Winter Break—It’s Not Just for Homework Anymore!

With kids all over the United States settling into their long-anticipated extended winter break, many are already starting to dread the mountain of homework they are expected to complete before it’s all over. Not so, for students of The New Century School, who are getting an actual break and will consequently return to school January 5th recharged, reinvigorated, and, most importantly, ready to learn.

TNCS isn’t against the idea of homework per se, but it certainly opposes assigning homework that doesn’t fulfill a specific, measurable purpose. And that’s precisely the problem with so much of the homework that faces U.S. students right now—it’s assigned automatically, with little thought given to how it might actually benefit the student.

The debate about the merits (or lack thereof) of homework is not new. Books (e.g., The End of Homework, The Homework Mythand The Case Against Homework) and films (e.g., Race to Nowhere) have argued for several years that homework takes away precious family time and stresses kids out. Yet, the pile of homework continued to grow for American students as young as age 6—in fact, double, from decade to decade until it stabilized around 2003—while downtime was whittled away to next to nothing.

Is this an effective way to help children become better learners and thinkers? In “Kids in the US do a lot of pointless homework,” two charts demonstrate the inverse association between the amount of homework done by U.S. kids versus their performance on international standards. It’s not a pretty picture: Although U.S. students spend among the highest number of hours doing homework, they score lower in math.

At TNCS, homework is deliberately kept to a minimum so that it truly fulfills its intended function without demanding costly sacrifices in time better spent being with family, getting outdoors, or even just playing with toys and games. TNCS students are expected to read in and practice spelling and writing in at least one of the three Modern World Languages they learn at school (English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese). This practice (a few minutes nightly) serves to increase their literacy and fluency, which will pave the way for enhanced learning in other disciplines during classtime, as research into multilingualism categorically demonstrates. Homework at TNCS becomes a multipurpose tool in this regard, the very opposite of pointless. (Note that Mr. McGonigal did give parents advance warning at the Elementary Information Night that a bit of Science Fair prep might be coming down the pike next semester–“but that’s it!”, he was quick to clarify :).)

As for interfering with what kids would rather be doing? Hardly. TNCS elementary students might spend a few minutes each day journaling about all the fun ways they spent their much-needed and well-earned break.

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