How To Do Homework In The Holidays

Your child might argue that the only bad thing about winter vacation is holiday homework. Is it really fair to assign work during the holidays? Some teachers, such as ninth grade history teacher Keith McSweeney, say no. “For me, it’s a matter of principle. I think the holidays are a time for students to be with their families and get a break from school,” McSweeney says. “I don’t think it would serve my students well to expect that they spend time studying while they’re on vacation.”

But, many other elementary and high school teachers believe homework is the only way to ensure retention of concepts over the long break from school. Whether holiday homework is helpful or hurtful, for many kids it’s par for the course. The key do dealing with this reality is not waiting to the last minute, says Harris Cooper, Ph.D., renowned homework expert and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. “I would suggest that parents encourage their children to complete their assignments early—ideally, before the relatives arrive,” Cooper says.

Cooper suggests that homework over the holidays be treated like homework at any other time of year: students should determine how much time it will take, and divide it into manageable chunks. “Learning is more effective if it’s done in small doses,” Cooper says.

Best Practices

There are three keys to completing homework effectively: 

  • Have a consistent place in the home to work on assignments.
  • Take frequent, short breaks.
  • Keep the distractions to a minimum.

It’s also important for parents to recognize that every child approaches studying and homework differently. Some children are most effective if they sit down and complete their homework immediately after school; others work best if they have an opportunity to run around outside for a half an hour before they begin. Some children need small rewards for completing their homework; others will do their homework without incentives. Children also are interested in different subjects and have their own individual sets of strengths and weaknesses. Some children excel in at-home science projects; others cry over their writing assignments.

“It’s unrealistic to expect that children are going to be enthusiastic about every subject they study in school,” says Charles Smith, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Specialist in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. “A big part of the learning process is understanding that there are some things we simply have to do, whether we like it or not.” And that applies to homework—even during the holidays. 

Parental Involvement

Smith suggests that parents can help their children by entering into a dialogue with teachers. “If you know you’re going to be out of town for ten days, you can talk to the teachers ahead of time and see if they have any advice about how you might help your child complete the homework. Good teachers will work with you to make the homework manageable,” he says. 

Often, homework assigned over winter break is thematically linked to the holidays. When this occurs, children and parents should take advantage of the opportunity to work together on the homework. Children might benefit from talking to parents or grandparents about their holiday traditions and experiences, or families could work together to experiment with holiday-related science or math projects.p>

Most importantly, Smith says, parents need to recognize their role in helping children set ground rules for doing homework, such when it’s done, where it’s done, and when breaks will be taken. Smith emphasizes that breaks between homework assignments should not be watching television. “Breaks should be active. Playing a fifteen-minute game of football is a good idea; even playing a video game is a good idea. Lying on the couch watching TV isn’t.”

There’s still time before the holidays begin. Consider having your children check in with their teachers now. It’s always helpful to be prepared.

Next Article: Parents: Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire

While most people consider the holidays “the most wonderful time of the year,” for some students, not so much. With families to care for, holiday parties to prepare for and gift shopping to finish in between, finding time to complete schoolwork may seem down right impossible. For students, the mounting stress of the holidays can result in late assignments, or, even worse, assignments never submitted at all.

But it’s important to remember that late assignments and missed assignments will have a negative effect on your grade. A failing or incomplete grade can affect your graduation plans. And that’s not very merry at all. So instead of waiting until the last minute and panicking the night before a deadline, here are seven strategies you can use to ensure your homework gets done on time and gift yourself a much needed break.


1. Plan Ahead

It’s easy to lose track of deadlines when the days are filled with holiday fun, and that doesn’t leave much time, or thought, for course work. Even with so many (welcome) distractions, it’s important to complete schoolwork on time. To better pace yourself, create a schedule for what assignments are due and when, and break up that work into smaller chunks. Keep this schedule in an easy-to-see place so you can avoid any last minute surprises.


2. Save the Easy Assignments for Later

When you first sit down for a school session, you may feel inclined to get the easy material out of the way. However, your energy and focus are at their peak when you first start. Use this brainpower advantage to get through the most challenging subjects early on. Then, should you really experience holiday and homework crunch time, you’ll be able to complete the smaller assignments with less stress and in less time.


3. Enlist the Elves

You have your your own helpers who are ready and willing to lend a hand: your spouse, kids, siblings, parents, in-laws, grandparents, the list goes on. Instead of feeling obligated to handle all the holiday hoopla alone, get your helpers involved. Let a family member supervise the cooking or make a gift pit stop for you so you can get away for half an hour or so. Or, spend your bonding time with family wisely; instead of finding gifts for your kids to give grandma and grandpa, save yourself an extra shopping trip and sit down together to handcraft something special. Not only will you save time and money, you’ll also have a wonderful family memory. And isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about?


4. Be Realistic

The holiday season is also a hectic one; unrealistically high expectations for yourself may cause your schoolwork to suffer. Trying to do too much will leave you drained and burnt out. Combat this by asking your family which holiday traditions they treasure the most, and cut out the rest. If your teenagers don’t enjoy holiday light shows anymore, then save yourself the trip and use it to get your schoolwork done instead. And when you’ve finished, you can spend your time doing the things your kids actually do like. Be reasonable with your time, and you can balance work and holiday fun.


5. Shop Smart

Obviously, you can save yourself a lot of time, money and hassle by shopping online. But being savvy about it can make all the difference. Give yourself a time limit to scour sites for the best deals and comparison shop. If you don’t find a better offer online after 10 minutes, stop, and move on. Most importantly, avoid or turn off any sale alerts. If you keep leaving your schoolwork behind to check your email inbox for the latest deals, you’ll never get it done. Save the emails for later; in a few hours, the sales will still be there.


6. Reward Yourself

Take breaks in between studying by giving yourself an extra holiday treat or two, or spend it with friends and family. To feel reenergized and refreshed, take a break that lasts 20-30 minutes, coincidentally, the same amount of time it takes to bake a batch of cookies or wrap up a few gifts! Whatever you do, take a break that is mentally or physically active, and you’ll be at your most productive when you return.  


7. If all else fails… Request a Course Extension

If you’re looking for the gift of time, Thomas Edison State University students may apply for an eight-week course extension as long as you continue to make satisfactory progress in your course. Your mentor must be able to certify that at least 50 percent of your course work has been completed. After submitting the course extension request, along with the fee, you’ll receive an extension approval via email from the University. 

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