Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
So, summer is here and school vacation has begun (unless you are a year-rounder!). Your child has been assigned work to do over the summer – summer reading, math worksheets, etc. But what if your child is academically behind their peers? Do you have them do more? If so, what?
One of my biggest regrets involves the summer when our son Ryan (my struggling learner) was 15. We were homeschooling for high school as our research had indicated that there was no other educational environment feasible for him with his particular needs. That school year had been a nightmare of trying to get his cooperation to do school work. He had been recently diagnosed with ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). He was charming, delightful and fun loving…until we would tell him what he had to do. Then he stuck his chin out and refused – sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes outright. Toward the end of the school year we had learned quite a bit about how to communicate with him in such a way that he would not fight back, and how to work on healthy boundaries for him. The school year ended peacefully.
But then came summer.
He had missed quite a bit of school in his rebellion and we needed to make that time up. So, I designed a “light” summer schedule of a couple of hours a day. He would have none of it. His brothers didn’t have to do school, so why should he? It didn’t matter that they had summer reading to do, and even a book report to write. All he saw was them having fun. That led to one of the darkest seasons in our raising of Ryan.
Looking back, I wish that I had backed off for the summer.
So, how DO you decide how much to require and how much to ease up?
There really is no simple answer. It depends on your parenting style, the personality of your child, and how much pressure they have already been under. Some parents are drill sergeants: their word is law and they often do not listen really well. Some parents are so eager for their children to feel loved, or feel guilty for how little time they have with their children, that they do not provide enough guidance, so the children rule their home. Sergeants need to loosen up and listen, eager parents need to tighten up and learn to provide direction and boundaries. Most parents fall somewhere between the extremes.
For me, it was unwittingly putting too much pressure on Ryan. I thought my expectations were reasonable. But, he did not. For almost any other child, I would have been correct - I wouldn’t back down. Indeed, for most struggling learners, repetition is very important. But not always. There are other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
It is healthy to have expectations for summer vacation – for us as leaders of the home, as well as for the children learning from us. Know yourself and know your child. But have you asked yourself, “do I expect too much or do I expect too little?“ Unfortunately, resentment toward you and the process of learning can arise from a child who perceives that he is the “only one” having to work when “everyone else” is playing.
Struggling learners, especially, need to be watched for symptoms of being overwhelmed. The school year may have been so stressful for them that they desperately need a break. Then, as the summer nears the end, you can gradually help them ease back into the school year. Some of these students see “light” summer assignments as manageable because they can see that there is so much free time to enjoy the summer as well. Those who have recently become involved in a helpful intervention may need to continue, especially for the first summer, in order to keep the momentum. Still, the opportunity for fun and less structure is there!
Learning to tell the difference, being discerning of your own strengths and weaknesses as well as your child’s, will truly help you to then have the wisdom to decide how much is enough. So, I am not going to give specific recommendations regarding what to do and for how long each day. There are too many factors involved. But I will say, make it as “fun” as possible. For example, if you have a daily reading time (preferably for the whole family, not just the struggling learner), have them read “easy” books on topics that interest them.
Researchers have found that allowing your child to “become bored” is actually not a bad thing. It can give them the time to become creative and use their imagination, much like a toddler who explores their surroundings and makes music out of the kitchen pots and pans!
Additional resources on the subject:
The down side of no down time for kids:
Five ways a kid can benefit from being outside this summer break:
Psychologist recommend children become bored in the summer:
Finally, in the busy-ness of summer, make sure to make great family memories with vacations or day trips, and reading interesting books together as a family. We want our children to be curious and to love to learn. However, someday formal schooling will be over. Families will not. Guide your children. Love your children. Enjoy your children. My boys are now men, and we still enjoy each other. A goal worth striving for.
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