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Should kids get summer homework?

Pointless busywork or essential academic upkeep? The experts weigh in on the hot debate.

By Leslie Crawford

Jill Notte's daughter Sara is a straight-A student, and she’s taking five advanced-placement courses this fall. It’ll be her senior year.

This ambitious undertaking may prove Sara's undoing — at least if the 17 year old wants to enjoy her summer vacation. Somewhere in between spending a week at a Girls State program, a month at the New Jersey Governor's School of Engineering and Technology at Rutger's University, and visiting a few potential colleges, Sara must complete the following workload before school starts:

• Read five novels for AP English
• Read one book for AP History
• Complete a packet of assignments and problems for AP Calculus
• Complete a packet of assignments and problems for AP Chemistry
• Write several summaries of scientific principles for Honors Physics

Oh, and her English teacher recommends that she attend Shakespeare performances at the local college to supplement the many plays she's required to read as part of AP English. "I try to put a positive spin on it," says Sara's mother, Jill. "I told her, ‘Summertime’s a great time to read Shakespeare!'" But, admits Jill, it's not so easy to put the same kind of "fun" spin on the stack of mind-numbing calculus and chemistry books hefty enough to take down a Yellowstone grizzly.

Forget languidly balmy weeks unwinding from the stress of an intensive school year. Goodbye, as well, to working her usual summer job as a lifeguard, which Sara unhappily has to forgo — along with the money she hoped to save for college. As her mother puts it, "Summer homework is a full-time job."

A working vacation

Sara’s not alone. The oxymoronically named "vacation work" is on the rise. Sara's older sister had only a few books to read over the summer when she was in high school — and that was just eight years ago. Jill, who like her daughters was a high achiever in the top five percent of her class, remembers completely homework-free summers.

Many parents remember their own childhood summers as true respites from school, devoid the rigor and rigidity of academic life. Summer was a sprawling mass of unstructured time that ranged from idyllic laziness to stupefying boredom to invigorating camps and family vacations, not scores of math worksheets, science packets, and lists of "good-for-you" classics that hardly qualify as light beach reads.

Harris Cooper, chairman of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and America’s leading homework scholar who co-authored the landmark meta-study on homework, says that while there exists no formal studies on the rise in summertime homework, he's witnessed a particularly sharp increase over the past two years — probably a response "to high-stakes testing and accountability issues for schools."

Just say no?

Some parents argue summer homework is nothing more than bland busywork that saps the joy and spontaneity from summer. So says Sara Bennett, founder of "Even if there is a summer slide, I don't think homework is the solution,” Bennett says. “Kids don't have enough downtime during the school year. I think they need that freshness during summer."

Here’s a revolutionary approach for vacation purists who say kids deserve a good, old-fashioned summer free from intense brain-strain: Just say no. That's what Bennett suggests a parent do in the fall if a child is averse to doing the packet. "I'd send it back and say, 'I'm sorry, my child didn't have a chance to do it.' " (A parental dispensation only possible for kids who haven't entered the high-school pressure cooker where — as with Sara Notte — summer homework is graded and can directly affect a student's chances to enter a top-tier university.)

Protecting young minds from melting

On the other side of the summer homework debate are the moms and dads who, when the school doors slam shut, ramp up the supplemental brain work, even if the teachers didn’t provide it themselves. Most parents, though, fall somewhere in the for-better-or-worse-summer-homework-is-here-to-stay camp.

So if the kids have to do it, can we at least be reassured that it's a magic bullet to protect young minds from melting? "We can't say that with any objective data," Cooper says. "But we would make the assumption if students are continuing to flex their mental muscles over the summer, this would have a positive effect on how much material they retain when they return."

Certainly, studies support that painful truth that students — no matter their economic status — lose about two months of math abilities over the summer months. (When it comes to reading, low-income students also fall behind by two months.) If a teacher doesn't supply one, says Cooper, "[Math] might be one area when you want to introduce the dreaded worksheets." (For on-the-go worksheets, try’s Take-Home Backpack sets.)

No buy-in from the kids

"There definitely is a lag — I'm not denying that," says Denise Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success, a research and student-intervention project. "I absolutely agree that three months is a long time to not do anything. That said, I'm not sure this idea of giving workbooks and pages and pages of handouts works."

