As both a teacher and a parent, it is undeniable that summertime is my favourite time of year. However, to go along with the fun times with my kids and the relaxing days spent outside, in past years I would also experience a lot of guilt throughout the summer. I tended to feel guilty about not being as productive as I should be and about not preparing enough for teaching in the fall. But the thing I felt most guilty about was not making my kids keep up with school work during their time off.
Here was my dilemma. While one part of me (the responsible part) thinks that my kids should be keeping up with academics during the summer, the other part of me (the fun part) thinks that summer is meant to unwind, relax, and decompress. These two parts were always in conflict with one another, and so this year I decided to do something about it.
The Importance of Summertime School Work
Before I talk about how I tried to incorporate academics into summer vacation (wow – I sound like the world’s least fun dad), I feel I must first explain why I think keeping up with schoolwork during the summer is important for kids.
1 – Firstly, summer is long. If I stop doing anything (like working out/writing/cooking) for even 2 weeks, let alone 2 months, I often find myself taking a long time to get back into the groove of things. For kids I find it’s even more dramatic because to them 2 months feels like a lifetime. Taking that much time off from basic academic practices such as reading, writing, and math can make it extremely difficult for them to transition back to school mode once September rolls around.
2 – Secondly, students who struggle with particular concepts (math) or are reluctant to participate in certain practices (reading) need more time to improve and see success, not less. While two months away from something that stresses them out may seem good at the time, those feelings of anxiety will will only manifest and become worse once they are back at school. Helping kids find success in areas in which they struggle during summer can actually be beneficial because the stakes aren’t as high, and they can go about it at their own pace.
3 – Lastly, even if your kid is academically strong and they sailed through their school year with flying colours, it is still important to keep them motivated. Having them keep up with some schoolwork, even something they enjoy, can help build on their skills and prepare them for the next grade.
The Voucher Reward System
With all that said, I still found it difficult to incorporate school work into summer vacation because part of me thought that they should have some reprieve, and the other part didn’t want to nag them to do it.
So, I came up with the voucher reward system. Being a big video game player, a lot of the games I like to play include unlocking certain perks or rewards after a certain amount of gameplay. I decided that if I took that same approach, I could get my kids motivated to WANT to do certain academic activities without having to force them do them.
Here’s how it works:
Sit down with your kids and come up with some things you both think that they need or want to work on. For my kids, it mostly centred around reading, writing, and math but you can choose anything that works for you. This also gave us the opportunity to reflect on the school year and plan ahead for the next one. By having them be a part of the goal setting process, I found it super easy to initiate those conversations and to plan for success.
Be mindful however, that sometimes kids have unrealistic ideas of what is achievable, so be prepared to steer them towards more attainable goals. For example, my 8 year old daughter was pretty sure she could read 5 chapter books during the summer. While I’m sure she could if she put her mind to it, the whole point of this is to make it a sustainable practice. The last thing I want is to add stress and anxiety to their lives, so narrowing her goal from 5 to 2 books helped create a more realistic and enjoyable process.
This is the fun part. Have them come up with some rewards that they think are appropriate for completing their goals. While the amount of money and time needed for these rewards may vary depending on the family, I found that my kids were not nearly as demanding or greedy as I originally thought.
Once you have some rewards that you and the kids agree on, simply plug them into the document included above, print it out, and display it. The concept of the voucher system is simple in that they get to decide what the vouchers are worth. One voucher gets them a basic reward but if they save them up, they can get something bigger and better.
After we displayed ours at home, I was blown away at how willing my kids were to grab a book or work on some math during down time. Where they would normally lean towards video games or TV, I was finding them to be diligent in completing their goals and using their vouchers to cash in on the rewards that they created.