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Sunday June 24th 2018

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The Most Popular “Homework” Assignment Ever

By Sammi Sontag

Betsy Eggart never expected internet fame would follow when she posted her idea of “summer homework.” But that’s exactly what happened when what started as a Facebook status for her friends quickly snowballed into a viral post with over 200,000 shares and 144,000 likes.

Eggart, 36, is a first-grade teacher at R.C. Lipscomb Elementary School whose philosophy about summer learning includes teaching your child to tie their shoes and being in the present moment with them.

“I had a parent email me and ask if I had a summer packet of worksheets for her child to do,” Eggart said. “It was the first time I’d been asked about summer work, so I was caught off guard. I felt a little guilty saying no.”

She continued, “Then this idea started rolling around in my head. I realized what I would like to say to the parents, so I decided to put it into words. I sat down one evening and wrote my ‘summer packet.’”

Other assignments from Eggart’s list include keeping a bedtime routine, learning how to address a letter, reading before bed, encouraging problem-solving and putting down screens to have genuine face time.

“I wrote the post in 20 minutes, but everything I talked about was stuff my teacher friends and I talk about all the time,” she said. “I mean, it’s not like these are ‘the wise words of Betsy Eggart.’ This is something all teachers and parents are thinking, which is why I think it [the Facebook post] really took off.”

She went to bed “happy with her words” and woke up the next morning to an overwhelming amount of support from Facebook users nationwide. Eggart’s words resonated with so many, in fact, that Facebook told people trying to friend request her that she had “met the maximum amount of friend requests.”

So to help with the crowd control, Betsy created a Facebook page and a blog (betsyeggart.com).

“I felt like my words were good, but I didn’t feel like it was rocket science,” she said. “I thought this is what everyone’s probably thinking, but no one else had really put it into words.”

One topic Eggart stressed was the importance of putting down the screens and having one-on-one time with your child because it does make a difference. She first noticed this in herself when she was rocking her 18-month-old daughter, Emma, to sleep. Eggart found herself impatiently waiting for Emma to sleep, and to pass the time, she was scrolling through Facebook.

“And then one night I didn’t do that,” she said. “I put my phone down, and I just watched Emma, and the way that she falls asleep was so cute and just the way she holds her hair. I wasn’t seeing any of that because I was on my phone. Now I make a conscious effort to not have my phone attached to me all the time.”

Eggart also takes time after a busy day to sit outside with her kids and play. It helps both herself and her kids relax a little before it is time to do homework or parent chores such as cooking or folding laundry.

She thinks there might be a correlation between screens and screams. When parents are preoccupied with their smartphone or TV and fail to spend quality time with their child, it reflects in the classroom.

“I don’t want to make it seem like phones are the enemy, and I’m not saying I have all the research to back this up, but I’ve read a lot of articles, and I personally have seen as there has been a rise in technology, there has been a rise in behavior problems in the classroom,” Eggart said.

Eggart, who has been teaching for 13 years, watched as technology has infiltrated the classroom. Things such as iPads and tablets are essentially school supplies among her students. Eggart respects the aid technology provides for the 21st-century student; however, she also sees the glaring evils that can tag along.

“My students don’t really get excited for movie day anymore,” she said. “When I was in school, if we got to watch a movie, it was so exciting. Now the kids are happy but not as excited as I used to be. I think it’s because they’re so used to it. We always put on Netflix and pay attention to screens. They’re desensitized.”

So Eggart opts for simplicity in the classroom. At recess she brings bubbles and pushes the kids to play with each other, to use their imaginations.

“At some point, we started to feel guilty about telling our kids to go play by themselves,” she said. “But there’s nothing wrong with that. At the beginning of the school year every year, my kids wander around this small grassy area outside the classroom like little zombies because they don’t know what to do with themselves at recess and there’s not a jungle gym.”

She continued, “But, eventually, the wandering turns into screaming tag, then duck, duck, goose, and then I give them footballs and things to play with. But it takes six weeks.”

Pushing creativity piggybacks onto the idea of problem-solving. Eggart said she was surprised how many students couldn’t open their plastic containers in the cafeteria. The students would try once, get upset and then ask Eggart to open it for them. She was surprised her students didn’t know how to simple problem solve.

“It’s really easy to just rush your kids through situations because ‘we don’t have the time for you to tie your shoes yourself; we gotta go,’” she told Inweekly. “But if they don’t have the opportunity to face challenge and frustration at home, how can they be expected to handle it at school?”

The summer packet has become an internet sensation, and Eggart is beyond grateful her ideas and words have touched so many.

“It is sad to me that we’ve become so attached to our phones and screens that we require an intervention to get better at putting them down,” she said. “But this isn’t something I’m immune to, either, and I’m not above taking my own advice. In that post, I’m really preaching to myself too.”

To take her now famous post to the next level, Eggart created a downloadable version.

In just a few short weeks, this mother of two has sold over 1,200 copies of her summer packet letter for $1 on a website called Teachers Pay Teachers. She plans to continue her writing on her blog as she looks forward to the continued support she’s received from the teaching and parenting world.

To date, she has received little to no negative or ugly messages from anyone.

“The purpose behind writing this was to encourage children to have more downtime,” Eggart said. “Time to be free over the summer and just relax. I’m so thankful this went viral so so many kids can benefit from it.”

Read more from Eggart on her new blog, betsyeggart.com.