The reason it doesn't work? "There's not a buy-in from the [kids]," Pope argues. "In order for any learning to be retained, there has to be engagement on the part of the students." Pope explains that students need the "ABCs of engagement,” which means they’re engaged affectively, behaviorally, and cognitively. "If they're intrinsically motivated, then they'll want to do it."

"I know kids who get these huge 40-page math packets," Pope says. "It's because [teachers] want [kids], over time, to have systematic practice. The problem is that this requires an adult to monitor this kind of disciplined work. It's not like a kid can do that on his own. So it puts a burden more on the parents."

Year-round homework blues

So, alas, those nightly angst-ridden homework dramas that run from September through June now get year-round billing. The other problem, Pope says, is that summer homework packets (frequently put off until the last unhappy week before school begins), often seem to fall into an academic black hole once they’re turned in — with no feedback from teachers and no effect on kids' grades.

As for the work that Pope's three kids — ages 10, 12, and 15 — get handed at school's end, she tells them, "'I won't bug you about this at all. I won't be the police.' We look at the assignments they get for the summer and I say, 'How long do you think this will take? Do you want me to remind you to do it?' " But if they leave it until the tail end of the summer, Pope says, well, that's their choice. It’s their vacation, after all.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"What bothers me most is the lack of feedback my kids have gotten from their teachers when the summer work is handed in at the beginning of the new school year. The math packets, if returned, have had a check-mark only. Same with the essays they've had to write based on a required book to read as well as a "free-choice" book. These don't get discussed in class. As a math teacher and tutor for over 25 years, I know that teacher feedback is very important to students, and to their parents! I want to know that the teacher has taken the time to carefully look over my kid's work and comment on his/her responses. I know teachers are overworked (I'm also married to one) and underpaid, but I feel like we shouldn't assign work unless we have the time to give thoughtful responses to what our students hand in. I also object to our district assigning work for kids without providing the rationale for it . . . . what statistics can they provide to me that prove that the required summer math worksheets and reflective essays really make a difference when kids hit school again in September? If such data exists, make it known to parents -- and kids! Our district threatens students with a "zero" if the work is not completed, without providing us with a valid educational reason for doing it! And with the lack of feedback (in our district), kids get the message that it really wasn't that important. "
"One poster said: "Grooming kids to expect 3 months of no work to "unwind from a stressful year" sets them up for having a hard time in a 12-month stressful professional life." Gee, I had no summer homework the entire time I went to school and never had a hard time dealing with my "12-month stressful professional life." "
"I agree with the parent above, and we are homeschoolies'! We have the ability to take breaks, set the number of hours we work (and break for)! as long as we get in our 180 days! but we know people with kids in public school, and we are all pretty sure that the 'piles' of homework on our kids is a direct result of lazy teachers! She/he wants to file her final reports saying ' All material was covered" Well guess what we can say the same, but WE get to pick the curriculum or NO CURRICULUM AT ALL! We know what she is lacking in, and what she excels at, so WE get to decide, not some first year teacher ! BTW, she will be starting 5th grade in the fall (or whenever we decide to start!) this summer she's enjoying 'down time'but she is also starting art classes at our local museum! (something we don't do much of!) last summer she went to our Science Discovery Center, the year before that she joined other children at our childrens Little Theatre! she now has 3 plays under her 'belt'. Is she socially well rounded...I'd bet my last dollar on that one! "
"The following comment made earlier in this section is very upsetting to me: "Grooming kids to expect three months of no work to 'unwind from a stressful year' sets them up for having a hard time in a 12-month, stressful, professional life. " So, is it a GOOD thing to overwork our kids so that they expect to live a super busy life with no chance to rest??? I don't think so. Other countries encourage people to take time off from work. It recharges our batteries, restores creativity, and encourages us to treat each other with respect and care. Stop turning our schools into factories. Give kids time to think so that they CAN learn. Stop the deluge of homework. --Sue, in Redmond, WA "
"I absolutely agree that children should be sent home with packets for the summer as some of the former parents have mentioned. I even created worksheets for my son to complete over holiday break. At his school they work one grade level ahead in reading and math so they need to be ready for the following school otherwise they will be behind. Having to get his/her child caught up would be more of a burden on the parent during the school year because the child still has his/her regular classwork and homework to do. It makes it easier for all involved - parent, teacher and student. "
