Even after seven years as a high school English teacher, Summer still feels like a special time when students and teachers get to unwind and recharge for the upcoming school year. Yet, despite the desire to do nothing during these hot and muggy months other than binge-watch TV shows and play outside, scholastic expectations can become overwhelming.
I hated having to give Summer assignments. Considering the often publicized "Summer brain drain," I get why many districts require homework over those precious eight weeks. However, I'm a big believer that everyone needs a vacation, and asking students to complete pages and pages of seemingly meaningless tasks can weigh on young minds. Most of the time these homework assignments are mandated not by the teachers, but by the principals and districts who feel the most pressure to perform. So while I'm sure there is value in homework over a long break, I don't necessarily believe that it is the only way for students to be successful during the vacation.
In talking with a lot of other teachers about the subject of Summer assignments and goals, these are the things that your child's teacher really wants you to do during the Summer vacation.
- Reflect. One of the cornerstones of quality education is the ability to reflect. Any good teacher worth her salary has to become skilled at thinking about lessons, units, and projects in order to identify what worked and what needs to be improved. This makes for a better classroom and a better teacher. Children, while bright and capable, may not be able to do this naturally, as evidenced by their general unwillingness to describe their actions in a meaningful way when getting in trouble. By asking your child to think about how they were successful and how they could improve, you'll be able to create a tacit set of goals for the following year. Reflection also encourages kids to be their own advocates because they are engaged in the process of their own education.
- Read. I'm not talking about the dreaded Summer assignment. As a former literacy teacher, the biggest difference between a successful student who is confident with language and one who starts to fall behind and hates school is the willingness to read. I do not care if my high school students spent the entire Summer reading comic books, magazines, or cheesy young-adult books with vampires and possessed porcupines; what mattered was that they had discovered that hidden within words was a story that they could connect with. A lot of reading strategies are predicated on asking students to establish connections to their lives and other things they have read. It is a lot easier to for students to relate with required assignments if they have already "bought in" to the idea that reading is fun.
- Relax. I realize this is easier said than done, and not every parent can take large chunks of time off for their kids to stay at home, but if possible, I think it's really important for everyone to find sometime to do nothing during the Summer. Let them sleep in, play with the neighborhood kids, take another nap, go to movies, and eat maybe a little too much ice cream. Throughout the school year, I was amazed at all that we expect from children during the day. It takes a lot of energy and work to devote yourself to learning, and children need to have some time to rest and recoup their own mental health.
- Get some culture. Culture can be construed as a very loaded word. I'm not necessarily suggesting that any parent should spend hundreds of dollars taking their kids to the opera or Hamilton, but a few chosen events can help create a meaningful Summer. Slam-poetry at the local coffee shop, a robotics challenge at the local college, or an art show put on by the community can all work to expose children to a culture that is relevant to them.
- Create something. Every Summer I combat potential doldrums by assigning myself a non-work-related project. With this growth-mindset, I have become passionate about writing short stories, making the best banana bread possible, practicing my drawing, and learning the fundamentals of sewing. Children are exceptionally inquisitive and task-oriented creatures, which can be at times be a little frustrating. Encourage your kid to try a new task, skill, art, or STEM project or to build something. Beyond learning something totally different, they will also learn about perseverance and problem-solving: two very important aspects of any school.
- Get them excited about the year ahead. One of my lofty goals for when my son has to learn about the Revolutionary War is to plan a trip to the East Coast to visit his aunts and see where our nation's history was formed. While I recognize that vacations are costly and consequently prohibitive for many, I do think it's important to get your child excited about what they're going to learn over the next year. Checking out some books at the library, seeing a corresponding event at a museum, or traveling to historical sites will make their future learning so much more impactful. Thanks to Common Core, it should be pretty easy to see what your child's next class will be tackling.
- Go outside. When I polled other teachers about this article, "go outside" was nearly everyone's first response. If I had a dollar for every time a student asked if we could have class outside, I could actually afford supplies for my classrooms. Ride a bike, go to the neighborhood pool, go on a hike, create chalk art on the sidewalks — it really doesn't matter what they do outside because what's important is that in a few short weeks, they'll be back in the classroom dreaming about being outdoors.