Whose Homework is it Anyway?

I always knew there would be a time when I would fail to understand my children’s homework. I didn’t expect that time to be as early as year 3 in primary school though. A recent survey revealed that more than two thirds of parents admitted to not grasping their children’s schoolwork – some were even hiring tutors – and even singer Peter Andre confessed that his children’s homework left him baffled. If only children’s homework really was for children, but we all know it’s for us – the despairing parents.

My children’s homework is dished out on a Friday and there are two words that fill me with horror: Fronted Adverbials. This is not the first time this term has cropped up. I begin by asking my 9-year-old what he’s already learned about fronted adverbials. “I can’t really remember,” was his response before disappearing into the garden with his football. Reluctant to write a message of help on the class Facebook page for fear of looking thick in front of other parents, I enlist the help of Google. “A fronted adverbial is a word, phrase or clause that is used, like an adverb, to modify a verb or a clause,” it tells me. Hmmmmm.

None the wiser, I dig deeper and ask for clarification from some teacher friends. A fronted adverbial is a word – or phrase – at the start of a sentence used to describe the action that follows. I am given examples. Instead of “He ate his breakfast before the sun came up”, you would write “Before the sun came up, he ate his breakfast”. Or you would replace “She danced all night long” with “All night long, she danced”. Ahhh – though still pointless, it’s starting to make sense. I call my reluctant 8-year-old in from the garden and after a series of bribes to get him to sit down, we plough through it together.

I’m all for spelling and grammar tests – nothing makes me cringe more than random capital letters or a misplaced apostrophe. But I hate jargon and I don’t know why grammatical terminology such as fronted adverbials or split digraphs needs to be used – surely it’s not the best way of firing up young children for a love of the English language.

But for now, the homework is done. Don’t relax just yet though, I am told by another parent with older children: “You still have quadratic sequences and the role of the omniscient narrator to come yet.”

BY CATHERINE LAWLER