By Sarah Vander Schaaff
Perhaps you, too, once had a weekend in college when you realized you had two days to read 700 pages of Dostoyevsky. I planted myself in a coffee shop and inhaled The Brothers Karamazov, along with the fumes of java, until I got the job done, my own form of crime and punishment.
With a few weeks left of summer, I can’t send my kids to a coffee shop, not without a hefty Starbucks bill and some raised eyebrows. But we have work to do!
Sure, we’ve been reading, and yes, we’ve been doing math, but there are papers to fill out and more math to be done. How are we going to get it all done and still have time to clean out the backpacks from last June?
1. Take an honest look at your child’s situation and prioritize. The purpose of summer work is to not lose what was learned the previous year and help make the transition into the new grade smooth. If you know your child is a strong reader but gets frustrated with math, you might have to make a hard choice: buckle down on math skills even if it means the reading log takes a hit. Remember: when your child starts in the fall, what will put them in the best position to succeed with confidence? This is a strategy you both need to agree on so make sure you approach this strategy as a conversation not an ultimatum.
2. Make a Calendar. It’s going to look daunting with only a few weeks left, but that may be the reality check that helps everyone stick to the schedule. Working with your child on the priorities you’ve established, pencil in designated time to chip away at your goals. There’s a concise and useful list of ways to do this for summer reading on PBSKIDS, and a similar strategy could be done with math.
3. Initiate: I recently read a quote that put my own daughter’s tendency to sharpen 12 pencils before doing homework into perspective, “There are no such things as procrastination and laziness, only ineffective actions masquerading as inaction.” You can help your child overcome ineffective actions for initiation by teaching children to: keep a clean workspace; break down work into smaller sections; estimate how much time each task should take, even with the occasional sharpened pencil.
4. Bribes: Is it possible to instill intrinsic motivation while still holding the carrot of iTunes credit or some other perk as a reward? The answer is a definitive: probably. It depends on how you do it and if you stick to your plan. A little common sense and imperviousness to pleading is all you need. It helps to expand the nature of the rewards, too, and remember that one-on-one attention and time together is often at the heart of what many kids want, despite appearances to the contrary.
5. Let it Go: If they’re old enough to be assigned work for the summer, they are old enough to learn what it feels like to fail to get it done. If we hold up our end of the arrangement, including giving our children enough down-time and support, they may learn the biggest lesson of all from these summer assignments: self-reliance.