Is Summer Homework Asking Too Much of Our Children?

Summer assignments have become the rule for many students in recent years, making "vacation" a relative term for kids and their parents, writes Lisa Belkin at the New York Times.

Launa Schweizer, a former high-school teacher and elementary-school principal, now stays at home with her two elementary school daughters, and, as she explains, being on the receiving end of summer homework packets makes you see them a little differently.

"Each June, I sent parents a heartfelt letter describing the learning lost when children don't read or do math over the summer, an effect well documented by research. The teachers I worked with assembled math sheets, curated summer book lists and crafted assignments to keep students on track with their learning."

However, as teachers may not understand, but "most parents know", it is rare for a child to complete their summer homework without serious adult intervention.

"My household is staring down seven required-reading books, two reading journals and two hefty math assignments, plus the pointed suggestion (nearly a command) that each girl make a long list of the books she reads for pleasure," writes Schweizer.

When asked at how too much homework can negatively affect kids, Sara Bennett, author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children And What We Can Do About It, said:

"[Kids] don't have time to just be kids anymore — they're so bogged down. And since many of the assignments are simply busywork, learning often becomes a chore rather than a positive, constructive experience. Homework overload is also affecting family life — a lot of kids can't even make it to dinner, and as a result, the only interaction they have with their parents involves arguments about homework."

Based on what researchers have learned about summer vacation, beleaguered educators probably should use summer work to keep students on course, writes Belkin. Every summer that children spend without learning, they fall further behind, and the losses add up.

During the summer, Schweizer writes that her children will play harder, travel farther, sing louder and climb higher than they do the rest of the year.

"They will dig holes, talk to their dolls, knit and spend time alone. They will paddle canoes, take photographs, write stories, catch fish and sell lemonade from our front stoop."

She admits that her children may end up doing what most kids do: spending the last days before school begins filling in empty packets and notebooks. But she is sure that the homework notebooks will be on their teachers' desks on the first day of fourth and seventh grade.

"As a former principal, I can say for certain that a three-day sprint in late August is not at all what the teachers had in mind, and not what the research recommends."

As a teacher and principal, Schweizer says she knew she was right to assign summer homework. But now she's had a change of heart; as a parent, she feels that there are even better ways for her children to learn in the summer, she concludes.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
09 7, 2011
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