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Ho-ho-homework during the holidays?

Is Santa bringing homework for Christmas? We sure hope not, but a few pages during the holidays won't hurt!

The question of whether to make your kids do school work or other types of learning exercises is a dividing topic amongst parents. On one hand, holidays should be associated with joy and excitement, which doesn’t have an inherent agenda of “work”. After all — a holiday is meant for a break away from the daily routine. On the other hand, multiple research studies show that children can drop back up to two months worth of knowledge in math and one month in literacy following their return to school after a long vacation. This renders holidays as an unfortunate impairment to retaining information, necessary to maintain momentum to succeed in the following semester.

The solution is fairly obvious, that balance is key, however let's consider a few principles that you can follow to ensure a happy yet productive time for your kids throughout the holiday season.

Celebratory days are for quality time with family.

Across the span of the holiday season, several days such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve (and child’s birthday) should provide for an opportunity to completely or almost completely unplug from homework for the day. Such celebratory moments provide for an opportunity to reflect on the year and celebrate the child’s accomplishments and milestones, but also install values beyond conventional education such as quality family time, cultural practices or table-side etiquette. That is to say, there are many other learning opportunities beyond the books on such seemingly carefree days that can rather be taken advantage of during the holidays. On top of this, if there’s extended family in the house, music and film marathons playing, the learning environment can be compromised and leaves little point to force a productive day behind the desk. It’s also important to consider that a child’s excitement during these days are especially heightened, and driven by anticipation of something magical, so even if you do enforce homework on such holidays, it won’t be as productive to introduce new or difficult subjects on such days. Let the kids experience the joy on the intended days without compromise, and that energy will carry them into a productive tomorrow.

Switching up the routine.

Perhaps you’ve been receiving a regular amount of homework from school, or have implemented an after-school plan of your own. Holidays are an opportunity to switch up the routine. This can mean either reducing the overall amount of work, or introducing different activities. For example, instead of the daily math drills, engage the kids in a series of clever word problems, or a virtual math training program such as IXL. Conversely, if mental math is something that you weren’t able to make time for during the semester, you could add an additional 1-2 pages to the daily routine to strengthen these skills (this can apply not only to mental math, but any subject in math or other). Perhaps you may want to allocate more of the time towards reading books, or work on a unique science project specific to the child’s interests. Whatever it is, switching up the regular routine provides an opportunity to strengthen otherwise overlooked subjects and skills, and create incentive with something new and exciting for the student.

A special consideration for this point is whether a child has been falling behind on a particular subject or topic. For example, if your child has failed the algebra exam, holidays are the time to buckle down and ensure that whatever topics didn’t make sense during the semester make sense now. This can be an anxiety-inducing time for the child, and your support during this “catch-up” process as a parent will be appreciated and highly valuable to the child’s confidence in the subject. Make the time together and be patient as you retrieve notes and materials from the semester and make your way through it. Make sure to go through the same “test” question at the end of this process to conclude the re-learning process.

Moderation of fun through a reward system

A reward system, when implemented in a healthy way, is always an effective method to incentivize homework. During the holidays, especially those not filled with school or any extracurricular activities, the days can easily pass unproductively in front of the phone, tablet of a TV screen. There should be an opportunity to indulge, however to balance the fun with work you’ll need to create an agreement with your child that they can play on the condition of completing a certain amount of work in the morning (or at a time that works best — however daylight is ideal).

For example — if your child completes 2 pages in the math workbook, they can play video-games for 2 hours. You can modify these rules as you see them fit.

Rewarding behaviour through such agreements is a great way to install positive enforcement and a sense of what is fair. It is also an opportunity to bond with your child and establish a healthy attainable routine during the holiday season when time seems to slow down.

While the holidays are a time to relax and have fun with the family, obliterating a routine can make it challenging for the student to gain momentum when school starts again. A little bit of daily work can go a long way in maintaining existing knowledge, and will have your child return to school feeling confident amongst their peers with a sharp mind ready to actively participate in class.

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