Plenty of summertime pleasures from our childhoods are going the way of the Dodo—kick the can, Kool-Aid, fireflies—but perhaps none are as much as an understandable bummer for our kids than a break from homework. Sure, there was the odd handout of suggested reading lists, which may have motivated my mother to nudge me past the Babysitters Club section of the sandy-floored Atlantic Bookshop on Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. But today’s children come home from their last day of school not only with “required” reading lists, but also composition books, workbooks, and a laundry list of assignments and expectations. And I admit, after reading about the “summer slide” when it comes to kids’ knowledge, I’ve embraced this new-school-order, and enforce—there’s no other word for it—10 minutes or so of homework most days we’re home.
The other day, after my boys were literally rolling on the hardwood floors in despair over the prospect of starting the requisite summer letter to their new teachers, I wondered if perhaps there was a better, more creative, more merciful way to keep kids’ brains from turning to slush over the summer. I sent an email to a fellow blogger who writes about educational theory: former middle school teacher and creator of The Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzalez. I was wondering if you might be willing to get back to me with some of your favorite, experience- or research-based ideas for keeping children’s minds engaged during the lazy, hazy, unstructured days of summer, I wrote her. Beyond homework.
Jennifer’s reply surprised me. First, she admitted that despite the fact that her blog focuses on helping kids learn, she, too, feels like she’s falling short in the summer mental enrichment department, too. During unstructured hours, she says, she ends up letting her kids spend far more time on their devices than she thinks she should. However, she writes, I can say that one thing I’m doing this summer is to give them more hands-on work in the house. During the school year we are usually so rushed to “get things done” that I don’t have the patience to let them do a lot of household chores or cook their own food. And I rarely remember to follow up and make sure they did them. But this summer I’m having them wash dishes, take out the trash and recycling, and pick up dog poop on a regular schedule. When they ask if they can cook something, the answer is usually “yes,” and I am even able to get them to clean up after themselves with some level of satisfaction. To me, this is stimulating in a different way than academic enrichment or summer activities would be. It’s teaching them the kind of responsibility and skills they will need to function as citizens, as roommates, and as members of their own families someday.
How simple, and smart. With more time in their days, fewer clothes to dirty, and tools like hoses at the ready, summer is, of course, the ideal time to begin getting kids into the habit of more “home work.” Plus, though I’ve written before about how kids can benefit from doing work around the house, research supporting this theory has only grown since I wrote that post. A recent survey of more than 5000 parents by the smartphone data company Pollfish found that those who insist on regular chores are more likely to report their kids as being successful in school and in relationships.
You can find loads of age-appropriate chore charts in the blogosphere—and a hilarious send-up of the genre by a psychologist mom, here. So, without foisting yet another to-do list for child enrichment on readers who probably master the chore game better than me, I’ll simply share a few of the best ideas I’ve found for getting kids into a more helpful mindset for the balance of summer—with seasonal needs and realism in mind.
Use preschoolers as “helpers.” We all know that getting kids to do chores can be a chore in itself, and that’s ten-fold for littles. Rather than set them out on a task solo, have them work alongside you more often. Some good ideas for this age group:
-Scrubbing car mats
-Wiping down a picnic or patio table
-Rounding up backyard toys before dinnertime
-Putting socks into pairs
Give 6- to 12-year-old “real” jobs—and don’t hover. Children this age are old enough to be decently helpful, but they—and you—will only get frustrated if you nitpick. Show them a technique once, if need be, and then let them be. Some summer tasks that are worth dishing out to elementary schoolers:
-Watering plants and flowers
-Washing car exteriors
-Cleaning and hosing down garbage cans
-Organizing toys in the garage
-Folding—or at least putting away—their own laundry
Make a Job Jar. I’m not a huge fan of “making a game” out of anything that seems unpalatable for kids, but this strategy for getting children on board with chores is pretty simple and has been well received in our house. Label a mason jar and put folded up pieces of paper labeled with chores that need to get done—think of things that have been hanging over your head for awhile, like finding lost library books or cleaning underneath couches—inside. Once a week, let kids pick from the job jar (and maybe actually earn a few bucks for it).
Appeal to their “App”sessiveness. Allow them to earn iPad time by first checking off a to-do list online, via one of the new apps created just for this purpose. These are helpful especially if you’re having trouble getting a chore system for kids off the ground. Two chore apps to check out: My Job Chart and Funifi DO.