Wasting Time?

July 18, 2007 2 min read

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?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.