One glorious Wednesday afternoon our girl shoots out of the school bus and barrels through the front door. She’s a lively one, a meme-maker in her own right. Talking quickly she brings us up to speed on the shocker event of the day. The wonder and surprise of the unimaginable are still fresh. Her bright eyes shine as the words tumble out.
“I can’t believe it. I’m so happy. Do you know what we actually have for homework tonight? Madame said our homework is to go outside and play. Nothing else, just go outside and play.”
Entries in our youngest daughter’s Grade 6 daily agenda are for the most part predictable. Homework is a recurring theme – reminders of what needs to be done in the coming days, dates for tests and quizzes, notes about special school events. On this day of days there is just one entry. It’s crisp, clear printing, nearly jumping off the page, loudly exclaiming – Aller Jouer Dehors – Go Play Outside.
No cajoling or threats, veiled or otherwise, were necessary for her to dive right in. Literally in this instance with old mattresses serving as a soft landing for belly flops or back flips before they’re moved curbside for garbage collection.
Playing outside with friends is the default after school activity in our neighbourhood. The homework bogey imposes structure intruding on more open-ended, oblivious-to-time pursuits. Homework is kind of like kids interruptus. It verily begs the question ‘why homework?’.
None of my four older children had ever come home with a similar assignment. In our experience play as homework is a new phenomenon, quite a singular event. Reaction to a tweet on the subject broadly indicates support for more play, less homework.
Now I don’t have a stellar memory for details but I do know for sure that 50 years ago the kids in Mrs. Salmon’s Grade 6 class at Elkhorn Drive Public School in Toronto did not possess agendas. For the most part we learned in class, were set temporarily free for recess and then most importantly were released at the end of the day to go home and play. No agenda needed on the journey.
In the best of all possible worlds, fun and play should be expansive experiences for kids. Ask yourself, are there ever enough hours in a young life to miss out on kaleidoscoping fun?
Getting students to go outside and play as a homework assignment is a step in the right direction. It’s getting them closer to setting their own after school agenda. Given their druthers most grade schoolers would choose play over any form of school work.
It’s true that not all children have equal access to play. While it is important to improve access for all, it is also critical to support grass-roots activities that can lead to meaningful change – more kids, spending more time playing, with no agenda other than their own.
The play as homework continuum could be effective in jurisdictions where homework is de rigueur or required by education authorities. Introducing play as homework once or twice a week could have a meaningful impact for the children as well as teachers. It could be integrated into the curriculum through student presentations and discussions on play activities.
The late educational reform icon, Sir Ken Robinson, addressed the often overlooked value of play during a presentation at a Halifax conference.
Play for young people is actually essential. It’s a way in which they literally flex their muscles.
So really, why wouldn’t we want our kids out there flexing? Read more on Sir Ken’s play perspectives here.
And what of homework itself. In a 2019 piece, The Cult of Homework, The Atlantic examines the multiple faces of the homework beast. Scholastic, the kids’ book folks, thinks that rationales for homework are underwhelming. They share their perspective in Down With Homework. A 2016 article in Time, Is Homework Good for Kids? Here’s What the Research Says, suggests a ‘weak correlation between homework and performance’ and further that it may not be ‘helpful’ for students in primary school.
Let’s applaud and support teachers who look for new and simple means to engage kids in what they do best, play. I wrote Madame a quick email on her foray into play as homework and included an image of the tweet. She wrote back saying the email had made her day, her week, no her month. The kids were beaming again today as play was assigned as homework for the second time.
more play, less homework
I’d love to hear from others who have similar stories. Hopefully this is more widespread and if not perhaps together we can make it so. The essential ingredient is willing teachers. We know that for the most part given the chance kids will play…