Your child might argue that the only bad thing about winter vacation is holiday homework. Is it really fair to assign work during the holidays? Some teachers, such as ninth grade history teacher Keith McSweeney, say no. “For me, it’s a matter of principle. I think the holidays are a time for students to be with their families and get a break from school,” McSweeney says. “I don’t think it would serve my students well to expect that they spend time studying while they’re on vacation.”
But, many other elementary and high school teachers believe homework is the only way to ensure retention of concepts over the long break from school. Whether holiday homework is helpful or hurtful, for many kids it’s par for the course. The key do dealing with this reality is not waiting to the last minute, says Harris Cooper, Ph.D., renowned homework expert and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. “I would suggest that parents encourage their children to complete their assignments early—ideally, before the relatives arrive,” Cooper says.
Cooper suggests that homework over the holidays be treated like homework at any other time of year: students should determine how much time it will take, and divide it into manageable chunks. “Learning is more effective if it’s done in small doses,” Cooper says.
There are three keys to completing homework effectively:
- Have a consistent place in the home to work on assignments.
- Take frequent, short breaks.
- Keep the distractions to a minimum.
It’s also important for parents to recognize that every child approaches studying and homework differently. Some children are most effective if they sit down and complete their homework immediately after school; others work best if they have an opportunity to run around outside for a half an hour before they begin. Some children need small rewards for completing their homework; others will do their homework without incentives. Children also are interested in different subjects and have their own individual sets of strengths and weaknesses. Some children excel in at-home science projects; others cry over their writing assignments.
“It’s unrealistic to expect that children are going to be enthusiastic about every subject they study in school,” says Charles Smith, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Specialist in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. “A big part of the learning process is understanding that there are some things we simply have to do, whether we like it or not.” And that applies to homework—even during the holidays.
Smith suggests that parents can help their children by entering into a dialogue with teachers. “If you know you’re going to be out of town for ten days, you can talk to the teachers ahead of time and see if they have any advice about how you might help your child complete the homework. Good teachers will work with you to make the homework manageable,” he says.
Often, homework assigned over winter break is thematically linked to the holidays. When this occurs, children and parents should take advantage of the opportunity to work together on the homework. Children might benefit from talking to parents or grandparents about their holiday traditions and experiences, or families could work together to experiment with holiday-related science or math projects.p>
Most importantly, Smith says, parents need to recognize their role in helping children set ground rules for doing homework, such when it’s done, where it’s done, and when breaks will be taken. Smith emphasizes that breaks between homework assignments should not be watching television. “Breaks should be active. Playing a fifteen-minute game of football is a good idea; even playing a video game is a good idea. Lying on the couch watching TV isn’t.”
There’s still time before the holidays begin. Consider having your children check in with their teachers now. It’s always helpful to be prepared.
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I just finished updating my Holiday Homework, and I wanted to share it with you. We still have some time before Christmas break, so you may be able to fit in a few fun activities before then.
I love sending home some fun, simple family activities for the children (nothing too time-consuming) this time of year. I used to make Christmas Countdown Chains for each child, and have an activity for them to complete on each link. Then, I would send a bag with all of the "extras" needed to complete the tasks. For example, on the night the chain said to "Drink your cocoa while you draw a picture to show how you like to stay warm in the winter. Write a sentence to go with your picture," I would put a cocoa packet in the bag. This is what I sent home when I had the children eat a special meal on their Christmas plate and then write and label the meal they ate on the paper.
Everything was just something little, like a special holiday paper plate, a holiday pencil, a highlighter, special worksheets... The Dollar Store is the place to go for the extra goodies!
This year, I decided to change it up a little. I made this Holiday Homework packet with activities in it. I cut the activities apart, so I only send home one at a time. I send about two a week. I attach the extra item with it, if it needs one. I tape the candy cane onto the paper for the first activity, etc. I have found that more of the activities get done this way rather than when they were given all at once on the chain. (Even thought the chain idea was fun, too!)
I actually also think the children and the families appreciate everything more when it is sent one at a time.
Here are pictures of the pages and the different activities:
I wanted to think of something fun to put on the children's papers when they brought them back, so I taped a Starburst on these cut-out stars to put on the papers. Sometimes I tape a silly band onto their paper. I like to put on a little something special, because I appreciate the extra help at home! Plus... it's that time of year for something special!
Have fun! Thank you for stopping by!