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  • Susie Csorsz Brown


I am either a smart and forward-thinking Mom, or the depending on who you ask. The reason for these divisive feelings? I am a big believer in homework during the summer. (I bet you don’t need two guesses to figure out who thinks I am the worst mom.).

Why, you may ask, do I make my kids do homework during the summer? It means tons of arguments, having to correct the darn sheets when they are finished, having to do math with my kids (because there are WAY too many ways to do long division), and having to spend beautiful summer mornings inside doing all three of these things and not being outside playing like we should be. It's like self-flagellation. The reason I do it, though, is because I want my kids to keep with the forward momentum they have gained in their learning. My bright kiddos do well during the school year, staying on top of assignments, understanding the topics in class, developing their love of learning. They are self-reliant for their assignments, getting things turned in on time, double-checking quality of the final product, and making the effort necessary to do what needs to be done. I guess what it really is is that I am not not sure I understand why we need to stop this forward momentum in the learning and self-actualization process just because the school year is finished. So ... I find relevant assignments, summer bridge books, and other learning devices to help the assignments be varied and interesting (okay, that’s just my take on it; the boys do not find any of the assignments at all interesting even in the slightest bit.). I make them do homework because I want them to continue doing well academically, in their learning process, and to keep developing their repertoire of skills related to their persona outside of your influence.

Have you ever heard of the ‘summer slide’? This is teacher-terminology for the loss of skills and aptitude each student experiences to a varying degree from the last day of school to the following year's first day. Every summer, while your kids are busy playing, running, growing, sleeping and enjoying ‘summer freedom’, they are also losing knowledge and skills they had at the end of the previous school year. Teachers build in even as much as 2 months to their curricula to cover (read: reteach) information they have already taught and to review skills. That’s a long time spent NOT covering new material.

Arguments can be made that if knowledge is that easily lost then perhaps it was never fully 'gained' in the first place (which is either a slur on our children’s learning abilities or on the teaching/testing style of the general curricula used in schools). Hm. Maybe yes, maybe no. Instead of thinking about who we can point that blaming finger at, though, let’s look at it this way: a lot of what we do, a lot of our skills and knowledge come from regular usage, and interaction with said knowledge. If we are not regularly interacting with and using the knowledge, it is no longer going to be in the forefront of our minds, methinks. I don't know if it is better to say the kids 'lose' the knowledge, or they 'bury' it; regardless, unless they are spitting out their multiplication tables at the breakfast table every morning after that final school bell rings, they are not going to being able to just fly through the 7s or 12s times tables.

For arguments sake, let’s take it one step farther: let's say that it isn't knowledge that is lost, but rather computational skills that are lost. It has been suggested that our kids might not be figuring calculations all summer, but instead, they are using their reasoning skills more and more creatively. Isn't that the application of skills we are looking for? Our kids are in actuality putting the skills they have learned during the school year into practice; during the school year they are bogged down with the computations, with the equations, and 2 pages of homework problems they need to complete. They aren't thinking about (read: too busy to think about) how these same concepts can apply to real life. So, how about we do that? How about we help them spend some time during the summer apply concepts and learning from the real world? A lot of what they see in textbooks is actually imparted in real life. So, then giving them homework filled with even more of those problems would actually be counter-intuitive. Hmm. Maybe yes, maybe no.

How about we come up with summer homework that is of a different sort than school year homework? Some suggestions:

1. Help them to stay connected. The ability to read is a gift our kids have, and a love of reading is a skill that will take your kids from Wonderland with Alice to Camp Half-blood with Percy and to the halls of Wonka Chocolate factory with Charlie. Reading helps kids to increase their vocabulary, helps them to develop their language skills (grammar, writing, etc), improves their imagination, and even their discussion skills if they then talk about what they are reading with you, their sibling, friend, or favorite pet. Reading is good for the brain. Reading just 6 books over the summer is said to keep their reading skills from regressing. Choose the books wisely; not too hard, not too easy.

2. Take advantage of the free time their brains have away from math problems and spelling drills to help them reframe their thought process. Focus on new ways of looking at things like problem solving, cause-effect, creative solution planning, etc. Help them learn to look at things outside of the box.

3. Let them be bored. Yes, I know. The sound of IIIII'mmm boooored is like fingernails on a chalkboard, but in boredom exists the spark of a new creative solution for their current situation. Don't fix their boredom, don't let them turn on a screen. Boredom is a gift, because it means there is nothing planned, and in that moment of freedom, they can do what they choose. They can invent a new game, they can discover a new nook in the yard, they can go out and practice free throws. They can take that unscheduled moment and do a small they wish with it.

4. Let them learn something new. Let them find a new craft they like, discover a new musical instrument, find a new hobby. Let them try new sports. This is the perfect opportunity to try something new, be it computer programming, inline skating, or wind surfing.

5. Ask 'why?' and find the answer. Take a trip to a museum or dive into a science book. Find an experiment to complete. Learn something new about a phenomenon you know and take for granted. Why do dogs whine? How does osmosis work? Why is the sky blue? What makes a rainbow? Why vegetables taste sweeter when they are baked? All good questions. All with very interesting answers.

6. Play a non-electronic game. Monopoly or Axis & Allies, Ticket to Ride or Trivial Pursuit. Each offers a lesson in actual knowledge (economics, history and strategy, or random trivia) and each teaches kids about how to follow rules, being a good sport, patience, and eating meals beside a board game without making a huge mess.

7. Play a yard game. We have a great collection of yard games ranging from Koob to Bocci to bikes, scooters, and ripstiks. Kids can jump on the trampoline or play basketball. The yard is perfect for soccer or Speedminton. Get them outside, get them moving, and giggles will ensue. There's nothing like a yard full of sweaty giggly kids.

8. If you are fortunate enough to go on a trip, give them the assignment to look up the intended destination and make plans. Even little kids can read books on your destination, and give suggestions. The more effort and time they invest, the more they will see how complicated travel plans are, and also appreciate the end result. When our kids make suggestions to our itineraries, they always love to dispense their knowledge of the location, and the role-reversal of the child being the tour guide. Not only that, but they are learning how much vacations costs; learning real-world costs are an important part of growing up.

9. Let them spend real money. Yikes! I know, right? But listen: very few children have a lot of experience with real money. The equations they learn in class about Bobby needing 3 bottles of milk at $3.17 each isn't really that REAL. You asking them how much change they should be getting back from their venture with your $20 to the corner store for sugar, eggs, and a lemon is REAL (and yes, they will hit you up for that said change.)

10. Go Geocaching. Have you tried it? You can find 'caches' all over the globe. Not only is this a lesson in geography, but it is also an excellent lesson in using a GPS, using clues to solve a puzzle, it gets kids outside, and it is a great way to explore parts of pretty much any city that you may be in.

So. Suddenly, that 8 LOOOONG weeks doesn't seem so long, right? The time will flash by, your kids will be busy, occupied, and (maybe best of all) will learn something. So.

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