My two teenagers approach summer homework in two very different ways. My older teen delays the work, resulting in week-long marathons of homework time. My younger teen asks me to help create a schedule, chunking out her reading and math into daily doses. But even using this approach, my younger teen falls behind, adding tension to the final weeks of summer break. As I curse this schoolwork each August, I join a chorus of parents who wonder why teachers assign it.
Battling the Summer Slide
In their defense, educators cite these two reasons for summer assignments, says Emily Levitt, Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning.
First, “research shows that students can lose up to 50 percent of their academic gains over the summer, and this loss increases as students get older,” says Levitt. Having some academic engagement over the summer helps prevent the summer slide.
Second, teachers already have a limited amount of time to educate their students, while at the same time the high school curriculum has become more demanding. “Most school years are about 180 days long, but teachers lose teaching time to testing days, prep for testing days, and weather events,” says Levitt. If teachers assign some of the work in summer, the students can hit the ground running when school starts.
Truthfully, teachers aren’t aiming to stress out students (and parents) over summer break. I try to remember this when I think about my 17-year-old procrastinator and my 14-year-old who needs constant guidance to stay on track.
Tried and True Tactics
Levitt advises parents to think about their kids’ personalities while choosing the best tactics to help avoid the late-vacation-homework-panic. “Some students have a natural tendency to procrastinate. Many kids have to push past their stubborn annoyance at the idea of summer homework before they start working on it,” says Levitt.
When helping high schoolers create plans for summer homework, Levitt likes to repeat an age-old question and its wise refrain.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” says Levitt. “Help your kids set up a schedule that has them doing multiple, small chunks of work long before the last two weeks of vacation arrive. Have them create their own first draft of a plan before showing it to you to get revision ideas,” says Levitt.
Some kids are fine with working on their homework independently, while others will appreciate a parent sometimes sitting with them while working on their own tasks, like bill paying. Adding some check-in dates on their schedule is a good way to make sure the work is happening without hovering or nagging.
“The carrot-and-stick method often helps ease the burden of summer homework, too. Trading an extra hour of video game time for every hour spent on a homework packet may work for some teenagers,” says Levitt.
When in Doubt, Prioritize!
Of course, summer always goes a lot faster than we think it will. If the last few weeks of break arrive and your child is drastically behind, Levitt suggests lending your guidance. “Help them look at their to-do list and figure out if there is enough time to finish everything. If there isn’t enough time, help them figure out what to prioritize without working 24/7,” says Levitt.
While I’m hoping to avoid any late-summer homework meltdowns at my house this summer, Levitt reminds me that the time-management skills they learn over the next few months will help them be better managers of their homework throughout the school year, too. That might be just the extra encouragement we all need to get the job done!
Seattleite Nancy Schatz Alton is an author, teacher, poet and frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at YourTeenMag.com.