"My suggestion is to quit school and get a real life and education- read Grace Llewellyn's book The Teenage Liberation handbook. This applies to all ages. School hurts kids and robs them of their childhood. Kids learn just by breathing and they've been doing that since they took their first breath naturally. If your child was a happy, relaxed kid who loved learning and exploring before going to school, then quit!!! I wish I never sent my daughter to institutionalized learning. But noe she has been free to learn for four years and is doing great! AND she is happy, relaxed and loves life. AND she still loves being around mom and dad. AND she is 13. School is antifamily. It robs parents of their kids and robs kids of their childhood. The comment about AP courses - kids are stressed out throughout the year with no hardness that they'll get college credit even if they pass the course. They can take dual enrollment classes and have a better chance of transferring credit! without the stress. help yourself and help your kids achieve awesomeness by quitting school. Quit the race to nowhere! "
"From a former fine arts teacher - affective domain. Not enough conservative basics, discipline and accountability on the part of all involved. Summer is the time to reorganize, make alterations in lifestyle and possibly develop new habits and/or routines. Identify the unworkable situations from the past year and eliminate them from the year ahead. The academic year, which begins and ends in the summer, is the real calander for students to follow. This is the best time for any transition to take effect; but, not during the school sessions, which finds one too busy to deal with shifts in the plan. Children are out of school; however, they must never be free of structure, responsibility and a morning schedule of events, including, but not limited to: Bedtime and morning rise time, meal schedule, perhaps an hour of reading, practicing, exercising and "morning work" before setting sail for the day. "Early to bed, early to rise..." is solid gold. Then go from there. Oh, an occasional late night/late get up time is actually a good thing. In addition, a vacation, free time, a good day camp or sports/arts camp should be considered as well. Remember that children are an investment. Parents are presently tighter with funding believing that the future is more important. Not so! Give them all the benefits now and the rest will take care of itself. The first 18 years are the hardest, but certainly the most significant ones. Lastly and most importantly, keep their spiritual lives first and foremost. We must place God at the Helm of everything we do and, that is difficult to do in a public school setting. Good wishes to all families! "
"Did Sara's non-AP classmates get as much summer work? Because I'm pretty sure that she had the option to take regular classes and still have her summer, but without those classes she probably reduces her chances at a scholarship and in fact her options for college. It might seem like a lot of work now, but I can tell you firsthand how hard it is later in life without that all important degree, and assistance to pay for it. In my own daughter's case, the last two summers were spent at day camp because I had to work and while she had fun, she also needed about a month of school to catch up to where she was before summer. This year she's at home and enjoying herself still, but with some daily activities to keep her skills on track, so we can hopefully hit the ground running come August. "
"School is busy and leaves kids with too little time for fun and on-their-own learning/exploring, so when summer comes, my kids (6 and 12) are mostly free to do what they want. We have 4-H and my older son is in scouts and is doing a short tennis "camp" but otherwise they can just BE KIDS! :D "
"In light of global competition, the schools are trying to compete with China and india. For every one honor role American student , India has 540. This was not the case in the 70s. Chinese students are working five times harder than our students. I doubt if summer school is even debated in these parts of the world. Welcome to global competition and keeping your children marketable for this new world order. "
"I've been a teacher for 15 years and I see the need of reviewing skills on summer time, but it shouldn't be tons of work. I understand that having some summer work will be valuable for every student so he/she can catch up with the most important skills to start good the next year. I also agree that summer is to have fun, but not getting into laziness. There can be time for everything, to play, to learn, to sleep, to have quality family time, and to review important skills and read a good book. "
"It really is time to get serious about year-round school, with one, two or three-week vacations between terms. No assigning extra work during the vacations. Promote optional educational travel, project weeks, workshops, etc. during some vacations, but no worksheets, assigned reading, or anything else that is a school requirement. Long vacations with no mental stimulation are reasons and excuses for forgetting. All of us, however, benefit from change in routine, and some time to relax. "
