5 Less Formal Alternatives To Homework Over Summer Break

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deepcwind2How many days until your summer break begins? I can tell you, to the minute, without looking. (And this doesn’t make me a bad person.)

Now, imagine this: your principal, or Superintendent, or even your school board comes to you in the next week and says, “To ensure you won’t lose all the professional development you gained this school year, please read and summarize four professional books and complete these three worksheet packets over the summer break.” Gives you a bit of a chill down your spine, doesn’t it?

The Ideal

Summer assignments are a quagmire for me. I see real value in continuing the learning and keeping the skills and concepts fresh over the many weeks our students are enjoying their summer break. The math concepts that take months to learn can be easily forgotten if not practiced for a few weeks. Reading and discussing wonderful classics during those lazy days of summer can be enlightening and powerfully rewarding. Some of the required readings are books students would never read if they were not, well, required.

According to the PBS article, Summer Tips, “Your school-aged child’s summer reading and book discussions will help him maintain his reading skills, improve his reading fluency, and learn new vocabulary and concepts.” There is no denying that reading over the summer is a good thing for students. There is much to be gained from keeping student skills current and stimulating brains with readings. This article “Summer Reading Tips from Librarians”, from Parent & Child magazine has five tips to successful summer reading: visit the local library, model reading for your child, find or create book discussion groups, set designated reading times, and bring the books with you when you travel.

The Reality

Now, let’s talk reality. The reality is summer assignments are stressful. These assignments are stressful for the students and stressful for the parents. I appreciated Launa Schweizer’s perspective, in her article, “Who Needs Summer Homework? As a principal, she admitted, “Boy, did I love a good summer homework packet back then.” A few years later, viewing this same work through the eyes of a parent, “I’m not assigning the homework; I’m just the one policing its completion, which drastically decreases my motivation.”

A few short summers ago, I remember that dreaded math packet sitting on my kitchen counter, day after summer day. I  tried to gently encourage my son to complete it, without passing into the nagging zone (well, maybe I crossed into the nagging zone once or twice). I was relieved one day in early August when he sat down to begin the very big, very complicated packet.

As I was about to congratulate him on getting it done weeks ahead of time, I noticed the due date was the next day. Needless to say, the next 24 hours were not pretty at the Bisaillon household, but that packet was completed and turned into the school office the next day. What did he learn from that math packet? Did it really accomplish the task of keeping his math skills sharp? Perhaps, but it was stressful and exhausting, for both of us.

The school year is jam-packed for kids today. Pin-balling from school to activity to homework is draining. Summertime is a few weeks to relax, unwind and let the mind wander. Reading books of personal choice, playing games until late at night, going to the zoo with family, and going on family vacations empowers learning in an easy carefree way. (I understand not all students share these experiences, but many do.) It is a different type of learning and growing, but the learning is still happening, isn’t it?

Perhaps it could be considered project-based summer learning and allow our students to pursue personal passions. During the summer, our students are free to learn whatever they choose. Do they need math packets and required reading to keep them focused for the coming school year?

I openly and vulnerably share with you my uncertainty on this topic. As a parent of young adults, I am glad the summer reading lists and math packets are a thing of the past. The older my children get the more I realize childhood is short and fleeting and summer time is precious. The family time in the summer is a wonderful thing and should be cherished and protected.

Yet, I begrudgingly acknowledge the importance in keeping skills sharp and the idea of starting the school year ready to tackle new concepts. Sometimes these assignments are an opportunity for the new teacher to create a connection with the student and can make a smoother start to the school year.

markiverson5 Less Formal Alternatives To Homework Over Summer Break

There are alternatives to the traditional required reading and packets. Consider these alternatives:

1. Require summer reading but with more student choice selections
2. Facilitate online discussions regarding a variety of topics with students using various social media platforms like blogs, Facebook, Edmodo, Schoology, etc..
3. Use math or reading logs to simply indicate time spent using various websites, programs or skills practiced
4. Integrate genius hour during the summer projects
5. Use the programs already in place in your community. For example, this Barnes & Nobles program where you read 8 books, complete the journal and earn a free book. Various public libraries New York City & Queens Public Library Summer Reading Program & Summer Reading Book Club from Columbus Metropolitan Library have wonderful programs to share with students -check your local library for what they offer

What are your thoughts on summer assignments? Do you think it is necessary for your class? Do you believe it makes a difference at the start of your school year? Do you think summer should be a bit more carefree? What do you do regarding summer work and why?

Whatever is required, I hope it is a result of thoughtful reflections and discussions. Consider the whys, hows, and possible alternatives available to you and your students. Believe me, a mom with a dreaded packet sitting on her kitchen counter will be grateful.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to learn from you and to #learnbetter. @kaybisaillon

Image attribution flickr users markiverson and deepcwind

  • Abigail

    I totally agree with your points. My youth is slipping away, and I don’t get much time to enjoy my childhood with all this work. Summer is a valuable time, and should be enjoyed without all the extra baggage of summer classes, and complicated mat packets.