I’m not a fan of homework for kids in elementary school, especially first graders. So I felt relieved when Beijing banned homework for Grades 1 and 2.
During orientation at my daughter’s school, the head Chinese teacher acknowledged the new rule by stating that the amount of homework would be reduced. Then, she added that she and the other teachers felt the children still needed daily homework. Drats!
Let’s face it – homework for young children is always work for the parents, an ayi, or a tutor. The homework from Reina’s English class is relatively simple: reading and practice writing in cursive. Cursive? I didn’t start learning cursive until I was 11 or 12. My nieces, who are in their twenties, never even learned to write well in cursive due to the proliferation of computers and printed assignments. Yet, at age 6, Reina is already struggling to master the art of loopy writing.
When it comes to her Chinese homework, however, things are not as simple. There are daily assignments for math, writing, and reading. On a good day, my daughter will complete most of her homework at school, but some nights there are four or five pages to contend with. Being illiterate in Chinese, I’m off the hook when it comes to helping out with language work (but I often cannot make sense of her math homework either). Until Reina is able to read the instructions to me, all I can do is hand the worksheets to her mother.
Naturally, this is a problem for Savvy. How can she juggle dinner, quality time with the kids, the twins’ bedtime routine, and Reina’s homework? Often, it is simply impossible. Our ayi sometimes helps Reina with her assignments or reads to her in Chinese, but this is just a temporary solution to a growing problem.
To spend more time on Chinese books, I organized a reading exchange with the mother of a student who needs to practice her English. Three times a week, we spend 30 minutes reading to each other’s child in their second language. This would be a brilliant solution were it not for the inevitable illnesses, work conflicts, and other assignments that get in the way. We consider it a success when we manage to meet twice a week.
Of course, there is one factor that can make or break the homework routine on any given day. Sometimes, Reina races through a math assignment in ten minutes; other times, it can take her over an hour. It is not the difficulty of the assignment but rather her determination that is the deciding factor.
I find it hard to hold it against her, though. Some days, she gets home at 5.30pm. By the time she eats dinner, takes a shower, practices piano, plays with her brothers, and reads, there isn’t much time left to do Chinese homework. If it comes down to sleep or homework, I usually let the homework slide. Childhood is fleeting enough without cramming for exams.
Illustration by Sunzheng
This article originally appeared on p48 of the beijingkids March 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com