The beginning of the school year in New Zealand has some false starts. Teachers in the Auckland area officially returned after anniversary weekend, usually with a day or two to prepare before the hordes arrived at the gates.

Almost as soon as pupils arrived last week they were leaving again for Waitangi weekend. So in some ways it is not until today the work really begins. Children will be settling into a classroom routine and those who will probably make the most progress this year will be those who have a homework routine, too.

Educational experts always stress the value of a supportive home environment for a child's learning. It is probably far more important than the school they attend, the number in their class or the relative wealth of their household.

While some children may be more advantaged than others in these respects, children without parents who take an active interest in their education and give them positive encouragement are the most disadvantaged. The most wealthy homes can be arid educational environments if parents do not play their part.


This means, at the very least, making time and space for a child's evening homework. It is not hard. A quick survey by the Herald on Sunday has found primary school children do only 15 minutes a night on average and the experts seem happy with that.

A professor of English language education at Waikato University, Terry Locke, said studying for more than 20 minutes was a waste of time at their age. Worksheets and time-consuming projects were "meaningless".

Reading was the most important thing. He urged parents to "read together and get them to read to you. Write together". But otherwise, "Go for walks and enjoy daylight saving let your children enjoy their childhood."

That is the prevailing philosophy in schools these days. Learning is not supposed to be hard work, it is supposed to be enjoyable. As everyone soon discovers, it is hard to learn anything unless it is enjoyable.

But while teachers may be trained to make schoolwork fun, parents may struggle to do the same, particularly if they have to haul a child away from television or their computer to do an exercise on paper.

Teachers need to ensure those exercises complement class work in an interesting, enjoyable way and, if possible, enable a child to impress a parent with something they have learned to do.

Too often, homework means a "school project", which have become the bane of parents' lives. They usually require original creative work and some intricate construction.

Inevitably, parents have to lend a hand and as one admitted to the Herald on Sunday, "it is more like the parent is doing the homework". This may be one way to get parents involved, but it does not seem the best way.


Ideally, parents are kept involved by knowing what their child is doing at school. Good schools ensure class teachers keep parents well informed of programmes and their child's progress. Conscientious parents should insist they be kept well informed, but should not try to force the pace.

Together, a good home and school can give children the pleasure of serious work and a sense of achievement.