High Quality Children's Books: A blog about The Lost Homework by Richard O'Neill
I've always been interested in the skills and knowledge children bring to school from home and vice versa, and that was the inspiration for ‘The Lost Homework’.
During my author residences, I get to work with schools and children for a year or more, which gives me the opportunity to meet their parents/carers and learn about their lives, the communities they come from and the skills they learn within those families and communities. We know, of course, some of the amazing things children learn in school and we should never underplay the amazing work that teachers do. Even though it was a long time ago now, I will never forget the teacher at my first primary school who taught me how to write.
Reading ‘The Lost Homework’ to pupils in my current residency school Bowling Park Primary (a two-site inner city school in Bradford) elicited a range of comments from children, who shared some of the skills they had learned at home and brought to school. I decided to take it a little further and get children to write down these skills which varied from being able to fix things like computers and mobile phones, to woodworking/DIY, cooking and gardening skills. After that, just as in the book, we worked out how they translate into school subjects. We are fortunate that Bowling Park schools have such diversity in the community and cultures that our schools serve. This provides a broader range of skills which the school as well as the children can benefit from, just like Sonny, the main character in ‘The Lost Homework’.
In the book, Sonny devotes his weekend to helping his neighbours and fellow Travellers with a variety of tasks. He uses many skills, from calculating the amount of fuel needed for a journey, to restoring a caravan, to cooking a meal. The only thing he doesn’t do over the weekend is his homework – he can’t find his workbook! When the issue is resolved positively, Sonny's dad is pleasantly surprised and empowered that the things Sonny did at home were seen as valuable learning and curriculum enhancing/compatible by his teacher. I want more parents to feel like Sonny's dad. I want more children to feel that what they bring to school - whether it’s those woodworking or DIY skills, the extra language they speak, the storytelling, the singing, the cooking skills, the gardening skills - that they are valuable. The more we share, the more we build bridges and stronger connections between school and parents and between school and the communities they serve.
Before the lockdown, teachers were telling me that ‘The Lost Homework’ was encouraging reluctant learners to see what they were learning at home was valued in school. During lockdown virtual visits to schools, feedback from parents and teachers and children themselves has been that ‘The Lost Homework’ has helped to bolster self-esteem and confidence about learning at home and its usefulness when returning to school. This is exactly what I hoped would happen with the book; I always saw it as a bridge between school and home - a two way exchange that increases learning and validates both.
Kate Rhodes, head of school and one of the first purchasers of the books and keeps a copy in her office, says "In my experience many young teachers new to the profession have very little understanding of the diversity of children’s home life, community and culture as it's not always taught as part of their teacher training. Using this book as a starting point enables both teachers and children to have a natural conversation about their home life, experiences and natural skills. You are then able to get a true sense of what makes them feel excited, passionate and challenged."
Matthew Langley, principal, and someone keen to expand the depth and breadth of knowledge of his staff, adds “Prolonged lockdown highlighted the importance of teachers and professionals better understanding the diverse home lives of our children. Which children could access remote or home learning (often built on access to a computer and wi-fi)? Which children had access to the basic equipment (pencils, paper) that we might take for granted? Which children were well supported by family? Which children were happy and safe? We are immensely fortunate to have a fantastically committed staff team who volunteered to run emergency food deliveries and deliver learning packs to more than 200 children in lockdown. Teachers immersed themselves in the community providing practical support alongside learning, in doing so we all learned more about our children, their families and their home lives. Understanding, respect and appreciation improved - our school will be even better for it.”
All of this once again shows how literature can not only include children and families, but also create an even greater empowering learning journey for everyone.
The Lost Homework is new to the 2020-21 CLPE course programme, it features on our Planning the Curriculum around a Quality Text in Years 1 and 2 course. Find out more about the course here.