Awesome NYC Principal Encourages More Playtime, Less Homework

Image Source: Monica Bielanko
Image Source: Monica Bielanko

I’ve been a long-time champion of recess and now a New York City elementary school is practicing what I — and a bunch of other parents — have been preaching: playtime over more school work. According to a letter KIPA public elementary school principal, Jane Hsu, sent to parents last month, the school is getting rid of traditional homework and instructing kids to read books, play, and spend time with family instead. Hsu wrote in part:

“The topic of homework has received a lot of attention lately, and the negative effects of homework have been well established … They include: children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities and family time, and, sadly, for many, loss of interest in learning … In fact, you may be surprised to learn that there have been a variety of studies conducted on the effects of homework in the elementary grades and not one of them could provide any evidence that directly links traditional homework practices with current, or even future, academic success.”

Hsu elaborated that the school has spent more than a year studying the effects of traditional homework and concluded it was more important for kindergarten through fifth grade students to do activities that “have been proven to have a positive impact on student academic performance and social/emotional development” such as reading and playing. Hsu noted, that doesn’t include TV, computers, and video games. As DNAInfo reports, the changes were supported by P.S. 116’s School Leadership Team, which is made up of staff and parents. Apparently the group began looking for a new approach to teaching last year because so many kids were forced to sit out at recess after failing to turn in their daily homework assignments.

Well, how about that? A principal that GETS IT. Finally. The piles of homework being given to elementary-age children is counter-intuitive to a positive learning environment. As a society, we’ve become overly focused on traditional education as the only way to excel in life. But in actuality, it’s continually being proven that our public education is based upon a system created more than 50 years ago — when attention and silence were the benchmarks of a good student, not creative, innovative, independent children who are encouraged to think outside the box. Is a night or weekend filled with homework really the way to cultivate the kind of free-thinking that inspires a thirst for knowledge and leads to creative problem-solving in our children? As I wrote more than a year ago, we need to find a way to integrate free-thinking into the curriculum and encourage teachers to step back and allow students to figure things out for themselves instead of dumping information and homework on them and considering memorization mastery of a subject. In the end, it’s not necessarily what our children learn that is paramount, it’s how they learn it. Free time to explore their interests is a huge part of that process.

My humble opinion aside, the changes are going over like a lead balloon with several parents who are threatening to pull their kids from the school. “They’ve decided that giving homework to younger ages [elementary school students] isn’t viable. I don’t necessarily agree. I think they should have homework — some of it is about discipline. I want [my daughter] to have fun, but I also want her to be working towards a goal,” Daniel Tasman, father of a second-grader at P.S. 116 told DNAinfo.

Some parents have even started assigning their children homework.

“This is their time to learn now, when they have good memory,” said Stanley, a 33-year-old Murray Hill resident with a third-grade son at P.S. 116. “I give him extra work, though. I go to Barnes & Nobles and give him my own homework.”

Children between the ages of five and ten learn plenty of discipline just by attending school and turning in daily assignments while in class. The notion that these kids need a ton of homework in addition to what they’re doing in the classroom is ridiculous. Yes, education is important but hours of homework each night for children that young is not the way to go about it. Hsu noted this in her letter to parents: “We are excited that we are redefining the landscape of homework — but we are certainly not eliminating homework.”

A Department of Education spokesman said the city does not have an overarching homework policy, so principals and teachers can use their discretion in assigning homework, which means it looks like the forward-thinking Principal Hsu will have the last word at P.S. 116. “We are creating opportunities for students and their families to engage in activities that research has proven to benefit academic and social/emotional success in the elementary grades. We look forward to seeing the positive impact our newly-designed homework options will have on our students and their families.”

I’m looking forward to it as well in the hope that Hsu’s exemplary move will set a precedent for other schools to follow.

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