(cross-posted at My168hours.com)
This week's Time magazine cover story deals with a thorny issue: summer vacation. Why is it thorny? Because most of us romanticize it, and yet it does serious academic damage to people who can least afford it.
We all have grand summer memories. Certainly by middle school, this was my favorite time of year, a nearly 3-month break from a plodding school routine. Before I was old enough for a full-time job, I did summer theater and went to academic camps at Northwestern, both of which were far more stimulating than most things that happened during the academic year. (Now, my two full-time summer jobs at age 17 and 18, working at Fazoli's Italian Restaurant, and Osco Drugs, were a different story, but all nostalgia requires a bit of finessing).
We all like to picture Tom Sawyer-esque romps, but viewed more critically, there are many problems with this break now that most of us are no longer farmers. For starters, it leaves working parents scrambling for childcare. I've been amazed how many work-from-home parents seem to be trying to stumble through it, with Facebook posts complaining about the situation. School is not supposed to be childcare, but that is the reality for many people, and most jobs don't only run September-June.
More importantly, though, there's reasonable evidence that taking 2-3 months off from school really harms vulnerable students. This makes perfect sense; artists and musicians need daily practice to stay on top of their game, and students do too. While my summers featured plenty of reading and enrichment opportunities which could be deemed academic "practice" (again, until the Fazoli's/Osco's fun), many kids wind up in what is charmingly referred to as "self-care." That is, they are home alone while their parent or parents work, with watching TV considered the least bad of all possible options. This is not doing anyone any favors.
I thought the Time article made a good case that the solution is not merely to extend the school year (since much of what happens in American schools is sclerotic and ineffective anyway). The solution is to make a better net of summer camps and programs that make learning fun. Frankly, this should happen during the whole school year, but we have to play the cards we are dealt. The link, above, gives an intro to the piece, and the article in the print magazine highlights several great programs from Indianapolis to Corbin, KY where programs provide as much as 10 weeks of 10-hour days which sound like a lot of fun. Think arithmetic and fishing, balancing each other out. Or a fire-fighting themed camp.
For readers here, what are you doing with your kids during summer break? Is it a scramble, or do you have something you always do?