Opinion
Student Well-Being Commentary

What Did You Do This Summer?

By David Polochanin — August 20, 2007 3 min read

As classes resume across the nation for the bright-eyed 1st grader and the drowsy high school senior alike, one of the more revealing questions a teacher can ask a student is one that seems so clichéd: So, what have you done over the summer?

Children will talk about it, write about it, draw it, and perhaps in the classrooms of some really creative teachers, act it out. It is such a textbook, ice-breaker activity.

I always debate whether to go there. Shouldn’t we discuss what the kids read over the summer or dive right into the curriculum? My gut usually tells me no one is ready for that on the first day.

The fact is, I’m intrigued by the students’ responses. Children’s out-of-school experiences vary so widely. In the comfortable suburb where I work, students can ride (their own) horses, attend expensive summer camps, or vacation in Europe. Some kids stay local, where they are too overscheduled, jumping from one two-week camp to the next. But I have also had students who claimed they “did nothing,” and when I press them, I find they aren’t lying. They hang around the house, watch television, and play video games. More than a few students report being bored.

This astonishes me. I wonder how eight weeks of vacation can be boring. Aren’t the kids getting outside? Don’t they ride their bikes until it’s dark? Don’t they lie on someone’s driveway watching for shooting stars? Aren’t they flipping over rocks on the banks of some brook to search for salamanders?

I wonder how eight weeks of vacation can be boring. Aren’t the kids getting outside? Don’t they ride their bikes until it’s dark?

Alas, not every student grew up in the neighborhood I did, where we played hide-and-seek until our parents called out search parties to come get us. But the summer-vacation discussions, as trite as they may seem, invariably bring me back to my own childhood, when summer days were primarily spent discovering and exploring. They were never boring. And they rarely involved video games, even though technologically, Nintendo was a giant leap forward from Atari.

I also did not attend many camps or play on organized sports teams in the summer. In fact, there was no structure to my summers at all beyond the regular family vacation and a general time for lunch and dinner. I played outside all day, just about every day. We despised the rain. We played baseball in the street using a metal bat and tennis ball, which in retrospect was probably not a good idea, considering the number of times the ball dented someone’s aluminum siding. We rode without permission to the center of town on our bikes—without helmets, and sometimes with a friend on the handlebars. In junior high, a bunch of us filmed a seven-minute horror movie loosely based on “Friday the 13th.” I was clobbered over the head with a tree limb and dropped into some tall weeds.

Our summers were marked by grass stains. We built ramps out of plywood and cinder blocks to ride our bikes off. We reluctantly went home for food and drank water from outdoor spigots to avoid going inside. If it did rain, we played hours of Uno or Monopoly or traded baseball cards.

More than 20 years have passed since those days, and I’m refreshed to hear when kids say they still play ball in the cul-de-sac, spend hours in the woods, and swim until their skin is pruned. When I pose the summer-vacation question, I’m hopeful children get to have generous blocks of unstructured time all their own and can figure out productive, creative, and active ways to spend it. This is especially a concern with childhood-obesity rates reaching ridiculous levels and the fact that there is now even a condition known as “nature-deficit disorder.”

I will listen with great interest when students talk with each other about their summer vacations this year. I will privately wish better things for the kids who sat cooped up inside every day. And I will likely smile when a kid describes how he built a tree fort or crawled through the pipe of a storm drain and found the river into which it empties. He will surely have something to write about.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Citing Pandemic, USDA Waives School Meal Regulations Through June 2022
The USDA has extended regulatory waivers that will allow schools to more easily serve free meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2 min read
Jefferson County Elementary School children sit at desks and eat their school-supplied breakfasts in Fayette, Miss., on March 3, 2021. As one of the most food insecure counties in the United States, many families and their children have come to depend on these meals as their only means of daily sustenance.
Jefferson County Elementary School children sit at desks and eat their school-supplied breakfasts in Fayette, Miss., on March 3, 2021. As one of the most food insecure counties in the United States, many families and their children have come to depend on these meals as their only means of daily sustenance.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Student Well-Being Kids and COVID-19 Vaccines: The Latest News
Follow along here for important updates on the development and rollout of coronavirus vaccines for kids.
3 min read
Student Well-Being 'Growth Mindset' Linked to Higher Test Scores, Student Well-Being in Global Study
The first global study of "growth mindset" found both academic benefits and better well-being among students who think intelligence is not fixed.
4 min read
Conceptual image of growth mindset.
solar22/iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion Why Venting When You Have Problems Feels Good—and Why It Doesn’t Work
When you keep talking about what’s bothering you, it keeps the negative emotions alive. Here’s what research says to do instead.
Ethan Kross
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty