Latest Posts • May 4, 2015
When a public elementary school in New York City decided to stop giving it’s students homework, it raised a major uproar amongst parents and made headlines in newspapers across the country.
In a letter to the parents, its Principal Jane Hsu, explained the school’s decision. She wrote: “the topic of homework has received a lot of attention lately, and the negative effects of homework have been well established…they include: frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities and family time and, sadly for many, loss of interest in learning.”
She also pointed out that the school spent over a year analyzing studies conducted on the effects of traditional homework and that “…not one [study] could provide any evidence that directly links traditional homework practices with current or even future academic success.”
And she isn’t even suggesting that all homework be eliminated. Instead she’s putting a new spin on it. She asserts: “we are creating opportunities for students and their families to engage in activities that research has proven to be a benefit to academic and social-emotional success in elementary grades.” She means for example, play time and students reading at their own pace.
Despite her intentions, the extreme step change in homework policy caused parents to threaten to remove their kids from the school, for fear they would no longer learn enough.
Having been an advocate for less homework (music practice in my case!) since the early beginnings of MMS, I’m familiar with this issue. I too have met parents who are initially uneasy with MMS’s laissez-faire attitude towards music practice.
There’s a common belief that playing an instrument requires an abundance of practice. My 25 years of experience have proven differently. I’ve learned through personal experience and from research about motivation and learning that unless students want to play at home – independently, self-motivated and for the fun of it (also called ‘intrinsically motivated’) – there’s little evidence that forcing them to do so has a positive effect on their learning.
In fact, you can expect the exact opposite. Ongoing arguments and resistance toward practice are one of the main reasons children want to stop playing their instrument.
And it’s the same with traditional homework. Bringing home numerous worksheets each day wears students down without adding to their learning. Being pushed to read for 20 minutes each night takes away from the pleasures of reading, and leads to disinterested children who only read when they’re forced to.
Even the youngest kids nowadays are rushing from one structured after-school activity to the next. Adding homework and music practice to their busy schedules would leave no time at all for play, exploration – or simply just being.
OK, so if not homework, what are good activities for children and families that boost academic, social and emotional development?
I suggest you cook meals together, spend more time exploring nature, play music as a family, sing together, get physically active, adopt a green lifestyle, share household chores and do more acts of kindness. All these activities provide great learning opportunities and are a lot more fun than doing homework.
We’ve recently put together a similar list of 7 ideas on the MMS blog (You can read about them here). These activities will inspire your child to create, think and interact with others, and increase your whole family’s happiness and health at the same time.
Other than that, all we have to do is let them play. What happened to throwing our bags down after school and running outside to play with friends? What happened to only worrying about being home in time for dinner? (add link to play article?)
What do you think would happen if we could do away with homework?