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Homework Versus More Free Play

New York Parents Outraged when School Bans Homework

A New York City elementary school, P. S.116 on East 33rd Street, has done its own homework and is no longer handing out homework to kids. According to the school principal, research has clearly shown that homework has negative effects on children. According to the principal, "homework can cause kids to be frustrated and lose interest in learning, and they can miss out on activities with family and friends."

Instead of poring over boring math sheets, kids can now spend after school time playing with friends, reading books that interest them and spending time with families.

The school principal, Jane Hsu, said that there have been a variety of studies conducted on the effects of homework in the elementary grades. "Not one of them could provide any evidence that directly links traditional homework practices with current, or even future, academic success."

In a letter to parents, Hsu also recommended that they limit the time kids spend on TV, computers, and video games. What parent would not be delighted with this kind of support from their child's school?

Unfortunately, however, the school's progressive policy has outraged many parents, who apparently believe that their kids benefit more from sitting still and doing hours of homework than from free play and socializing with friends. Some parents have even threatened to pull their children out of the school.

Yet in a country like Finland, whose children continually outperform American kids on international tests in reading, science and math, school days are shorter (four hours) and there is little or no homework in elementary schools. And for every forty-five minutes of sitting in a classroom, Finnish children have a fifteen minute break to move around and play. After-school time is reserved for physical exercise and socializing with friends.

In my own practice, I see children who are sleep deprived because of the long hours of homework they do. And doing homework (especially on computer screens) right up until bedtime makes falling asleep more difficult. More physical activity would help these children maintain better grades than hours of homeowrk. A number of studies have shown that physical exercise--and even twenty minutes of walking to school each day (accompanied by parents)--helps children concentrate better in the classroom and feel more relaxed at school.

In my view, P. S.116 is leading the way to a healthier and more balanced understanding of children's needs. I have written about the importance of play in the life of children for many years. In my blog Play and the Child's Sense of Self, I discuss the importance of unstructured play in healthy child development.

Copyright © Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.

Marilyn Wedge
Source: Marilyn Wedge

Read more about how American schools have to change in ways that help children succeed in Marilyn Wedge's new book, A Disease called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic

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