Waldorf News

Eugene Waldorf School’s ‘no homework’ policy draws interest: ‘My dog ate it’ tale unnecessary for young students

By Alisha Roemeling

No classroom computers, standardized tests or homework? At the Eugene Waldorf School, that’s standard educational procedure. And while the school’s no-homework, low-tech, hands-on policy has been its norm for almost 100 years, educators at public schools are starting to view it as innovative.

The private, nonsectarian school in the south Eugene hills is among 150 Waldorf schools across the nation that have a markedly different curriculum than schools that have equipped all students with iPads and that stress computer literacy on par with English literature.

Instead of interacting with screens, Waldorf students learn to play musical instruments, work in wood, paint, bake, dance, crochet, sculpt and other crafts ­that are a mandatory part of the academic curriculum, which also includes writing, mathematics, history and other academic basics.

But it is the school’s policy toward homework that sets it apart.

Students in kindergarten through fourth grade, for the most part, go home without any homework assignments. And that helps them retain what they’ve heard, Waldorf educators say.

“They’ve absorbed so much after a full day of learning, and we need to give them time to digest that,” said Erika Finstad, a fourth-grade teacher at the school. “We’d rather give them time to relax and play without structure, and come back to school refreshed and ready to learn the next day.”

At the Eugene Waldorf School, homework is introduced slowly during the fourth grade and increases with each subsequent grade.

So far, Finstad’s students have been assigned optional home tasks, such as drawing a map of their bedroom for geography class. Finstad said she also gives the students reasonable time during class to complete a similar assignment, such as drawing a map of the classroom so they can ask questions during school.

The policy makes homework seem like a rite of academic passage to younger students like Pearl Keenan.

Pearl, an 8-year-old fourth-grader in Finstad’s class, said she actually is looking forward to doing homework.

“I think it’s nice (not to have regular homework) because then I can play with the dog, or read or draw, and I have free time,” Pearl said. “But it depends on the day; sometimes I have nothing to do after school, so I wouldn’t really mind having homework.”

Valerie Perrott, the enrollment coordinator at the school, said that is exactly the attitude Waldorf educators try to encourage.

“We want students to be ripe for that kind of learning,” Perrott said. “That way, they have a better chance of succeeding instead of trying something at a really young age, failing and never wanting to try it again.”

Waldorf’s century-old homework policy is spreading.

Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher in Texas, stopped assigning homework to her students this school year. A photo of the letter sent home to parents to inform them of the change went viral on the internet, and it was shared nearly 73,000 times on Facebook. The letter states that the only homework a student in Young’s class may bring home was something that wasn’t finished in class that day.

“Research has been unable to prove the homework improves student performance,” Young wrote in the short letter. “Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success: eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside and get your child to bed early.”

Closer to home, several elementary school teachers in the Portland Public Schools district have decided against assigning homework.

While no district-wide policies regarding homework have been established in the Eugene, Bethel and Springfield districts, officials from each district said Tuesday that there might be some teachers who are choosing not to assign homework.

To assign — or not to assign — homework is a long-standing quandary in the United States.

Homework proponents contend that it teaches students how to manage their time, gives them structure and prepares them for the “real world,” while those that oppose it argue that homework decreased students’ motivation and interest in school subjects, leaves little time for leisure and puts a strain on parent-child relationships.

But research conducted by the Center for Public Education suggests that the relative benefits of homework have a lot to do with the age of the students.

“The overall effects of homework on student achievement are inconclusive, studies involving students at different grade levels suggest that homework may be more effective for older students than for younger ones.”

Additionally, the research states that “homework is not a strategy that works for all children. Because of its possible negative effects of decreasing students’ motivation and interest, thereby indirectly impairing performance, homework should be assigned judiciously and moderately. Heavy homework loads should not be used as a main strategy for improving home-school relations or student achievement.”

“We want students to focus more on actually doing instead of giving them busy work,” Perrott said. “We emphasize how to learn and try to keep them from getting burned out on academics by hindering their creativity.”

From the Register-Guard