There is probably no greater joy for a child than the last day of school — when summer stretches into what seems like an endless stream of days of freedom and leisure. But there is that one thing that could ruin it all: summer homework.

Aaron Dworkin, CEO of yhe National Summer Learning Association in Baltimore, Maryland, said most children who don't keep up with their math and literacy skills or participate in organized programs do worse academically when they return to school in September. Too much unstructured downtime can adversely affect children, leading to regression in the skills and knowledge that support student achievement, he said.

He said parents should try to pinpoint the areas of trouble their children have in school, then make summer learning for them different and interesting. Find hands-on ways to find what the kids are passionate about, so they can practice and improve in struggling areas.

But let's face it: It can be difficult for parents to get their kids do summer math and reading, especially when homework packets are assigned from school. Dworkin suggests first asking the child what he or she wants to get better at in school. Then, set a goal together on how to get there. Find ways to make learning over the summer something they want to do, rather than dragging them to sit down at a table for a couple of hours a day doing work.

With summer packets, Dworkin said, look at the themes that are popping out from what the school is asking. It's not just about reading a book. Find out what the book is about.

"Maybe there is another thing in the community that ties to that theme, like a trip somewhere. If it's a book about history, can we go to a museum and bring the content alive?" Dworkin asked.

Local communities may have programs for kids to tap into over the summer. The local board of education can play an important role in providing families with positive options and activities for children over the summer months, he said.

There's also many careers tied into kids' passions. Dworkin suggested using the summer as a way to kind of give kids role models and let them see what their hard work over the summer and during the school year can lead to for them in the future.

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