School Stops Giving Homework So Kids Can Play Instead

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New York City public elementary school P.S. 116 has become a ‘No Homework’ zone but some parents aren’t convinced the new policy is a good idea. (Photo: Heather Holland/DNAinfo) 

After a year of analyzing studies about the effectiveness of homework, one New York City public school decided that all those math worksheets and essay assignments they were giving out were actually a total waste of time. 

So in February, P.S. 116 Principal Jane Hsu informed parents of the Pre-K through fifth grade students that teachers would no longer be giving kids any traditional homework. 

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“The negative effects of homework have been well established,” Hsu wrote in a note to parents, according to the New York local news website DNAInfo. “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.” Hsu declined Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.

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Parents were encouraged in the letter to let kids spend their freed up time reading, playing outside or doing whatever activities they enjoy — which Hsu referred to as “newly-designed homework options” — with the recommendation that parents limit time spent watching TV and playing computer or video games. 

“We are excited,” Hsu writes, “that we are redefining the landscape of homework.” And even though the educator explained to parents 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,” there are parents still upset by the policy change. Their issues: The lack of focus this shift gives kids and fear that students will fall behind academically. 

Take home assignments, after all, have been the norm in education, even increasing in recent years. Though the National Parent Teacher Association recommends no more than 20 minutes a day for kids up to grade 2 (and 60 minutes max for grades 3 through 6), a 2014 report from the Brookings Brown Center on Education found that 60 percent of 9-year-olds, typically in grades 3 and 4, were spending up to two hours on homework each weeknight. 

“Having the opportunity to apply what children have learned after they leave the school environment is important,” Peter Pizzolongo, associate executive director at National Association for the Education of Young Children tells Yahoo Parenting in defense of homework. “But that work doesn’t need to be worksheets.” 

Pizzolongo agrees with Hsu that reading and playing provides kids with big benefits that are no less important because they can’t be measured by a grade. “When kids engage in rough and tumble play outdoors, ‘big body play,’ we call it,” he says, “they’re not only enhancing their physical development, they’re learning how to set limits in a social-emotional context, problem solve, and make decisions. These skills hit all the domains of learning.” 

Traditional homework, in fact, is “all pain and no gain,” Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, tells Yahoo Parenting. “There is zero evidence of any benefit of homework at the elementary school level.” Kohn, himself a father of two, calls parents’ fear that their children will fall behind if they don’t have homework, “toxic competitiveness.” 

“If we value the whole child – which includes social, emotional, moral, artistic, physical, and intellectual development,” he says, “then it’s difficult to justify assigning more academic tasks after children have already spent the better part of six hours on such tasks at school.” 

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