iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — One elementary school in Brooklyn has gotten rid of traditional homework in favor of play-based learning.
P.S. 118, known as The Maurice Sendak Community School, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, launched “Exercise Your Brain,” a program that gives students a menu of activities to complete.
Activities, which vary based on grade, range from drawing a photo “of a nonfiction subject and write a caption or story for it” to writing “a journal entry.” And there’s no deadlines — students submit or present their work in front of the class within the span of a month.
“Exercise Your Brain” is the brainchild of three teachers: Alexis Hernandez, a first grade special education teacher, her husband Matthew Weeks, a third grade special education teacher, and Laura Willeford, a third grade teacher.
It was created after parents and the school’s leadership expressed concerns. School administrators then decided to “revisit the homework policy” to determine if the “traditional homework packets every week really benefited our students,” Hernandez told ABC News.
After spending a summer researching, even drawing inspiration from two New York City schools — P.S. 11 in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, and P.S. 116 in Kips Bay — the three decided to create this menu of activities for students “where kids can do more play dates and hands-on activities that sort of connect to their own lives and their own interests,” Hernandez added.
The students are involved in creating the menus as well. Suggestion boxes in each class help dictate the next month’s menu, which includes 12 categories.
“One of the examples is…writing a letter to a character from a book you’re reading,” Weeks told ABC News. “Right away, [the menu] is relating back to something they’ve learned in school. That letter may only take a night. That letter may also take a week. You may want to revise that letter.”
Weeks added that students pick a time they’d like to present their activity. What if the child is terrified of public speaking? Willeford said not to worry.
“The menu gives opportunities for kids to learn in different modalities,” she clarified. “There are a lot of items on the menu where it is individual work.”
“It gives options that span the whole range of learners,” Willeford added. “The real important part is that it’s self-directed.”
Maurice Sendak Community School opened four years ago, serving students from Pre-K to third grade. Willeford said the students’ reactions have been positive.
“We have students coming in in the morning and they’re bursting with wanting to share their ideas. Parents are sending us videos of their children doing the activities…and then [students] present or share it,” Willeford noted.
Hernandez added, “I just dropped my kids off at science…and they were giddy with excitement. They can’t wait to go home and try this themselves. It’s a moment for them to take authority.”
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