Way back in June, they got stuffed into backpacks: those big summer reading lists and 100-problem math packets.

Perhaps some eager beavers already have finished them: They've read and summarized "Johnny Tremain" and "A Wrinkle in Time" and polished off that thick math booklet and had Mom check it over. (You know who you are, all three of you!)

Everybody else usually remembers these school assignments, to their horror, sometime in August. Jeffrey Kurkjian, 12, knows what that's like.

"You realize, omigosh, it's the day before school starts and I forgot to finish my math packet," recalled Jeffrey, of Darnestown. One year, he completed the last of his summer books just days before school started.

To Jeffrey, it seems deeply wrong to have to do schoolwork in the summer, "when I'd really rather be swimming or playing with my friends."

"I mean, I thought summer was for relaxing," said Jeffrey, who will be a seventh-grader at Ridgeview Middle School. "It's too much, it's over the top!"

No Longer Optional

Education experts agree that things have changed since the days of suggested summer reading. Teachers at most Washington-area public high schools, and at many middle and elementary schools, don't recommend summer homework, they insist on it.

In Fairfax County schools, for instance, all students from sixth to 12th grade are expected to read and report on at least one book each summer.

"Some teachers even require more than one book," said county language arts coordinator Pat Fege. In Arlington, students must complete math review sheets and turn them in in September. Requirements for students in fifth grade and below are not as stiff.

"Studies show that kids actually do lose academic skills when they don't use them," said Barbara Kapinus of the National Education Association.

Kapinus does admit that summer assignments can seem "hideous" to kids.

Making the Best of It

This year, Jeffrey was more organized with his summer assignments. He started reading one of his two books in late July and actually found himself enjoying it. " 'When Zachary Beaver Came to Town' is a pretty cool book," Jeffrey said. But his 50 math problems are tough, and one of them, he said, "completely confuses me."

Making himself do the work, he said, is difficult: "My mother has to remind me a lot!"

Matthew Evans, 10, of Silver Spring, has a really tight, mother-designed work schedule.

In fifth grade last year, Matthew found it hard to stay organized. When his progress "got wobbly" on his summer assignments (a math packet plus reading and writing about three books), his mother stepped in.

"She made me do reading and do four pages of math every day," Matthew said. For one of his three books, he did a book cover, complete with book jacket reviews.

One thing Matthew definitely learned was which reward gave him the most motivation: video games. "You know how books are sort of soft and flowing?" he said. "I would tell myself, after I finish reading for the day, I could go blow something up!"

-- Fern Shen

Matthew Evans, 10, has his summer schoolwork done, helped by a mother-designed work schedule and the lure of video games.Jeffrey Kurkjian, 12, would like to keep summer homework at arm's length. "I mean, I thought summer was for relaxing," he says.