Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: April 28: #STEM, #ReadingLevels, and Like-Hearted People
Barkus: Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @NYTimes, @RaisedGood, @GCouros, @NoguchiOnK12, @TimDWalk, @Salon

JoyOFLearningLogoThis week I have a plethora of quote-worthy articles related to play, homework, and the joy of learning. First up is a piece about how parents come down on both sides of the debate about homework levels. Next is a piece about how simplifying childhood, by reducing activities and distractions, would helpful for kids' mental health and development. In the third, George Couros responds to a letter published by students at a high school asking for more flexibility in the expectations of the adults around them. Next, from my local paper, a survey by Project Cornerstone (a YMCA group) finds an alarming drop in engagement among high school students. Finally, I have two articles about the need for young children to have time in school for play and recharging. Special thanks to Sandhya Nankani, who was my source for multiple articles. Happy reading!

HomeworkMythThis is a balanced piece (inc. socioeconomic side) regarding the debate + how it divides parents

Kyle Spencer: "The focus for many anti-homework parents is what they see as the quality of work assigned. They object to worksheets, but embrace projects that they believe encourage higher-level thinking. At P.S. 11 in Manhattan, even parents who support the no-homework policy said they often used online resources like Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that provides free educational videos. The school’s website also includes handwriting exercises, scientific articles, and math and reading lessons. Sophie Mintz, whose son is in second grade at the school, said that the no-homework policy had afforded him more time to build elaborate Lego structures.

But parents with fewer means say the new policies don’t take into account their needs and time constraints, and leave them on their own when it comes to building the skills their children need to prepare for the annual state tests.

Me: This article linked to and discussed various situations that I was already aware of. But it also covered an aspect of the homework wars (some parents want it and some parents don't) that I hadn't much thought of. Spencer quotes from lower income and/or working parents who complain that while more affluent parents can provide enrichment (tutoring, etc.) for their kids, less well off families rely on the school to provide homework that they see as needed for their kids' development. I've been more familiar with the flip side of the argument, which is that more affluent families are more likely to have a parent available in the afternoons to help kids with their homework, such that homework can increase learning gaps. 

Now, what I really think is that rote worksheets are probably not doing much for anyone's development in the early grades. But I do think that the question of whether and how much homework to require does require input from families of various circumstances.  And for that, this article is a good addition to the discussion. 

PowerOfPlaySimplifying Childhood (more free , less stuff, fewer activities) may be good for Kids Mental Health

Tracy Gillett: "When children are overwhelmed they lose the precious down time they need to explore, play and release tension. Too many choices erodes happiness, robbing kids of the gift of boredom which encourages creativity and self-directed learning. And most importantly “too much” steals precious time...

Developmental Psychologist David Elkind reports kids have lost more than 12 hours of free time per week in the last two decades meaning the opportunity for free play is scarce. Even preschools and kindergartens have become more intellectually-oriented. And many schools have eliminated recess so children have more time to learn.

The time children spend playing in organized sports has been shown to significantly lower creativity as young adults, whereas time spent playing informal sports was significantly related to more creativity. It’s not the organized sports themselves that destroy creativity but the lack of down time. Even two hours per week of unstructured play boosted children’s creativity to above-average levels.

Me: Parts of this article did hit home for me, especially when Gillett is urging parents to free their children from excessive activities (and stuff) to give them more mental space to grow and develop. This is something that I really struggle with as a parent. My daughter wants to do each thing that comes up (the school play, swim team, softball, karate, playdates, birthday parties). But she gets burned out, too. I certainly listen when she pushes back. However, it may be that I need to push back more directly, too. Food for thought, for sure... 

InnovatorsMindsetThere is Not Only One Road to Success | responds to a HS student petition seeking alternate life paths 

George Couros: "Katie Martin shared this article on Facebook, with the title, “Student petition says too much pressure to succeed at Naperville North“...

kudos to the students for sharing their voices.  This is not about being soft on the students; personally, I expect anyone who is working toward success to put in the time and effort. I love the Simon Sinek quote,  “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something1 we love is called passion.” This is not about having low expectations; it is ensuring that the students have a voice in those expectations in the first place...

