In case you haven’t heard about the homework controversy making the rounds on social media, here’s the story: Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, a public elementary school in New York City, recently sent a letter home to parents in which she announced that students will no longer be given homework. Instead of spending their after-school hours doing worksheets and writing essays, she said that the students should spend their time playing, enjoying their families, and reading for fun. She also recommended that parents limit TV, video games, and computer time.
While some parents celebrated the decision, others panicked. Citing a fear that kids won’t be able to learn enough, DNAInfo reported that some parents threatened to pull their kids from the school, while others implemented their own system of homework. Change is hard, and these parents don’t know what to do with a homework overhaul.
It’s an interesting response on the part of the parents. When Hamilton Elementary School in the Chicago area replaced homework for grades K-2 with “PDF” — play, downtime, and family time — parents seemed relieved. They embraced the additional time for things like family dinners and family game nights.
If you look hard enough, you can find expert commentary both for and against homework in elementary school. Part of the problem, as this review of the relevant research suggests, is that results of studies on the topic are mixed. While there doesn’t appear to be a clear link between homework and student achievement, it can benefit some students under certain circumstances. The truth is that more research is necessary.
On the one hand, homework can help instill good study habits, which will come in handy later on. Homework provides a routine for kids and provides an extension on classroom learning. On the other hand, homework can be stressful for kids. After sitting in a classroom for six+ hours, the last thing kids want to do is sit down and complete more assignments. This can cause stress for the whole family (in the form of arguments) and potentially trigger a dislike of learning.
Play is the natural state for children. Through play, children learn, work through their emotions, and develop better social interaction skills. Kids need downtime, free play time, and time to bond with their families. When we deprive children of these essentials in favor of worksheets, we deprive them of childhood.
Wednesday is my least favorite day of the week. I am an under-scheduler by nature, so most days are fairly calm in the afternoons, but Wednesday is different. We have exactly 40 minutes between school pick-up and the start of my daughter’s religious ed class, a class that she loves and looks forward to. When that ends, we race home, eat an early dinner and make a quick change to prepare for her favorite part of the week: Irish dance class. Somewhere in there, we have to account for homework. Between driving and doing, there simply isn’t time. So we started doing homework in the morning. Yes, my 8-year-old daughter does homework in the morning, before heading to school for six hours of learning, so that we can make time for the things she loves. It’s not right.
I am a believer in taking action instead of complaining, as complaints rarely effect change. With that in mind, I talked to her teacher about our Wednesday schedule. She agreed that my daughter has too much on her plate that day and asked that I write a note on the days that homework isn’t feasible. She is a believer in caring for the soul, and she doesn’t want kids stressed out over worksheets.
Both in my work and in my personal life I have always found that teachers want their students to thrive. They don’t want to collect tear-stained worksheets each morning. They don’t want parents forcing wiggly kids to sit still and complete the work while frustrated. They don’t want families under stress because of homework. Talking to the teacher and asking for help opens the door to a solution. Teachers, I find, are full of great ideas and wisdom. They know how to help your child. They want your child to succeed.
The teachers of P.S. 116 backed the no homework policy implemented by their principal. Those teachers see the value of play, family time and reading for pleasure (instead of reading to fill out the reading log). We all owe these teachers a high-five, if you ask me. In a world full of stress of hidden obstacles, one group of educators stood up and said “no more”. We can only hope that other schools find the strength to follow their lead and give childhood back to our children.
As for those worried parents running to Barnes & Noble for extra “homework” materials? Slow down. Give it a chance. Change is hard, but change can be a good thing. Trust that your child’s teacher knows a thing or two about children, and engage in a meaningful discussion, instead of a public fight, to work through your concerns. Your actions, after all, will impact your child. Do you really want to send the message that work is the only thing that matters? I certainly hope not.
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