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Wasting Time?


It’s summer, so that means the annual bashing of the traditional school break has begun.

An article in Slate seems to take exception with the idea that children get a three-month break from school when adults are “toiling as usual” during the summer. On his blog, Alexander Russo points to another reason “to get rid of the long summer break”: a U.S. News report on the increase in serious injuries that occur while children are out of school.

I wonder if the critics of summer break were ever children. If they were, they seem to have missed, or forgotten, the wonders of summer. Both Russo and Juliet Lapidos, the author of the Slate article, imply that there is little, if any, benefit to summer vacation.

There are many parents—like those who founded the North Carolina Save Our Summers organization a couple of years ago to fight efforts to extend the school year—who believe summertime’s value goes beyond nostalgia.

Granted, for many children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, there are few constructive opportunities for them to spend this time. But that is far from universal.

Summer is often ripe with fun learning opportunities for children of all backgrounds, provided by parents, local school districts, parks agencies, and the children themselves.

For my own two children, summer is when we are more likely to visit museums and parks. We take more frequent trips to the library and attend local outdoor concerts and festivals, all of which are free or low-cost. We have long walks in the woods where we can observe firsthand the entire life cycle of frogs and toads. (Can you tell me the difference? My 6-year-old son can provide a lengthy lecture on the topic.)

My son learned to ride a two-wheeler last month, as did three of his friends in the neighborhood, thanks to the time they had to practice and that wonderful motivator, peer pressure. He and my daughter, now 9, learned to swim in summertime.

With help from the parents last summer, all the school-age children on our block wrote and illustrated a neighborhood newspaper. The group dreamed up their own magical village, housed on a wooded hill next to my house, for which they wrote a constitution, assigned each child duties, crafted buildings out of sticks and cardboard boxes, and designed flags to encircle the camp.

I don’t know if you can quantify all the facts and skills they gain during summer. But it’s not wasted time, and it’s not the toil Ms. Lapidos mentions.

Do you think summer vacation is worthwhile? Is it necessary? Should it be shortened? How could schools add instruction into the summer months without stealing too much from what has long been a rite of childhood?


For children with accessible parents during summer I couldn't agree more. Wonderful things can happen when children have the freedom to explore with the gentle guidance of adults. But for children with only one parent who is struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, summer can become a time of anxiety for the parent and aimlessness for the children. What concerns me even more, however, is the use made of more frequent, shorter breaks in the 'year round' schooling schedules. Children attend school for nine week blocks with two weeks break between each block and around 5 weeks in the summer. The schedule itself is a great idea. Children and teachers don't tire as readily and real focus can be maintained over these more concentrated blocks of time. But what is done with the breaks? Well, if you are doing well at school you get to stay home or have fun at school with all sorts of enrichment activities - art, drama, field trips etc. If you are struggling in the basics? You get to come back to school for half days and do more math and English. What does this do to the motivation of these children who are already finding school to be a place riddled with failure and struggle? As they watch their academically successful classmates have fun, they struggle with the very things they struggled with all through the last quarter. Teachers may try to use original and interactive approaches (that they should probably have been using all along) and groups may be smaller to allow more individual attention (as they should always have been) but the bottom line is that these children are not getting the refreshing break from school that they need just as much as any other child.

In Wake County NC a group of parents sued over the implementation of a mandatory year round calendar and won. Parental consent is now required. Unfortunately they converted the schools anyway and "consent" was a sham. about 10% of our parents "opted out" the majority of those were low income families for whom child care on a non-traditional calendar is more difficult. For more info www.newsobserver.com/waked/ Year round has not solved our overcrowding problem and it is more expensive to operate.

I couldn't agree more with Pat B. However the use of breaks for more ineffective teaching for struggling students is not unique to year round schools. My son has spent the last three summers in what was available from our district--because he needed it. Unfortunately what is available (this is high school level) is first regarded as something of a punishment (you're here because you blew it the first time), riddled with low expectations (one teacher told me that they don't let parents know when their kids are absent because "about half" of them are absent every day anyway), and heavily infused with some misguided ideas about "self-guided instruction" (read: workbooks on a computer).

I ask questions about things like enrichment ("what do you mean by that? taking classes ahead of the school year/") and the research behind the methodology ("we don't make those decisions"), but nobody seems to know or care. The really sad thing is that NCBL (the great scapegoat) doesn't prohibit effective teaching (rather encourages it). I recall reading one study about summer intervention. It concluded that we start too late, and make it too punitive. Their recommendations included a much earlier start (k-1-2) for programs, and to integrate them with recreation/enrichment/day camp type programs.

Funny -- I keep reading about how the students and teachers have three months off. I don't know any school district that gives that much time off any more. Here in Florida, we get 2 months. This year, because of a Save Our Schools initiative, we got an additional two weeks -- BUT THAT TWO WEEKS COMES WITHOUT PAY.

I firmly believe that children and their teachers need these breaks in order to keep on keeping on. So many schools impose huge homework burdens on students, giving them little time during the school year for anything but their studies. And teachers know that these two months are vital for mental health.

I know and understand that for struggling students the time can seem to put them behind the eight ball. At the same time, perhaps they are gaining some experiences in which to add to their background knowledge, something that is mandatory in order to be an achieving reader. The idea that more is better is not necessarily true. KEEP SUMMER BREAK!!


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