Summer Homework: Fun, Realistic, Summer Slide Prevention
As a teacher and a mom, I have a love-hate relationship with summer homework.
(Cue record scratching.) What?! I know, right?! But, it's true. The teacher side of me knows it's important to keep learning and staying sharp over the summer. But as a parent, I also know that family time and downtime are really important, as well. I know my kids are ready to go back to school when they finally get bored with downtime.
Let's face it, these are kids we are talking about. First off, we know that our brains need a break. Shoot, teachers need a break by the time summer comes. Imagine what is going on in our students' immature brains.
Have you ever felt like you just counldn't do one more thing?
My aunt used to be a long-distance runner. She told me there were times she just new she was done running for the day or the week. Literally, she couldn't take one more step. Her body and brain were done. The same is true for decision making. Some executives have a self-imposed "work wardrobe", kind of like a uniform. Why? They say they make so many decisions every day at work that they simply can't make one more decision.
A big part of summer is a brain break.
The same is true for kids and learning. sometimes they just can't grab one more item and keep it in their brains. In order to fully process all of the information they learn in school, kids need brain breaks hourly, daily, weekly and over the summer. Teen suicide has risen almost 70% in the last 10 years. While there are many more factors, overwork, stress about school and social media are all pieces of the larger problem.
As teachers, we need to learn how to teach students the life-skills of moderation, recognizing when they need a break and giving themselves permission to take regular breaks. (I'll bet you know some teachers who never learned these skills.😉 That's called teacher burnout.)
So how do we find balance and give realistic, appropriate assignments for the summer?
Before we even begin planning, we need to decide on a few things.
- What are we hoping to accomplish by assigning summer homework?
- What kinds of things are truly helpful, doable and still fun?
- What will all (or most) of our students really complete?
- What will honor families and still get the job done?
If we don't have clear, well thought out intentions and outcomes we are shooting for, then there is no reason to assign summer homework. It's just busy work at that point. So take some time to figure out your purpose (individually and as a school if summer homework is a school mandate).
Here are a few of the things I shoot for:
- Soft skills: self-direction, conversation skills, taking turns, playing fair...
- Brain Stretching
- Thinking Strategically
- Becoming READERS (People who are book lovers and read for pleasure.)
- Having lots of time for fun and relaxing (and a bit of boredom), so students are ready for school to start.
- Creating (optional) challenges and projects that captivate so kids choose to do them.
- One thing that leads into where we will start the first week of school. (Students who don't complete the simple, summer pre-work are still a part of what we do, but just won't have much to contribute. 🙁)
- Love of and empathy for others. Volunteering outside their homes or helping others in their homes, just because.
Here are some of the kinds of things I suggest to families for reading:
- READ. Students, please, search, try out and find what you really enjoy reading. Then, read. Bring a book with you everywhere. Find interesting places to read in your home or yard.
- Parents, read aloud to your child, regularly. Stop at the good part and leave them hanging, if you can. "Oh, I have to finish the laundry. I'll be right back." "It's bedtime. You can finish the chapter if you like, but I need to go clean up." Be creative.
- Listen to audio books together in the car.
- Talk about books together. Wonder, ask yourself questions and think about the book aloud. Ask you child what they think about certain parts of a story. Make sure you listen to what they say. Say, "interesting thought" or "I never thought of that" or something else that let's them know you are taking their thoughts seriously.
Other Reading Options
- Sometimes I assign a genre or topic for students to choose a book to have read for the first week of school. Examples: Topic - Pioneers, Friendship... or Genre - Mystery, Fairy Tales (Fantasy)
- Assign a picture book for young students to read with a parent. (Diary of a Worm, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs...) and ask families to go to the library or bookstore and see if they can help you find other books that could go with it to read as well. Always say, "Keep a list of the titles as we might add them to the class library." I also say, "You are welcome to purchase (and surprise us with) any book you found that was a real winner to donate to the class library." Bonus Points: Find a poem that fits too. HINT: search online. then, I'll let them know we'll be using the book the first week of school.
Then, there are other skills and practice that I would like kids to have.
OTHER SKILLS (math fact practice, strategy, fair play, paying attention to details, being a good winner and a good loser, taking turns, socializing/carrying on a conversation as you play...)
- Word searches, Sudoku, crosswords, search and find, logic puzzles, mazes, mad libs, dot-to-dot (letters, numbers, large numbers)...
- Card games like: double war (add or multiply your cards), Blink, Uno, Hearts, Numbers League...
- Games with 2 dice to add - Trouble, Sorry... (let kids struggle though the adding themselves- lots of patience)
- While I don't mind many of the online or app based math games, I think most kids need less screen time. Certainly kids can play some math games as an option.
- Dominoes, Yahtzee, Clue, Monopoly, chess, checkers, Mancala, backgammon and other strategy games are good as well.
Last, I always have special challenges I offer students and their families. Here's a few of ideas:
- Build a bridge out of toothpick (I give a "river" width in inches or centimeters that it has to span). Bring your bridge to school the first day. See how much weight each will hold - to the breaking point! Most weight wins! show students film of soldiers not breaking step over a bridge and what happens. Read stories of bridges the first week....
- Cardboard Challenge: Get one cardboard box (any size) - huge, large, medium, small or tiny. Turn it into a home for someone or something (real or imagined). Take pictures and bring the pictures to school the first day.
- Create Superhero (think Pokemon Cards): Draw a detailed picture and give your hero an appropriate name. Give your superhero strengths, weaknesses, super powers, things they are average in, size, weight, shape, where they are from, family, what they do for fun, something they hate doing, day job, what they fear, something quirky about them that doesn't seem to fit but is kind of funny... Bonus Points: Create a game or contest that all the superheroes will have to compete in when school starts. (Using each game created, negotiate as a class to create the final game. Then, play the game.)
There are tons of other things you can assign or suggest to families. Be creative. I NEVER send home "packets" or worksheets for summer homework. There are just too many other ways to stimulate brains and keep kids actively learning over the summer that feel like a fun, not homework.