Is Summer Homework the New Normal?

Should it be?

The email from the middle school principal arrived in the middle of June, right before school let out for summer break. As I read it, my head began to pound as I read about the upcoming “summer homework assignments”. 

I cannot print what I was thinking.

I am well aware of the summer assignments that are a part of the high school curriculum, as my older daughter has already been through the system. The One School, One Book program that is part of many districts across the country is also a part of ours. She was an avid reader without my coaxing, and spent many hours in the evenings reading books of her choosing. She was not thrilled with a summer book assignment that was not a title of her choice, but she did it.

At least for the first two years.

The Case Against Summer HomeowrkCredit:

Photo from Pixabay

But she also had summer reading and homework assignments from her Honors and AP classes as well. Summer, once a haven from the drudgery of homework, was now a place that did not permit her to relax. She worked at camp and was gone eight hours a day. Being outdoors in the heat left her spent and not willing to read some obscure selection that did not please her.

Eventually, she discovered online websites that gave very detailed summaries of the assigned reading material. She was able to do the assignment once school began, but her love of reading for pleasure had been taken away from the multitude of books she was forced to read over the summer vacation.

I don’t know about you, but both my husband and I went to both middle school and high school and were never given any summer homework assignments. We worked during those months of July and August, we played and hung out with our friends and guess what? We got into college and became successful adults in our respected fields.

What are we doing to our children? 

Are American Children Suffering from Brain Drain?

The case for summer homework

Ask any teacher how she spends the month of September and she will tell you the bulk of the time is spent reviewing. A child who has mastered their math facts at the end second grade may remember only half of them art the beginning of third grade. Reviewing brings this information back to the forefront of the brain, and then the rest of new learning can begin.

Studies have shown that children lose what they have gained, particularly in the area of math. Reading is all over the place in a child’s life-a bedtime story, a trip to the library, or seeing parents read the newspaper, a book or a magazine. Math muscles, however, are not flexed as much. Sure, they is measuring when baking or help parents with money saving opportunities like coupon cutting, but these do not happen on a daily basis the way reading does.

In fact, the children most at risk for brain drain are those who come from lower income families.

But is forcing homework down the throats of stressed out and over-tired child and parents the answer?

Summer Homework Blues

Families need a break

Summer is a time for less structure, something kids need. The days are longer, there is no rush to get places-it is truly a time to chill.

My three kids are different. My older daughter loved to read and do homework, so summer assignments when she was younger would have been done with little, if any, complaints.

My twins, on the other hand, are not readers, sad to say. It is challenging enough to get them to read what is required during the school year, and now I have to nag them to read and do assignments on top of that over the summer!

Archery for Kids is FunCredit:

I am already nagging them to study their Hebrew for their upcoming B’nai Mitzvah in the fall, which right now, trumps any other assignment the public school tells me that I have to do. Add that they are at camp, enjoying the great outdoors and learning by living and having experiences that they do not get why they are trapped inside a classroom. Some of the activities they experience each week are:

  • Archery
  • Cooking
  • Gaga
  • Nature
  • Digital Photography
  • Fishing
  • Boating on the lake
  • Swimming
  • Theater

They also get to experience teamwork, getting along with others, and being around children with special needs as our camp has a program for them to interact with the other campers. They also get to spend the summer immersed in their faith and get to know Israeli teens who come to work at the camp as counselors.

None of these things appear on any standardized test, but in my opinion, it makes them better, more well-rounded people.

Other families have their children in assorted camps based on their interests, like Band, Soccer, Cheerleading and Dance. This kind of intensive learning cannot take place during the school year for obvious reasons.

Families travel, camp in the great outdoors, and spend time with other generations of relatives for extended and uninterrupted periods of time. They are having lifetime experiences that cannot be measured with a pen and paper test.

One of My Twins' Favorites!

Zingo Sight Words
Amazon Price: $19.99 $18.09 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 28, 2015)
Zingo is one of the most fun learning games my kids and I played when they were younger.

Is There a Middle Ground?

This topic hits very close to home for me, as I am both a parent and a teacher. I know the effects of not doing some kind of work over the summer and I know how it is as a parent to be the “homework police”.

Is there a place in the middle where everyone can meet?

I think so.

First of all, summer reading assignments should not be required at all. Elementary schools can set up a reward system for children who have read a certain number of books and have a parent sign a book log. That makes reading voluntary.

For older students, why not survey them to their interests and give them a choice of books that would be part of a required reading list? Many books assigned are not interesting to them. Take time to learn about the students and who their favorite authors are.

Math is a trickier area. For younger kids, there are plenty of games that teach math concepts. Invest in a few and have family time together playing these games that teach skills.

Math Can Be Fun!

Learning Resources Head Full Of Numbers
Amazon Price: $15.99 $15.89 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 28, 2015)
Learning Resources has many wonderful learning family games and I have owned several of them over the years.

This game is adaptable for children as they get older, since the equations can get more difficult as they learn to compute more challenging problems.

Another option for summer homework is to give fun assignments. Ask kids to:

  • Go stargazing
  • Build something using recycled materials
  • Watch a sunset
  • Learn a new skill from a free library class
  • Form a club with neighborhood friends
  • Do volunteer work

None of these suggestions cost the families a penny and can easily teach children numerous things. School can have an online checklist that can be filled out and signed when kids return to school in the fall.

While I am in no way advocating the parents should let their kids do absolutely nothing all summer except watch TV and play video games, I am also not in favor of mandatory books to read and assignments to complete. There is a lot to be said about informal learning-the kind kids do not get to experience during the stressful and busy school year.

A Family Favorite!

Big Boggle
Amazon Price: $19.99 $9.35 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 28, 2015)
We use my husband's edition of the game from the 1970's. My kids learn how to form words and spell them correctly. It is great for visual learners and while we are enjoying each others company, they are learning! The older my kids get, the larger the words they can make.