Sandhya Nankani shared a Washington Post article by Valerie Strauss with me this week that I want to highlight here. It's about the positive outcomes that a Vermont elementary school has been experiencing since replacing homework with free reading time. Principal Mark Trifilio did his research, and then proposed an experiment to his school's teachers:
"stopping all homework in every grade and asking students to read on their own at school — or, if they were not ready to read on their own, to do it with a parent or guardian. He said he was surprised when every one of them — classroom teachers as well as those who work with special-education students and English-language learners — signed on to the idea."
Here is the school's policy, posted on their website, which I LOVE:
"No Homework Policy
Orchard School Homework Information
Student’s Daily Home Assignment
1. Read just-right books every night —
(and have your parents read to you too).
2. Get outside and play —
that does not mean more screen time.
3. Eat dinner with your family —
and help out with setting and cleaning up.
4. Get a good night’s sleep."
They are only six months in, but Trifilio has declared the experiment a success, with most parents (excepting a small minority) happy with their kids having more time for family and for other interests. Please do go and read the whole article.
This article was particularly timely for me because I recently had the harrowing experience of having my first grade daughter sobbing and begging not to have to do her homework one night. It wasn't that the work was too hard for her. It was just not how she wanted to spend her time on that particular evening. The complaints rolled off of her. "It takes up too much time." "I have other things I prefer to do." "This is boring." "I don't WANT to." "WHY do I have to?" There was even an "I hate homework" song.
She did get through it, and most days are not nearly this bad. [And yes, I did let her teacher know that the homework level had made her cry, and we do like her teacher very much in all other regards.] I've been making extra effort since then to make sure that she's not too tired when homework time rolls around, which makes a big difference. But this isn't easy, either, because it cuts into my work time (I have to pick her up from after-school care earlier) and because she has other afternoon activities that we value (karate, school play, Girl Scouts, time with friends).
Here's what I know. If our elementary school established a policy like the one at Orchard School in Vermont, I would be absolutely thrilled. Many (though certainly not all) parents I know would be equally thrilled. My daughter would literally turn cartwheels if she could read instead of doing worksheets. She would undoubtedly read more. Her reading ability would improve, and she would enjoy reading even more. I think that she would spend more time writing, too, because that's something she likes to do when she has the time. Our evenings would be more peaceful. We would have more family time. And we would have more flexibility in managing my daughter's other activities, especially time with friends.
While none of this seems very likely at the moment, articles like the one this week from The Washington Post give me hope.