Q: What is your perspective on having kids do “homework” over the summer? My two kids (finishing fourth and second grades) both love to read and are above grade-level readers, so I am not worried about that element. But I wonder whether, and how much, time should be spent reviewing math, etc., over break. I have used the summer workbooks before, and while the subject matter is usually easy for my oldest kid, getting him to actually do it (two pages, should take about 10 minutes) was like pulling fingernails out. Though in many ways he is bright, I think he can benefit from keeping a bit of the formal routine over the summer instead of completely checking out.
A: As a former English teacher, I have a strong bias when it comes to reading over the summer. I want every child of every age to read as much as they can, all of the time. Graphic novels, magazines, memoirs, books about sports and historical figures, any or all reading is worthwhile. I am pretty confident that every math teacher feels the same way. Math is easily integrated into every aspect of our lives, and I know math teachers would celebrate if parents helped their children do that.
Why do we teachers want our students practicing their math and reading skills? Because we know summer brain drain is real. We now also have to deal with the fact that technology is far more seductive than books and math. Gaming and social media, left unchecked, will consume all of our children’s attention, making it even harder for them to find their creativity and love of learning.
While I would prefer every child spend less time on technology this summer, I don’t believe in creating epic power struggles over worksheets. There is no quicker way to kill a love of math than forcing worksheets when the sun is shining and ice pops are calling. So, what should a parent do this summer?
1. More important than following a school’s advice blindly, take a real assessment of your child. Is he a happy student? A quick learner? Does she take longer to learn but it sticks once she gets it? Maybe you aren’t sure, and it is absolutely fine to email the teacher and ask about your child’s learning style.2. Understanding a child’s learning style will help you better assess how you would like to move forward with summer work. Would you like to complete one big chunk a week or lots of little sessions during the week? One week on, one week off? You decide what works best for your child and your family.3. Fun should be the rule. If the worksheets look duller than dirt, search online for math games.4. I also don’t have a problem with sweetening the pot when it comes to completing summer work. Call a family meeting with your children and say something like, “These are the books you must read and here is the math that must be completed. Let’s figure out how to make this funand also, let’s see if there are some ways to earn some treats!” You and your children can cooperatively decide what can be earned, and I suggest you keep it to more of a celebration. While it generally backfires to create consequences when children don’t cooperate, if you create consequences with your children in a family meeting and they are agreed upon beforehand, that could also be a powerful way to help children complete their summer work.5. No matter how much or how little homework your children complete, please create boundaries around technology this summer. A “bored” mind will find creativity (after some time and tantrums) so you should establish spaces and times when your children won’t have access to technology. These boundaries also will help your child transition more easily into their next grade as summer ends. Their focus will be stronger, their sleep will be better, and they will be more mentally prepared for school.6. Keep your expectations reasonable. Families are busier than ever, and many students don’t have 12 weeks off. Between day care, all-day camps and other activities, children often are tired at the end of their summer days. Be sensitive that you may have created goals to complete work but it may not all get done. And that’s OK. Just do the best you can to encourage learning while still enjoying the downtime of summer.Leahy is the mother of three daughters. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education, a master’s degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach.