Summer Assignment Survival Tips
This article is for fellow parents who despise summer homework as much as I do. Don’t get me wrong: I want my kids to read and keep their math skills sharp over the summer. But the reality is that these assignments are a perfect storm for students who need extra help with the content or with staying organized.
Why are Summer Math and Reading So Hard?
Objectively, it shouldn’t be so hard to read through a few books and complete one packet of math in 8 to 12 weeks, right? The truth is that the often open-ended nature of these assignments are what make them so painful for certain students (and, in turn, so painful for their parents).
A student comes home on the last day of school with a reading list, perhaps a few writing assignments to help them process what they’ve read, and several hours’ worth of math homework, all of which they have 2 to 3 months to complete.
Most students don’t want to even look at these assignments in the first week or so of summer break. For kids who find the content extra challenging or who struggle with executive function skills, like planning and organization, this tendency to procrastinate will be even greater.
Why? Well, if they anticipate struggling with the material, who can blame them? Especially over the summer when daily teacher support is not an option. And, if they struggle with organizing and planning, then they probably don’t even know where or how to start chipping away at this big amount of work.
As parents, we know how this goes. Like our kids, we probably want nothing to do with these assignments in the first few weeks of summer. By mid-summer, we’re a little antsy and starting to nag, which is always well-received by tweens and teens. By late summer, we’re in high-risk territory for having to manage meltdowns, frustration, and stress.
Thankfully, I’ve learned a few things from our Academic Tutors and Executive Function Coaches over the years that have made this process much easier.
How to Make Summer Learning Easier
The secret to successful summer learning is to break the work down into manageable parts and create a plan for doing each part, bit by bit throughout the summer. If you and your student still need a week or two in early summer where you ignore the work, that’s fine; but by week three, it’s time to get started, at least with the planning bit. And once you have a plan, the work will feel much more doable.
To help your student plan, have them print (if possible) every summer assignment, or at least put them all in a digital folder. Then have them review each assignment and make a list of every big thing they have to do. A “big things” list might look like this:
- Read 3 books from summer list
- Write essay about 1 book
- Complete algebra packet
This list becomes a starting point for breaking things down further. Your student might need help with this, and that’s alright. Try to support them by asking questions that will help them break things down more:
- “How will you decide which 3 books to read and when will you choose them?”
- “What’s a good deadline to have completed the books so that you’ll still have time for the essay?”
- “How many problems are in the algebra packet?”
Questions like this are designed to help your student see all the work and steps that will ultimately go into completing their summer assignments. With this more detailed information, they can start to make a much more concrete work plan.
Perhaps the algebra problems are broken down into a certain number every night, skipping the nights your family plans to be on vacation. A few mornings in August can be blocked off for essay writing and editing.
The goal is to ensure that each step in the plan feels manageable for your student. If they can do 3 algebra problems each night, taking only 15 to 20 minutes, they are much less likely to procrastinate than they are if they feel they have hours of work ahead of them.
The other factor here, aside from the amount of work in each step, is the difficulty of the work in each step. If your student struggles with math, even smaller chunks of math work will be harder for them to manage. If your student likes to read, then those reading assignments should go pretty well but, if they have a hard time organizing their writing, that essay may be more of a struggle.
To help with this, build some self reflection into the early summer planning phase. Ask your student which parts of the work they think will be the hardest or if there are any areas where they feel they need extra help. Knowing this in advance, you can plan to be available to help your student when they’re working on these assignments or get an Academic Tutor to help them instead.
The bottom line is that planning and breaking things down now, at the beginning of the summer, can make a world of difference for the rest of the summer. It’s an investment of time that will pay off and save you and your student a lot of undue stress come August. Sit down with your student to make or plan or set them up with an Executive Function Coach who can walk them through the process.