Moms Talk: Summer Assignments

The Suffield Patch Moms Council muses on motivating kids to do summer reading and other homework.

Suffield Patch invites you and your circle of friends to help build a community of support for mothers and their families right here in Suffield.

Each week in Moms Talk, our Moms Council of experts and smart moms take your questions, give advice and share solutions.

So grab a cup of coffee and settle in and welcome our Suffield moms: Cami Beiter, Lisa Coatti, Wendy Pierman Miztel and Sherry Paquette. The topic today is summer homework.

How do you motivate your kids to get summer reading and other work done? How do you enforce a semblance of a schedule so the start of school doesn't hit like a mac truck? What do you do to make sure chores and work around the house gets done?

Lisa Coatti

This summer I have chosen bribery to motivate my children. It is just too hot for the energizing speeches and methods of the frigid winter.

 Each child has a math packet and a “Summer Bridge” workbook to do over the course of vacation. A four-week reprieve was given at the start of the summer. There is nothing in the world like just being a kid in the summer. Everyone enjoyed the week at the beach, the unstructured days and a plethora of summer camps, task free.

 I recently brought up the subject of daily homework worksheets, which need to be completed by the end of August. This news was received with a batch of blank stares. “You need to do one math page and one workbook page each morning before we do anything else,” I informed them. Sighs and cries of, “Why do we have to?” rose from their voices like a chorus.

 “I will pay you a quarter for each page you complete.” The chorus was silenced. 

 As an extra motivator, I provided a plastic box next to their homework station to keep their stockpiles of change. The girls happily decorated their boxes with stickers and markers. My son said, “Do I have to keep my money in this thing?” He has chosen some mystery place in his room for storing his change. So far it is working.

Other tasks are more difficult. We have become a house of people who ease into the day a little later than we should. I use the peaceful morning time to get work done or take care of needed chores. The children love doing nothing in their pajamas and we all appreciate the missing mad dash getting out the door during the school year. It is becoming more and more difficult, however, to get them motivated to actually dress and brush their teeth at a respectable hour. 

Just today, after a battle of teeth brushing, I announced that no one will have breakfast unless they are dressed and groomed. This is the well-practiced method used for getting all of us out of the house by 8 a.m. in the winter and I’ve pulled it out of the bag. No one should still be in his or her pajamas at 11 a.m.

 My final trick is to use the pool as a dangling carrot. Each day, weather permitting, we drive the half-mile to my mother’s pool after lunch. The children love to swim and I find the pool creates an environment with much less sibling rivalry and bickering. Recently, it began to seem like the pool was taken for granted. In their eyes, going swimming was a right, not a privilege. As such, each child is required to do one chore at grandma’s house before they are allowed to swim. This might involve weeding, dragging branches to the burn pile or other such hard labor.

The chores do not go without complaint but it is a way to keep them mindful that life, and summer is not all about play.

We continue to be lazy and relaxed in the summer. We know all too well what a hectic life lies ahead in just a few short weeks. I believe that summer is supposed to equal lazy days full of random adventures and freedom, but keeping just a glimmer of structure, order, homework and chores will make the reality of September just a little less painful for all of us.

Wendy Pierman Mitzel

I often struggle with letting the summer get away from me versus reigning it in with an attempt to control my kids. Summer is a break from the responsibility of homework; nagging and making sure sports uniforms are clean. I try to milk that for all it's worth! 

Still, there is a line to avoid crossing, otherwise it's that much harder to get back to where you started. I should know, I'm very good at pushing that envelope!

The key to everything, of course, is balance. 

So, I try to balance summer pool time with cleaning out bedroom closets. The promise of long video game sessions is balanced with the requirement of first unloading the dishwasher or taking out the garbage. 

Another trick is simply (and I use that word with a chuckle) to make it a habit. Read before bed, no matter what. Walk the dog every day. 

But from my perspective, summer is as much an excuse for me to take it easy as much as it is for the kids. I'd rather head out for a day at a museum than worry about the dishwasher.

That is, until about mid-August when I realize the place is looking like a beach house after a wild teenage party. 

That's when I start my usual end-of-summer diatribe about pulling our lives back together. We all woefully begin to tie up the loose ends of summer, pick up the wet pool towels from the floor and move toward the new school year.

Sherry Paquette

By the end of the school year, my sons and I are jumping for joy at the prospect of lazy, hazy summer days. The school-year schedule is so incredibly stressful with all of the homework, sports and activities. Don’t get me wrong; I have loved watching my sons in football, basketball, lacrosse and wrestling (well, ok, not the wrestling so much – it is really hard to see young men twisted like pretzels!). I really dig helping with homework and projects, too.

But let’s face it, as we go through the school year, it is easy to lose perspective. How often do we say, “The priority this Saturday morning is to hang out and have fun?” There is always a practice, a project or chores. We parents do get caught up in all the competition too. Life becomes a rat race of accelerated classes, sports and activities.

