Do Kids Need a Summer Vacation?

Originally appeared in the New York Daily News

Commentary | June 27, 2006
Related Issue(s): K-12 Education

Though summer has arrived, many school buildings are still abuzz with activity. And that's the way it needs to be. Yes, school in the summer is a fundamental shift from the traditional three-month escape. For many, this change is hard to imagine. Students calculate with concern the number of vacation days that they could lose. Parents worry about denying their kids family vacations or the extracurricular fun afforded by summer camps, Little League and other activities. Administrators worry about teacher burnout, and teachers themselves wonder how they will manage without a summer respite.

But the rationale for change is far more powerful than any of these overwrought reservations. The conventional 180-day school year was designed for an agrarian calendar, so that children could help their families farm during the prime summer months. Nearly a century later, our schools remain aligned with these now obsolete agricultural timetables.

Today, there is reason to believe all the time off is bad for kids, parents or society. Research supports the "forgetting" theory—that, during the long breaks, elementary school students regress in mathematics and reading. This matters most for lower-income children who do not have the advantages of enriching trips and costly summer camps.

Instead, these students typically spend much of the summer playing video games and watching television. Their peers who sit in classrooms over the summer may complain about school, but they are also likely to say that they prefer new short stories to old sitcom reruns.

Critics of summertime schooling should take note that year-round school calendars often offer just as much vacation; the breaks are simply spread out throughout the year to reduce gaps in learning. The average annual two-week beach vacation for families will not be disrupted. Maybe they can take one in October too.

Summertime schooling does not mean the end of all fun. It simply signals a refreshing willingness to put education first.

This article appeared in the New York Daily News along with an op-ed by Clara Hemphill, project director of Insideschools.org, arguing summer vacation is essential to childhood development.

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