There seems to be a growing trend towards questioning the value of homework, particularly at primary level, with some schools now going as far as abolishing it altogether. Yet it is hard to find consensus on the topic. While some educators believe it is essential to have a regime of structured homework to reinforce what is learnt in class, others take a minimalist approach. Equally, parents have widely divergent views on the subject, influenced not only by how well their child is doing in school but also by how hectic the child’s life is outside school.

However, irrespective of whether or not a teacher is a fan of formal homework, most will agree that any given child’s performance in maths and English dips following the holidays, so it seems reasonable to suggest that some reinforcement of learning outside the classroom is beneficial.

This doesn’t have to be formal homework, though. Nor does it have to be educational games (whether concrete or computer-based). There are plenty of other less formal – even stealthy – ways to encourage children to apply and extend what they have learned at school, and they won’t even realise they’re doing homework.

Below are a few suggestions, some of which are activities children can tackle on their own, while others would benefit from the supervision or engagement of an adult.

Homework in Disguise Tip 1 : Fantasy football (maths and physical education)

  • This game will develop number skills, the ability to assess value for money and to budget.
  • It requires an understanding of tactics and relative strengths of different players.
  • If played with a sibling or parent, it will also develop skills of persuasion and negotiation.

Homework in Disguise Tip 2 : Planning and preparing family meals (maths, science and food technology)

  • Planning meals will help the child to develop their understanding of what constitutes a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Shopping for ingredients will require number skills, knowledge of weights and measures, plus the ability to assess value for money. Budgeting may also be involved.
  • Preparation of meals will involve knowledge of weights and measures, some number skills, especially if multiplying quantities to make several batches of one item, and also an understanding of what happens during different cooking processes.

Homework in Disguise Tip 3 : Construction kits, e.g. Lego (design technology, science and reading comprehension)

  • If constructing an item on their own, the child will need to be able to interpret instructions accurately.
  • If working with an adult, the activity could be extended to develop understanding of mechanics in models with moving parts, as well as discussion about what happens if the plan is adapted in particular ways or if certain materials are replaced with others.
  • Another option is to build items in different sizes, which would then involve an understanding of scaling.

Homework in Disguise Tip 3 : Discussion of age-appropriate topics in the news (English and PSHE)

  • Picking a controversial but age-appropriate topic in the news for discussion is a good way to develop debating skills in a safe environment.
  • If the child is challenged to consider the issue from all angles, they will practise finding evidence to justify their opinion.

Homework in Disguise Tip 4 : Publishing a blog (English, ICT and art)

  • Encouraging a child to publish their own blog (obviously in a safe online space) will help them develop their writing and speaking skills (if they include audio content).
  • The type of content will obviously depend upon the subject of the blog. Possible topics might include: reviewing films, music or computer games; tracking progress with a hobby, perhaps from when they first take up a new sport or instrument; following the fortunes of a favourite sports team; or showcasing each time they try to cook a new dish.
  • Selecting illustrative material will help them to refine the tone of their blog entries.

Homework in Disguise Tip 5 : Volunteering for a charity (PSHE, art, English, maths, science etc.)

  • The skills required will depend on the nature of the charity, but might include writing letters to drum up support for a given cause, designing posters to publicise fundraising events, running a fundraising stall.
  • Involvement in an animal welfare or environmental charity might extend scientific knowledge, too.

Homework in Disguise Tip 6 : Keeping a pet (science and maths)

  • Apart from teaching children about responsibility, keeping a pet can help develop understanding of how different animals have different requirements for a healthy diet and for exercise.
  • Knowledge of weights and measures is required to ensure the animal receives the right amount of food and water.
  • Involving children in the financial aspects of choosing and keeping a pet will help them to understand about budgeting and about hidden or exceptional costs, such as vet’s fees for emergencies and holiday care.