This really hit me in the face years ago when my sons and I were vacationing in Vermont. We were staying at the summer lodge of a wonderful Suffield family. Nestled in the hills, this awesome hideaway was not about game systems and TV shows, but board games in front of a gas fireplace and ping pong in the family room. Long summer days were spent slowly kayaking on a beautiful lake. When we left, we were so sad and I vowed to try to carry the preciousness of quality family time back to our busy lives in Connecticut.

So the first few weeks of summer I encourage my kids to not have much of a schedule. I tell them to take that much needed break and decompress. This is a terrific time to have children do some of their summer reading, though. When the boys were younger, we used to have “family read times” where all three of us lounged in the living room or back yard for a half hour to an hour a day certain days of the week to read our books.

By the third week in July, I would usually start to get the boys to commit to a schedule to complete their required summer reading, math packets and anything else due at the start of school. I found the best way to do this was to break it down in chart form. I would block out times each day for each child to work on his math packet, summer reading or summer paper. This was and is a great tool to show a child what the time commitment needs to be in increments of an hour a day, for example, in order to complete everything on time.

I have always used charts and lists to help guide my guys through what my expectations are for chores. Personally, I get sick of hearing myself repeat the same request over and over, so I can only imagine how irritating it is for my kids. So to make their life easier, I put everything down on paper. I also make it clear that if there is a lot of dramatic complaining, or if the chores are not done, there are consequences. Game systems, computer keyboards and cell phones disappear. Cable television mysteriously malfunctions.

Around the second week of August, I usually try to get together school supplies and wardrobe.

It seems that the more prepared kids are for school, the less stressed out they are at the prospect of going back. This is a time when many parents start to reintroduce the school schedule.

Though this seems to work great for a lot of families, the Paquettes do something a little different. The last full week before school starts, we regroup. I take off work and we take off to Vermont for a bit, take day trips to beaches and lakes and have friends and family over for games, movies and the essential bonfires. It is pivotal for my kids and me to reconnect and bond before taking on another school year. We rekindle and stoke the family fire so that we are, individually and as a unit, ready for another year.

Cami Beiter

I have trouble finding my own motivation in the summer, much less for my kids. Although I do try to lead by example, I love to read and my kids know that. Since they were babies, books have been a constant on my nightstand. Books and magazines have always been an arm’s reach from all couches, chairs and toilets. Hoorah!

Their summer reading list is posted on the refrigerator. When they finish a book, they log it, along with the number of pages read. I don’t need to motivate, but occasionally I have to push the reading agenda. Some nights, they’re in bed and reading. On a hot afternoon, I’ve seen my daughter sitting in a cool room, reading.

If reading is being overthrown by video games, I’ve made them log reading minutes. For each minute read, they are allowed an electronic vice for the same time. Reading for 30 minutes translates to 30 minutes of video games. I won’t use reading as a punishment, but I will use the minute log to raise awareness of time spent.

The benefit of my children being older is the selection of reading material. I no longer have to deal with the thin chapter books and redundant book series they were stressed to read. In my opinion, since they’re older, the book selections are more interesting, realistic and thought provoking. Not all boys are interested in reading books on baseball legends and G-rated mysteries and not all girls want to hear about gossipy hallways and horses.

Whether it’s The Week magazine, a comic book or a tattered copy of The Great Gatsby, the important thing to remember is that your children are reading. 

I gave up on the stresses of the reading schedule and school calendar long ago. Just keep your schedule consistent, stress the importance of reading and don’t be afraid to ban the electronics for long periods of time. This will hold true for chores as well. If you allow them to not follow through with tasks, don’t expect your laundry list of chores to be completed. If they’re not done, hold them accountable. No exceptions. School doesn’t begin for another month; remind them you have the luxury (and power) of adding more tasks to the chore list!

Alex | Perfecting Dad July 25, 2011 at 09:15 PM
I know this piece is a "here's what we do" thing, but I felt compelled to write a brief comment about bribing or paying for performance. I wrote a post about it called <a href="http://www.perfectingparenthood.com/content/dont-pay-your-child-chores">Don't Pay Your Child For Chores</a>. The issue is that, although the gesture is well intentioned, briding might have results that are opposite to what you seek. If you hope your children will love reading, for example, them paying them to read is much more likely to demotivate them from reading spontaneously. Anyway, just a tidbit of information. I love the writing style here, I will visit more. Alex | Perfecting Dad
Nichole Jones August 01, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Summer camps are very helpful, especially for practicing math and avoiding summer slide. Math is inevitable, but our students are more likely to avoid math and thus they are not able to compete with the international students. They are lagging behind. I have recently found and bought tutorteddy math curriculum for my daughter. They have used the techniques that have been around for last 100 years, they use the similar curriculum used by Thomas Edison and other American inventors. The curriculum is cheap and reusable. Students can practice this curriculum during summer vacation.


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