"I work as a teen and children's librarian and the summer homework packets I've seen given to students in grades as young as PreK is ridiculous. With that amount of homework, they might as well just extend the school year! There are some reasonable summer homework requests, though, like read for 15 minutes a day or complete 5 math worksheets or handwriting worksheets. Simple stuff to keep a child's mind active. (Although, I think it is really given to remind parents to not let chldren suffer from brain rot!) Each student should get three homework assignments to complete over the summer: 1. read a book on their level and write a report about it; 2. visit a museum/zoo and write a one page report about an animal or artist they saw at the zoo/museum; and 3. complete the requisite "what did I do over the summer" essay. "
"No they don't need summer homework ! Its summer they get enough homework over the SCHOOL YEAR ! They don't need it during the summer months as well they need time for themselves . "
"My child don't get any homework from the school, maybe because she is just 7. This will be the 3rd summer that I have bought some activity books for her to do while shes out of school. Shes going to second grade this Sept. and I bought her a second grade math, writing and reading comprehension activity book so she can be ahead or at least in the same page when her new teacher start giving her this work. My daughter loves to do this during the summer even when we went to my original country last year. My daughter is more advance in school work than most kids. She loves school and having mind occupied. "
"My daughter is entering 6th grade this year and really loses what she learns over the summer. I've never really stressed the whole summer homework thing. We still read together in the evenings and do other fun but educational things over the summer. However, this year she asked for a summer bridge book. I think that's pretty cool. I personally am a supporter of year round schooling. It is more beneficial to the kids to be in school regularly and they still get the same amount of vacation, just broken up into smaller increments. "
"I think we underestimate our kids' abilty (and interest) to keep learning during summer. Grooming kids to expect 3 months of no work to "unwind from a stressful year" sets them up for having a hard time in a 12-month stressful professional life. Downtime PLUS work, expectations PLUS personal time, is in my opinion a better way to coach kids to keep their minds and bodies active all year round. "
"No Summer Homework! Each year since I was in Kindergarten, I would have to log 20 entries in a summer notebook. We could write about a fun thing we did during the day, a dream we had, or something we would like to do. It was pretty much write about whatever you wanted. It was fun to do, and you only had to do 20 entries, although many kids in my class did more because your new teacher would read the book and learn about you that way. It was a great way to break the ice at the beginning of the year. Schools should have kids write little journals/diaries over the summer about all of the fun they had, NOT start them on calculus and physics and advanced coursework. >:( "
"There is so much homework that we have given up family reading for fun, since 5th grade. In high school my daughter was also taking several AP classes. When once she used to read 200+ books for fun in the summer, she had assigned reading and work to do instead. Math packets from 5th -11th grades do not make sense, as they get no feedback during the summer, unless your schedule matches that of the guidance office. They can spend the summer doing the math completely wrong, and it is graded in the fall, after a 1 or 2 week review. If done as is expected throughout the summer, the early problems are still as far removed as the end of school work. Same as if they complete the packet the first week of break. Sometimes they do it all the last week of summer break, when supposedly they have forgotten it all. So how does it help? We would like to do more fun things, but it seems our kids are punished for those who "need" summer homework. "
"Love the idea of having the "schoolwork" done by 10am, and that should be do-able, but clearly, the people writing that are stay-at-home moms. In the article it was stated "it puts a burden more on the parents". Isn't that the truth?! And quite some number of us have jobs that DON'T follow the school calendar year and we'd like time to be a little lighter in the summers too. But alas... My son just graduated high school (very tough magnet program) and had summer work from first grade on. Too much! These kids can never come back and recapture childhood. People complain that they seem to be growing up much faster than we did and wonder why. Poor Sara had so many activities and schoolwork that she couldn't even maintain her summer job, which is another learning opportunity for these kids. The resumes they have to build to get into a good college is ridiculous! It's no wonder that so many of them are burnt out before they even grace the college campus. I've seen high-performer students opt out for a menial job and turn down a full-ride scholarship because they're too burnt out. We reap what we sow. And as for those AP classes... don't get your hopes up that they'll lessen the load or shorten the college time (especially in any higher-ranked colleges). Appreciate them for the level of knowledge and experience your kids will be entering college with so that they can compete better. My son had 5s in Calc AB, Calc BC, Physics B, Physics C,... and isn't getting any credit for ANY of them! "
