Many parents view winter break as a time for children to relax and have fun away from the academic responsibilities of a classroom. After all, parents themselves need a break from helping with homework assignments every night, right? Meanwhile, other parents worry that time away from the classroom may cause academic regression or behavioral problems due to a lack of schedule. With both schools of thought in mind, parents should keep in mind the pros and cons to homework assigned during a school break.
Winter break may be a lot of fun at first, but soon enough, plenty of kids ask their parents that familiar question, "What can I do?" When teachers assign homework, children have something to do in those moments when they are not exactly sure how to occupy themselves, and they become less likely to complain about boredom. Working on school assignments can help also break up the long days and give your child tasks to complete while you are away at work or busy with your own chores. Homework can also keep your child from watching a lot of TV or playing video games all day long, which tends to happen more often during winter months when it's cold outside.
Retaining and Sharpening Academic Skills
Children who are assigned homework during extended periods away from school are more likely to retain skills learned in the classroom. Continuous practice helps keep information fresh in their minds. With all the time spent at home, kids may be more likely to discuss their assignments with parents, siblings or friends, which can further enhance their interest in academic subjects. They can also get more help from their parents since household schedules may be less chaotic. Parents can use this time to help children reinforce skills and practice weaker subject areas. In the article "Top 10 Homework Tips," KidsHealth.org recommends setting up a homework area, developing a homework plan and praising your children's efforts as she makes strides in her assignments.
Some teachers assign creative projects during vacations, which many children enjoy. This allows children more time to work on elaborate projects while they are at home for extended periods. Such projects might involve artwork or research. Your child may be asked to create a poster or complete a book report. For some children, these types of assignments offer a chance to get creative. Your child may have an opportunity to work with different materials, collaborate with peers outside of the classroom, visit a museum or library or even conduct an interview. Creative projects can be more motivating than some of the busywork required when school is in session.
As Merri Rosenberg writes in her "New York Times" article "In the Schools; Homework Beckons, Vacation Vanishes," more and more students are finding their "once-sacred vacation time has been eaten away by homework." While there are many benefits to children having homework during winter break, some parents feel that such assignments drain their children's energy rather than giving them a chance to recuperate and recharge before heading back to school.
Often times, parents fear that children will be stressed and that homework defeats the point of having a winter break. These parents believe that their children will return to school well-rested and mentally ready to learn if they have a chance to relax without the pressures of work and deadlines. According to Seema Mehta in her "Los Angeles Times" article "Some Schools are Cutting Back on Homework," school districts are beginning to listen to arguments against homework and in response, they are banning busywork or eliminating assignments during school vacations.
Finding a Balance
If your child's teacher does assign homework for winter break, you may need to help find a balance between work and play. Trust that the teacher has reasons for giving students assignments, and try not to require your child to complete it all at once -- unless that is something she prefers. Allow your child to have a chance to enjoy some time away from school by scheduling one assignment or one small portion of a project each day. This way, your child will not feel overwhelmed on her first few days home from school and she will not be overwhelmed toward the end of break, either. She may need more support than usual to complete assignments over break, because she may find it difficult to focus outside of her usual routine. Considering having siblings help each other and share what they are learning in school.