Fiona McCade: Homework adds up to better parenting

CAROL Vorderman is smiling at me, from the cover of her book. She knows I’m doing the right thing. She knows I’m not a bad parent. We’re in this together, Carol and me.

Carol Vorderman, most famous for her work as original mathematician on TV's Countdown. Picture: PA

I’m worried that I’m one mean mother because I’m forcing my just-turned-eight-year-old to do some schoolwork during the holidays. I don’t like it, and he really, really doesn’t like it, but what else am I supposed to do?

At least I’m not alone – and I don’t just mean that Carol Vorderman is on my side. The results of a survey by the online course The Maths Factor suggest that the long summer holidays are no longer a work-free zone for many kids. Apparently, this year, an astounding 25 per cent of parents are intending to hire personal tutors to make sure that their children continue to make academic progress even while school is officially out.

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I suppose it’s hardly surprising that respondees to a survey about extra-curricular maths courses are up for a bit of holiday homework, but even so, I know of quite a few people who – to various extents – are keeping their offspring’s noses to the grindstone.

My gut reaction is that it’s wrong to burden children with tedious academia during the sacred summer break.

I thought long and hard before I called on Carol to help me out, but although we certainly won’t be working every day, and she assures me it’s going to be great fun and easy as peasy can be, the fact is that I’m making my child do school-stuff when he ought to be simply mucking about. So, I can’t help but feel sorry for him.

I want my cherub to have the same, wonderful, liberating, summer holiday feelings that I had when I was his age. I want him to know what it is to be totally carefree.

Ideally, I’d like him to forget all about school for six weeks and have a fantastic time. The trouble is, he’s been so darned carefree in school, he’s left me little choice but to encroach on the fun with some cruel-but-necessary stern stuff.

So, I brought a tutor on board, and with her CD, workbook and games, Ms Vorderman and I are going to bring Junior up to speed with his maths. Whether he likes it or not.

I don’t want to be a Tiger Mother, or a Helicopter Mother, or anything like that, but I have to be a good mother, and when I see my lazy little waster slipping further and further behind, simply because he can’t be bothered to put the work in during term-time, he has to accept the consequences.

I’m trying to justify my actions by remembering that, if I’m judged by the standards of some of my peers, I probably qualify as no more than a Dormouse Mother.

Outside of school, Junior’s sole activity is his guitar – 30 minutes a week – and I don’t subscribe to any of the interactive courses or extra-curricular programmes that some of his classmates are subjected to all-year round.

Now I come to think of it, my son gets an awful lot of time to himself, and what does he usually do with it? Does he read voraciously? No. Does he explore his surroundings with a spirit of adventurous inquiry? Of course not. If he were left to his own devices, he would play on his bleedin’ Wii and DS, all day, every day, even when it’s gorgeous sunshine outside. And when I drag him away from his various screens, he squawks that he’s “bored!”

The sad fact is that holidays are not sacrosanct in the 21st century, so maybe I’m doing Junior a favour by showing him that being away from the workplace doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t have to put in some occasional graft. He’s seen his father dealing with big work crises via smartphone, while supposedly enjoying a day on the beach, so why shouldn’t he suck up a few times tables in the car on the way home?

I’ve just realised, I’m a fantastic mother; I’m preparing my son for modern life.

What’s more, when we’re working on the maths problems, we’re actually spending quality time together. Me, my boy, and Ms Vorderman.