Why the rush to get back to school?

tire swing in autumn
CC BY 2.0 Julie Falk

Summer vacation may not include reading, math, and spelling, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. With long, lazy days comes other opportunities for learning.

If summer seems shorter than ever, that’s because it is for many kids, depending on where they live. Kids in Indiana, Arizona, Georgia, and California are already back at their desks, while kids in the Northeast, South Dakota, Michigan, Seattle, and Canada have nearly another month before hitting the books.

Parents of those children starting school in early August, or even late July, may find it hard to reconcile the early date with their memories of school starting consistently after Labor Day. For example, this year in Indiana, kids have had only 70 days of summer vacation, whereas in the past they've had as many as 100 days. Nowadays school calendars are quite transitory, shifting around for a number of reasons.

One reason is that the traditional post-Labor Day start date allowed kids to help out on family farms with the summer crops. Now that fewer kids live on farms, there’s not as much need for physical labor.

Another reason is the growing concern with standardized testing. By starting school earlier, it gives educators a greater amount of time to prepare students for the statewide assessment tests that occur in the spring.

Starting earlier allows the first semester to finish by Christmas, instead of kids having to hand in assignments and write exams after having two weeks off and spend time on review, rather than starting new material.

These reasons make sense, but only if academics are all that matter. Sure, an early start date may result in better test scores, but there are many forms of learning that are just as valuable as classroom time and can make a more well-rounded individual, not just a high academic achiever.

What about just hanging around outside, playing with neighbor kids, riding one’s bike, swimming at the local pool, and devouring mystery novels in one’s tree house? What about those memorable weeks of summer day camps and sleepover camps? How about getting a summer job? (The Goshen News reports that the early start date is challenging for businesses that rely on high school and college student employees.)

I am tired of the way in which parents and education ‘experts’ lament summer vacation as a “lost learning opportunity” and a time of “academic slide.” I don’t buy the argument put forward to CNN by Rebecca Kaye, the Atlanta Public Schools policy and governance advisor, that “the majority of kids in the system, if they’re not in school, they’re not learning.” Kids are already nature-deprived enough as it is; rushing them back into the classroom isn't going to help that.

Learning happens constantly, everywhere, and there is tremendous value in having a combination of unscheduled time and boredom. The things kids come up with would astonish many parents, if only they’d relax, de-schedule, and let kids play freely outdoors. I bet a long, lazy, free-range summer would do wonders for those test scores down the road.

Tags: Education | Kids | Nature | Summer | United States


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