Success means different things to different people, but take note of this statement made by the student petition; “Start defining success as any path that leads to a happy and healthy life1. Start teaching us to make our own paths, and start guiding us along the way.”  Yup.  I don’t know what else to say. It is just perfect, and even more perfect that it comes from the voice of students."

Me: Like Couros, I liked what these students had to say about defining success as paths that lead to a healthy and happy life, instead of defining success as one particular path (e.g. the path to an Ivy League college). I also thought that the Sinek quote was spot on. People don't mind working hard for things that they care about - they mind working hard for things that they don't care about. I am already thinking about how I'm going to protect my daughter from the academic rat race when she is in high school. Articles like this do give me some hope. 

ProjectCornerstoneSilicon Valley teens report big drop in engagement | reports survey

Sharon Noguchi: "Fewer high school students are drinking, having sex, doing drugs and resorting to violence, a large-scale survey of Santa Clara County public school students shows. At the same time, engagement in school has plunged, as has students’ optimism about their future.

This mixed picture of youth well-being emerges in Project Cornerstone’s Silicon Valley youth survey — the first in six years —  of 43,000 youths at more than 180 elementary, middle and high schools in Santa Clara County. The survey was administered last fall, and the results were released this spring...

Among high school students, the drop in school engagement was striking. It fell to 38 percent — compared with 66 percent in 2010, the last time Project Cornerstone conducted its survey."

Me: The student engagement piece was only a small part of this survey, but it was the one that struck me. In seven years, the percentage of students engaged in what they are learning at school fell almost in half. This is consistent with other studies I've seen (see this article for more on the subject of declining student engagement). It's all just so demoralizing for those of us who want to see kids finding joy in learning. As I said above, do already worry about the high school rat race.

TeachLikeFinlandHow Kids Learn Better By Taking Frequent Breaks Throughout The Day via

Timothy D. Walker (in an excerpt from his new book shared at Mind/Shift KQED, in which he describes what he learned teaching in Finland, after having taught in the US): "Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would, without fail, enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a fifteen-minute break. And most important, they were more focused during lessons.

At first I was convinced that I had made a groundbreaking discovery: frequent breaks kept students fresh throughout the day. But then I remembered that Finns have known this for years—they’ve been providing breaks to their students since the 1960s...

Initially, I thought that the true value of Finnish-style breaks is related to free play, but I no longer hold this view. I’ve concluded that the primary benefit of Finnish breaks is in the way it keeps kids focused by refreshing their brains. Daniel Levitin, professor of psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and music at McGill University, believes that giving the brain time to rest, through regular breaks, leads to greater productivity and creativity."

Me: I am happy to report that my daughter does have three recesses per day (except for the short day of the week). It's not quite breaks every hour like they do in Finland, but it's not too far off. If I ever hear the school talking about reducing recess (which I have not), I will have my ammunition ready... 

Kindergartners get little time to . Why does it matter? Christopher Brown via

Christopher Brown: "As a former kindergarten teacher, a father of three girls who’ve recently gone through kindergarten, and as researcher and teacher-educator in early childhood education, I have had kindergarten as a part of my adult life for almost 20 years.

As a parent, I have seen how student-led projects, sensory tables (that include sand or water) and dramatic play areas have been replaced with teacher-led instructional time, writing centers and sight words lists that children need to memorize. And as a researcher, I found, along with my colleague Yi Chin Lan, that early childhood teachers expect children to have academic knowledge, social skills and the ability to control themselves when they enter kindergarten...

Research has consistently shown classrooms that offer children the opportunities to engage in play-based and child-centered learning activities help children grow academically, socially and emotionally. Furthermore, recess in particular helps children restore their attention for learning in the classroom.

Focus on rules can diminish children’s willingness to take academic risks and curiosity as well as impede their self-confidence and motivation as learners — all of which can negatively impact their performance in school and in later life."

Me: Brown's views in this piece on changes to Kindergarten are consistent with other things I've read (Rae Pica's book, for example). But this is certainly a nice summary to share with parents newer to the discussion, with tons of links for further reading. It always made me sad, when my daughter was in Kindergarten, to see the unused play kitchen and toys, which sat in the back of the classroom... 

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