"There is so much homework that we have given up family reading for fun, since 5th grade. In high school my daughter was also taking several AP classes. When once she used to read 200+ books for fun in the summer, she had assigned reading and work to do instead. Math packets from 5th -11th grades do not make sense, as they get no feedback during the summer, unless your schedule matches that of the guidance office. They can spend the summer doing the math completely wrong, and it is graded in the fall, after a 1 or 2 week review. If done as is expected throughout the summer, the early problems are still as far removed as the end of school work. Same as if they complete the packet the first week of break. Sometimes they do it all the last week of summer break, when supposedly they have forgotten it all. So how does it help? We would like to do more fun things, but it seems our kids are punished for those who "need" summer homework. "
"My kids work so hard at school with homework every weekend, holiday, and almost every night, it is hard to fit in sports, reading, music practice.. Often we don't get it done. They work much longer than my husband or I at our jobs. And we get vacation. They do not! Homework is always hanging over their heads. My youngest used to be be an avid learner, but school burns him out. By the 4th nine weeks his grades go from As to Bs and Cs. There are other ways to exercise a brain besides homework. "
"our children are already behind other countries when it comes to education. nothing wrong with a little summer work. it's easy to incorporate homework into daily activities like grocery shopping. have your kids do the math work. plus its great life skills too. my kids are 4 and 7 and they love learning. i'm setting the foundation early by having a balance of education and fun. "
"I could handle a few books, maybe five pages of math, and a packet of science worksheets. That would leave me plenty of time to relax before school started again. Once school starts, I am overwhelmed with activities and homework. Summer gives me the break I need to do my best work. More homework just takes that away. "
"There is no summer homework in my district until high school.The summer before high school,everyone must read the requried book.I am not sure after that what hw there is over the summer.I am a freshman "
"There is a definite need for summertime academics. We didn't have them when I went to school in the 70s, but we also didn't have satellite TV, the Internet or the personal electronics my daughter and her schoolmates have now. Those distractions are year-round, so adding in a little summer learning as a counterweight doesn't seem at all burdensome. As for the Stanford professor who promised not to "bug" her kids about getting the work done, well, how very enlightened of her. But I think a parent's role is to make sure their children take advantage of the tools and opportunities before them. And as to her comment about there being "no buy-in from the kids," again, the parent has to take the lead. Everyone, at every age, whines about extra work, but that rarely gets you out of doing it. If you want to tie to an extra reward, fine, but the work is still there to be done. My daughter went through her workbook on about the same schedule that she had for homework during the school ! year, and got it done with three weeks to spare. And that was while she attended camps and went family on family vacations. She's no workaholic, but she knew that she was expected to have it done, so she did it. "
"no kids should not get homwork in the summer time because it is not right and becasuse we dont even have the same teachers when we go back to school "
"i have three kids who dont like te idea of having homework over the summer. they want to spend their time at the beach or hanging out with thier friends. they grew up with thier parents telling them to just have fun over the summer that someday they will wish they were kids again. so now is that time for us to let them act likekids and enjoy themself over the summer. the kids want responsibility so that they go out friday nightand have a great time at the movies being able to pay for their own tikets, but they dont want to have to worry about keeping up with their homework or having to remeberwhat that book was all about so they dont fail a test. i say know theyshould not asign homework or even books to read over the summer. "
"As a 40 year veteran in the educational profession, there are 2 sides to this story. Sarah is taking AP classes. These are for college credit. She is not REQUIRED to enroll in that level of education. The purpose of those classes is to get a student through college more quickly. If this is what Sarah chose, then yes, she needs to meet those requirements. (And yes, I'm an oldster who did not have AP classes as a choice, but I don't think I would have taken them because my family insisted on "down" time during the summer. We learned from travel, exploring, and sometimes just laying back and doing nothing. On-the-other-hand, hurray for the mother who states no work after 10 AM. She knows what it is to be a kid. Our children grow up way too fast. We expect them to be little adults. They are not. Through play during the summer, they learn social skills, relaxation skills, and sometimes, NOTHING. And that's ok, too. Allow our children to be children. They will face the real world soon enough. (I loved the two high school girls I spotted the other day in a fast food restaurant wearing the complimentary "crowns" and acting silly. That's what summer is all about -- and that's what being a teenager is all about.) "
