write down:
  • Where it is located and how they might have got there?
  • How they will get food for night?
  • How could they find a water source?
  • What will they eat?
  • Will they need any protection?
  • How might they get back home?
Get them to draw the site where their cave is located to illustrate their answers to the above questions. There are of course numerous variations on this idea.

2. Explore

Ask your child or children to choose a piece of ground that is roughly 6 square metres in area (3 x 2 metres) in their back yard or a nearby park.

Have them observe this area. Ask them to:
  • Draw the space.
  • Identify and label living and inanimate objects that are located on the ground. If possible give them some small hand tools to dig a few test holes (give them some simple specifications, e.g. no hole bigger than a breakfast bowl).
  • With permission allow them to select 3 plant samples. Draw them. Smell them. Touch them and describe them using single words.
  • Ask them to record any living things.
  • Draw what they find and label them.
3. Describe

In keeping with the above backyard theme, why not ask your child or children to take part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count (if you are from another country you may be able to do something like this in your own country). This is occurring from 23-29 October in Australia, and is part of National Bird week. In essence it asks people to observe for 20 minutes per day in their own back yard, or somewhere in the wider community. There is an app that you can download that makes it very simple. The hope is to we will learn about the bird life using this community based sampling method. It will also raise awareness of our wildlife and encourage a love of birds.

This is designed to be a 20-minute task each day for 7 days, that you would perhaps need to help them with to start. This would work well for children aged 4-6 with some assistance and perhaps independently for children aged 7+. Of course, you could do your own version of this.

4. Draw

Drawing is a wonderful way for children to express their imaginations, or to simply try to represent the world in a different way. While in much of our life we use words to describe what we see, to reflect on our experiences, share some aspect of learning, record the events of our life and so on, drawing can easily substitute for words or be used in association with words. The drawing below is one of my favourite drawings from one of my grandchildren. I was visiting the Aquarium in Sydney with him aged 4 years. When we got home he drew this picture. When I asked him to describe what he had drawn he pointed out how this was a drawing that showed how the fish might have seen us as they looked out through the glass. To draw this, he needed to imagine what it would look like from the vantage point of the fish! The drawing shows how the fish saw me as we wandered around the aquarium. What I love about this drawing is that it offers an insight into how his young mind was working. It also shows something of how he was reflecting on his experience, that he was thinking 3 dimensionally, and may well have been empathizing with the fish in the aquarium.

Above: A Drawing by a 4 year old who is taking the perspective of an aquarium fish
5. Make

Above: Using modelling clay to make real & imaginary animals
The possibilities for letting children make things are endless. I'd suggest allowing them to use craft, paper cutting, 3 dimensional objects like lego etc, to express a response to a story, a topic of interest etc. Whatever this might be, the child has the chance to represent something in 2 or 3 dimensions. This offer a different way for children to reflect on their learning, whether it is a creative  response to literature, or a way to represent some aspect of a topic they are studying at school. As with drawing, making things, like drawing, allows child to explore varied aspects of the topic and perhaps to see it in different ways when words are not the only option (whether spoken or written).

Above: Using a different way to show the sea creatures observed
Above: A game that Sam made that follows a story sequence

Other related posts

Other posts that address creativity, imagination and play (HERE)

A post on 29 children's books that feature birds (HERE)