Why I Threw Away That Summer Homework Packet!

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While on the TGV leaving Paris for Rennes, she reflects on the day’s events and prepares to jot down her thoughts.

So my daughter comes up to me, asking for help with her summer homework packet shortly after school ended. For those of you who don’t know (or don’t have any children or nieces/nephews), at the end of the school year, teachers give students a thick packet of poorly copied photocopied pages filled with reading passages, math problems, writing assignments, etc. These are to be completed over the summer and submitted to the teacher upon the start of school. This has a tendency of stressing students out during the summer as this is the last thing on their minds when they’re away at camp, vacation, at the beach, playground, etc.

I take her packet and casually throw it in the garbage. Her eyes widen in horror…

Let’s face it. This is purely busywork. I was an elementary school teacher and NEVER gave summer packages to my students because I didn’t want to READ and GRADE these things in September – 25 to 30 packets in all! These will be filed away or worse, thrown away. Let the kids have their fun. I never had such packets growing up.

Back to my daughter. I take her packet and casually throw it in the garbage bin. Her eyes widen in horror and I see immediately that this action caused more stress than the actual prospect of completing the summer packet itself.

“What are you doing?!” she screams incredulously.

“You’re not doing it,” I respond casually. “And you can tell your teacher that I said so,” I continue.

“But this is due in September! I’m going to get in trouble!” I hold up my hand and say, “don’t you worry about it. I know what I’m doing. Trust me.”

She’s 11 and a great girl and a very conscientious student. She wants to do well and appease her wonderful teacher. I mean no disrespect to her teacher but I felt that she could do a far better summer activity which will be more meaningful and intellectually rigorous for her. She needs to be challenged. The task over the summer that I’ve set up for her has to be rewarding and most of all, fun.

For the first time ever, we’re apart for a very lengthy period of time: over two months. She’s spending the summer in France with her grandma, uncles/aunts and a large group of wonderful cousins (two of them are girls around her age). Instead of doing the summer packet, she’s going to do my “packet.” You can do the same with a few modifications. What activities will your child be doing over the summer? What places will he or she visit? Are there any learning opportunities throughout the summer that they can capitalize on? With a few simple examples and tweaks on your behalf, you too can throw away that boring summer packet. If they never received one, create one of your own make their summer an educational one.

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She snapped this quick pick of her journal and sent it to me for this post via iMessage. Cool!

Here is what she’ll do over the summer:

  • Write – I provided for her a journal, pencils, and a sharpener. Basic stuff yet very powerful tools. She’s to write her thoughts, notes, observations, impressions, dates, to-do list, anything on the journal. She can even draw and doodle. She must do this every night. If she skips a night due to a family activity or trip, she can create a quick list or a simple graphic organizer. This will obviously enhance her writing but she’ll also continue to improve on taking notes, writing a personal narrative, and sequencing events throughout the long summer.
  • Read – She brought along several books that must be read by summer’s end. This is a  no-brainer.
  • Learn about the French Culture – She’s visited France many times but this time she’ll be completely immersed in the culture: the food, the language, the customs, everything! No one’s going to hold her hand here – full immersion!
  • Learn French – My daughter doesn’t speak French. She’ll be on her own and will have to learn  how to speak it and understand it. This is the greatest task set before her. Learning another language is the best gift we can offer. She’ll have to manage how to communicate: hand gestures, drawings, using the French/English dictionary she brought along, heck, even pantomiming.
  • Learn the Spanish Culture – Towards the end of the summer, she’ll travel to Spain for a couple of days. This presents yet another chance to learn about another rich culture. I sometimes speak spanish at home to her so she’ll be able to understand a little of it in Spain.
  • Appreciate the Arts –  As she travels in France and Spain, perhaps she’ll visit a museum or art gallery and admire works of art and architecture. . She’ll have to write about it afterward and/or take pictures.
  • Be a photojournalist – She was given a point-and-shoot digital camera. She is to take pictures of everything. This will serve several purposes. It’s a great hobby, she can use another medium to document her observations and travels, and she can ultimately use the pictures for a Powerpoint presentation in a future school project.
  • Utilize technology – I gave her my old iPhone 3GS (without the service of course). This will serve as a backup camera but it’s primary purpose is for her to text me wherever wi-fi is available. She’ll have to flex her techie skills in connecting to networks and troubleshoot connectivity issues. She also has many translation apps installed she could use to communicate.
  • Develop Social Skills – She’s incredibly shy so this is a great opportunity for her to get out of her shell a bit. What better way to do this than with family?
  • Learn Geography – Most students (even adults) don’t know basic geography. This is an opportune time for her to mark the places she’s been to and learn about the surrounding area by either looking at a physical map or utilizing technology.
  • Learn to be Independent – My daughter and I are “thick as thieves” I always say; she’s a total Daddy’s Girl. But at some point she’ll have to learn to be less dependent on me. Sure, that time will come soon enough (and I’ll be the one eating these words for sure) but I want her to have a little more self-confidence and be more self-reliant. I just found out a few days ago that the girls walked several blocks alone to the beach and back. Also on another day, they took the bus alone into town. My 11-year old and her two 12-year old cousins! She would never do that here.

As you can see, the summer packet was actually a breeze compared to what I have set out for her. What’s more important is that she has ample opportunities to learn from this unique experience. She’ll bring back a journal full of great entries, a camera filled with wonderful pictures and will possess a set of positive experiences and memories of this summer that will hopefully last a lifetime. I hope to find a changed little girl upon her return.

No meager summer packet can ever fulfill those wishes.

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7 responses to “Why I Threw Away That Summer Homework Packet!

  1. Well done you, she will bring back her treasure and the act of writing, photographing, drawing and whatever will embed the trip in her memory forever.

  2. And she is doing what those packets should be encouraging her to do: reading, writing, and thinking a little about her summer experience.

    • Unfortunately, although they mean well, it’s basically rote learning and just plain busywork. I definitely hope that she learns from all of this and I’ll have some good reading material when she returns! 😉

  3. You did well! the challenges that you gave her are more interesting and opend minded than de usual homework given by the school.

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