"I think it is beneficial to do some sort of learning during the summer, teachers spend the first six weeks repeating some stuff form the previous year because children do forget. Reading especially. My middle school daughter has to read three books before school starts off again, the list was supplied. Nothing wrong with that. My younger one needs a bit of practice every day also so she won't have to struggle with the repetition, but can move right through. It can be made fun, attitude is everything. "
"I feel as though 1 book and a few math problems is enough. My child is in the extended day program which means he goes to school from 8:10 am to 3:55 pm.The reason the parents agreed to this was because we were told no homework would be sent home they would still have to study and do reports. OK that lasted all of maybe a half of the first year. they were to allow 1 hour at the end of the day to finish up any work that could not be done during the day and have help from the teacher. never happen. I feel as though the work should be done at school not at home. I do not want to do the school teachers job. "
"I have five children ages 8 to 13. They all work very hard through out the year. The older children chose to take summer school courses like robotics, latin and math puzzles at CSUS which is part of Academic Talent Search. The younger children chose to join a book club, and have math review work. They are done by 10 am. Each day they all are swimming, hiking, biking, and have access to the library, zoo and/or museum events, playdates, pool parties plus weekends away. Finally, there is time for movies and computers, and swim after dinner. Each reads on their own initiative before slumber. It works for us. "
"My kids are 8 and 10 and we have a time limit of doing summer math/reading/science and their instrument practice all before 10am. Anything after 10 is play/fun learning while discovering nature, museums, water play etc. Hands on life experiences are the best:) "
"Don't you guys think we work hard enough the whole school, why would you want to make us tried before school even started. When most kids come to school at the end of summer they feel rested and more willing to come to school. But homework changes all of that and for kids who don't do good the year before should do it instead of summer school. "
"I absolutely believe in summer "academic" activities or enrichment. Think of your own tendencies. If you develop a habit of exercise and reading, you become better at it and it enriches your day. Same for our children with "math" and other subjects. If it becomes something they do regularly it is no longer a chore rather just another part of the day. My kids feel a sense of accomplishment when they are done and we review their work. It keeps me better connected with their strengths and weaknesses and opens the door for further discussions and learning. So don't let excuses or laziness keep you from encouraging your kids to make good choices for themselves. "
"Your local bookstore has grade levelled materials. Another source is For a small membership fee, you have year long access to worksheets and activities on a variety of subjects. It is also grade levelled. "
"I would like to offer my opinion on this based upon my observations and feedback from my children. They work hard, very hard, in school all year long, as I do on my job. They very much look forward to being rewarded for their efforts with vacation / fun / no stress / care free child / teenage existence! Me too! BUT we have to wait until VACATION comes. There is a time & a Place for Everything! Summer is for vacation NOT school. "
"As a triple-degreed engineer, I entered teaching with a biased mind. GREAT REVELATIONS: I am now VERY convinced that a summer reading program is extremely beneficial. Good for the teacher who posed on this earlier. "
"If the child struggles thru the school year than yes there should be moderate work. My 16 year old has a 3.98 GPA & is doing AP World History( College course) & I am supportive 110%. Parents don't get involved with their childrens' schooling as much as they should. ALL they (children) want to do is sit around & play video games! "
"Why would anyone need a book to practice multiplication and division? Of course, one might need some guidelines on fractions since a significant number of adults cannot do fractions/ percents. Send me an email and I will assist you with some simple approaches. "
"I believe children should get homework to stay on track. Nobody wants them to work all day but an hour a day is not going to hurt them. Life is work and they have to get use to it. "
"I am a teacher and I give my parents a "back-to-school" packet, which I recommend to be completed one week BEFORE school begins. That way, kids can have a summer vacation AND return to school with a refresher on their skills. Of course, I suggest that they read for pleasure using the public library's summer program. Reading does keep minds active, and for today's techo- savvy kids, should remain an option for leasure admist the games on the gadgets that tend to dominate! "
"I believe that teachers should not give homework during the summer, because summer is a time when children can relax and have fun. Children work entirely hard in the school year and need a break. I believe if the child did not perform well during the school year they should be working with their parents during the summer. "
"I agree there should be light homework during the summer. I have a 9 year old that will be attending 4th grade in the fall. Can you suggest a math book for her to practice her multiplication, fraction and division?"