The past few months of virtual learning has meant that the time-hewed stand-and-deliver approach to education has had to be rethought to be more interactive; if not redone entirely. And despite educators’ best efforts under the most unforeseen of circumstances, some of that learning has got to be underpinned somehow. And the summer begins with an assignment of a large packet of homework to complete before the next school year kicks off. 

Assigning homework isn’t a trend specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. Summer reading, being asked to keep a journal, and the occasional math packet have long been tools teachers use to promote deep thought, reflection on their experiences, and retention of knowledge learned. Nonetheless, educators and parents alike have noted an uptick in the amount of assigned homework over the summer months. Even the most diligent of students have found themselves cramming a summer worth of work, like a 100-question calculus problem set or read a 500-page novel before a year of AP French the week before the first day of school.

As this 2009 article in the New York Times points out, education experts are divided as to the value of homework packets. Some say it’s a way to promote continuous learning. Others, however, say that it fosters a culture of busywork and distraction until Labor Day weekend, while deterring students from experiential learning and pursuing hobbies. No matter which side of the debate your child’s teacher falls into, something is certain: because of the interrupted learning during the 2019-20 school year, homework packets are going to play a role in your family’s summer. Here are a few tips to make your child’s summer homework packet less stressful. 

  1. Dedicate a specific time each week for homework.

Most in-person summer camps are closed and sports leagues are on hiatus, now more than ever, this summer is a time without structure. For children of all learning styles, including students with attention disorders such as ADHD, free time has positives and negatives. On the plus side, it allows for free exploration of pursuits such as reading, art, or simply running around outside. Nonetheless, some people tend to be more productive when they have a set schedule. Slating a specific time to work on the homework packet can help teach time management and enforce focus over a short period of time — not to mention preventing an end-of-summer math marathon. Setting aside, 10 am to 11 am on Tuesdays for homework can help keep children focused for an hour and get that problem set done, bit by bit. 

  1. Introduce theme weeks.

Going on a socially distanced vacation this summer? Help your child contextualize the trip by seeing if any assigned summer projects parallel your sightseeing plans. You could help get your child excited for a trip to South Dakota’s Badlands, for example, with an age-appropriate book about the Westward Expansion. Live in the Northeast? Help make your region’s history come to life with a book set during the Revolutionary War era. Or, take this opportunity to hit that summer reading page target with books featuring perspectives that might be overlooked during history classes, such as Black communities, women, or Native Americans.  

Need a STEM lesson to take shape? Look no further than one of the most quotidian of news reports: the weather. While that thunderstorm might keep your family cooped up inside, it can also give way to a lesson about physics. Is your five-year-old not quite up to 12th-grade science? Pointing out the rainbow after the storm can be the beginning of an explanation about prisms. And should the skies prove to be a source of wonder for your children, spending an evening looking at the summer sky can foster a lifelong appreciation for astronomy. The Perseid meteor shower, which peaks every year in early August, can be a great introduction. 

  1. Develop a reward system. 

Does your child’s teacher have a target amount of pages to read over the summer? Make it a game! Depending on your child’s reading level, make a certain amount of pages a goal to be recognized and rewarded. For example, create a big thermometer out of paper to color in with markers or construction paper with marks for each 100 pages read. When that goal is reached, they can get a reward that you know will resonate with them: a trip to the beach, an extra hour with the video game controller, or not having to change out of pajamas all day. This will also help give your child a sense of control by letting them indulge a bit during their summer vacation.

Play up on any sibling rivalry by making it a friendly competition: whoever first reaches a homework packet milestone gets to pick out Friday night pizza toppings or the movie to watch on the big TV. Added bonus: besides coaxing your children to get your homework done, this can be one family argument with a relatively cut-and-dry answer. 

When children dream of their summer vacations, for many, an algebra packet might not be quite what they imagined — nor is spending your summer having to review middle school math. But with a bit of planning and structure, summer homework packets need not be a source of stress. In fact, they might even inspire a sense of accomplishment — if not also finding a way to avoid olives on pizza.