Teacher Tips for a Stress-Free Summer Homework or Workbook Routine
Is it a good idea to keep up a workbook or homework routine over the summer? It’s a question many parents ask this time of year.
Your decision should align with your family values, first and most importantly. You may wish to prioritize down time and physical activity, and say ‘no’ to more schoolwork. Or you might want a bit of structure in those long summer days.
If you’re worried about your child ‘losing’ what they learned over the school year, we went straight to the source for her best tips: The Reading School Founder and Director, Diane Duff.
How do we get kids on board with a summer homework routine?
Diane: You’re on your own there (laughs). No, really, I think it relates back to what your goals are – what your child’s needs are. If there is a tangible goal / need being met, explaining it to your child should be easy. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be thrilled. But if there isn’t a tangible goal, if you just can’t imagine your kids not doing anything academic for two months, you might have to come up with a strong ‘carrot’ to get them to focus when their friends don’t have to do the same.
How much time should be spent on homework each day?
Diane: Again, you have to decide why you think academic work during the summer is important – what exactly you want to achieve. And that’s not going to be the same for every family. It’s not even going to be the same for every child in one family.
For one child, it might mean doing some review and practise of math concepts in preparation for grade 9 algebra; for another it might mean working on French verb conjugations; for yet another, it might mean continuing structured literacy lessons because they have dyslexia.
But you can ‘equalize’ things by taking a family “brain work” approach. Maybe one child needs to work on factoring, and a younger one needs to practice cursive writing. Well, while they do that, a parent could be sitting at the same table, writing in their journal. If there’s another parent, that one could be paying the bills. It’s the atmosphere – and the sense of inclusion – or not – that makes things feel like a normal family activity or a punitive activity.
How do we choose a good workbook?
Diane: Be careful when choosing workbooks. If you flip through one in the store and you see that a concept is introduced on one page, and there’s a little bit of practice and then another concept is introduced on the next page…well, I mean, no skill worth developing is developed that easily. Certainly, no math or language or reading skill is developed in just one day with just a few minutes of practice.
One more thing about workbooks. It’s not quite as simple as sitting your child down in front of a workbook for 20 minutes a day. You should be prepared to teach what they don’t understand, or to hire someone to do just that. Otherwise the time won’t be meaningful. There should always be a response to the child’s efforts, and the quicker the response – and validation or correction – the better.
Which academic skills should we focus on in the summer?
Diane: Stick to the basics – math, language arts, literacy. Everything else is derivative. Everything else comes from that knowledge…from those skill sets. Science builds on math. History builds on language arts.
I suggest identifying the child’s strengths and weaknesses in the core subjects of math and literacy. After that, spend practice time working from the level where the problem first starts and moving toward grade level. This is something we can help you identify through our comprehensive math and literacy assessments.
Let me give you an example: Say a child who’s just finished grade 4 struggles with the topic of fractions. They should go right back to the grade where their problem with fractions started and keep moving forward just in the fractions topics, so that they are ready for the fractions work in grade 5 come September.
How do I know which math strands and topics my child needs to work in?
Diane: In our Ontario and Canadian report cards, we can see individual marks for each of the various math strands. As for the individual topics, the teachers might have written some comments about those. If not, parents can call us. We can assess the math by strand and topic and provide a roadmap.
How can I improve my child’s reading over the summer?
Diane: Skip the grammar workbooks and focus on reading. We often gravitate to novels and stories, but reading non-fiction is particularly good for developing vocabulary and knowledge about the world. And if you want to be a strong reader, you need a broad vocabulary.
If you really want to enrich your child’s comprehension skills, instead of just sitting them down with a workbook, sit with them. Take turns reading and then discuss the questions together. The fun and loving approach will make the learning stick far better than the “I have to do this for 20 minutes before I can play Minecraft” approach.
What’s the best schedule for summer homework?
Diane: I think the best set up is a family “brain work” setup I mentioned earlier. Try choosing a consistent time when you can all be present together, maybe before or after breakfast or dinner. If one child is doing scheduled online lessons, that’s the perfect time for everyone to do their “brain work” so one child doesn’t feel they’re excluded from family time.
Here’s how it works: Everyone sits together at the same time. If you like the idea of the family reading comprehension activity, you might read parts in a play, or read and discuss a relevant news article. Or simply read aloud, taking turns as appropriate with younger kids, and stopping to talk and ask lots of questions about what’s being read. Maybe another night, you all sit and write together. Maybe it’s a letter to Grandma; maybe it’s a “perfect day” plan for the weekend; maybe it’s an explanation of how to screw in a light bulb. You write, you share, you applaud, you laugh, you bond. You learn.
Maybe it’s math night, and your child needs to work on times tables. Make teams: Kids do times tables and adults do math problem solving in their heads while the kids use a calculator to check their answer. Which team wins tonight?
Should we be extra concerned about summer homework after a year of online learning?
Diane: Yes, but no. It’s easy to make the case that since the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 — despite the best efforts of teachers and parents — many children have not learned what they might otherwise have. But I don’t think anyone can make the case that summer tutoring and /or workbooks can set that ship to right. That’s a question for a whole other interview (laughs).
It’s been a long and tough 18 months for kids and adults. My best advice is to let everyone sleep as much as they need, play as hard as they can, work if they absolutely must (and yes, most of us adults still need to work full time), eat good food, get out into nature, and re-set. Nobody is going to pull a miracle recovery out of July and August, so why add more stress to what we’ve already been through? Turn off the computer. Close the workbooks. Breathe. Be.
How do you feel about summer tutoring and/or academic practise? Do you make summer academics a priority in your family?