Should Summer Be a Break?
For better or worse, most schools still stick to a calendar that leaves a long summer vacation. This big break can be great for planning rewarding summer adventures – camps, trips, work experiences – or simply providing a much-needed respite from school. What about academic study: Shouldn’t the summer break be a break?
The summer holiday can be a double-edged sword for learning. The lag can lead some students to lose ground, as they forget recently learned concepts. On the other hand, other students have the opportunity to catch up in areas where they might have fallen behind, or prepare for looming standardized tests (such as the ACT or SAT).
So, what should your child do?
There’s only one answer: Whatever fits your child’s (and your family’s) needs best. But what is that? And how can you figure that out?
I remember summer breaks fondly as a time to get away from academics. I learned valuable life lessons through play, work, and travel during the summer – lessons that I couldn’t get during the school year. I became a better person due to these experiences, divorced from in-class academic learning.
But I was also quite lucky; I tended to retain what I learned, and I excelled during the school year. (Not surprising, since I continue to enjoy teaching.) I also tended to be high-strung, so summers let me unwind and grow in out-of-school environments. Maybe I’m not “the norm.” (But what child is, right?)
What Questions Will Help You Figure This Out?
One size, as we know, does not fit all. So, how do you know what’s best for your child? Here are some questions you can ask yourself to get a better handle on this conundrum:
· Does my child need a break? OK, but the whole break?
When you think through this one, keep a couple points in mind: This question is not, Do you need a break? (Of course you do!) This question also doesn’t necessarily lead to a black-or-white answer. Maybe your child needs a break…but does that mean avoiding any structured learning experiences for the whole summer? Chances are your child’s batteries are nearly depleted by June. How long will they take to replenish?
This question isn’t entirely academic, either. Think through your child’s emotional, developmental, physical, and psychological needs. Summers provide a perfect opportunity to take inventory of your child holistically and consider what he or she needs most for growth and preparation in general, and before the next school year, in particular. That could be play or travel as much as anything else.
· Did my child keep up (academically) during the school year?
If your answer is a resounding, “Yes,” then you need not see the summer as a “catch-up” period. Nonetheless, if your child struggles to retain knowledge, your child might feel behind when the new year starts, simply because learning can fade during the summer. A strong school year might mean your child can “coast” during the summer…unless memories get fuzzy – a common summer side effect among students.
· Is my child facing academic hurdles or a major transition/challenge in the upcoming school year?
A new school year might mean a new, daunting subject, or a change of school that might heighten demands on studying and learning. For example, maybe your child is strong in math, but you hear the honors geometry teacher is tough. In such a case, take advantage of the break. Without the pressure (yet) of assignments and deadlines, your child will have space and time to get an introduction to concepts that might form the foundation for the dreaded class. If your child has the time, and it would make the school year more manageable, why not?
Your child’s academic challenges might be beyond classes – standardized tests (like the ACT or SAT) stress out thousands of students every year. In addition to the pressure to perform, students too often tackle this task amidst the mayhem of their day-to-day studies. The summer, instead, affords students an opportunity to focus exclusively on these all-important tests, without the noise and distraction of the normal school year.
· Will my student’s afterschool life be swamped in the fall?
Sports, college applications, school clubs, among other activities, might mean your child’s studying time will get squeezed in the fall. If this might be the case, and you can anticipate/plan for it, why wouldn’t you? Is a fully stress-free summer the best choice when a horrific fall semester looms? There is a middle ground, after all!
Analyzing Your Answers – Your Options
After you consider how you might answer these questions, think about what options are out there for you. Your child’s summer plans do not have to be a black-or-white choice between academic upkeep on the one hand, or full-on relaxation, on the other.
Summer plans could include any number of variations that mix up the following:
· Structured, Remedial/Supplemental Courses
This would be the equivalent of summer school. If your child has serious remedial needs or catch-up to get caught up on, this might be your best choice.
· Targeted Tutoring/Study
Your child’s needs, however, might need to be customized. Or you might wish for services to be more (or less) frequent than a structured, one-size-fits-all program allows. In such a case (Give me a call!), you might find that using your child’s time more efficiently with a focused tutor is a better use of time and resources.
· Experiential Learning Programs
Learning, as we know, takes place everywhere – as much outside the classroom as inside. Programs proliferate these days that offer day- to weeks-long opportunities for children of all ages to learn through outdoor and other non-school settings. Don’t underestimate the power of this learning! Not only can it help your student socially, physically, psychologically, and emotionally, the follow-on effects on academic learning can be substantial. Even if you feel your child can not use any more “learning,” keep an open mind to the range of creative programs out there. Your child will thank you.
· Camps (Overnight or Otherwise)
Camps often include experiential learning components, but also might encompass other lessons of living and social behaviors. Likewise, they can provide children a stepping stone to self-responsibility and independence. Environments for this type of learning don’t typically arise in the normal school year. Thus, summer is a great time to take advantage of them.
· Out-of-Town Trips
Travel (with friends or family) provides never-ending informal opportunities for learning and growth. Anyone who has ventured outside his or her hometown knows this quite well. Look for ways you can provide your child similar opportunities.
· Play and Relaxation
Play is serious business. As schools (ill-advisedly) continue to eliminate breaks and recess from the school day, studies pop up to remind us of the obvious: These time blocks are key to learning and growth. Sad that adults (who require breaks in their own days to focus and work efficiently) forget to apply these basic ideas to children, whose minds and bodies need them even more. The summer gives your child a chance to recoup, their bodies and minds an opportunity to reconfigure and solidify learning, and space for activities that lead to valuable social, logic, creative, and even academic lessons. Of course, this does not lead to a prescription for 12 hours/day of video games. Be thoughtful about how much and how your children play and relax.
But Isn’t It Still Summer?
Of course it is! For those of us who grew up in this agrarian-based system, a summer break feels like a time-honored entitlement. A protected childhood pastime. A sacred season that should remain academia-free. Maybe that’s the best decision for you and your child.
But, more and more, studies suggest that a long summer break might not be the best idea for retaining in-school learning. This revelation, however, does not have to lead to an all-or-nothing bargain with your child. Trade off some travel with some relaxation, maybe some experiential learning for a little work, or (God forbid) some summer study. Why can’t a mix work? After all, wouldn’t children, in this high-stress day and age, benefit from learning appropriate work/life balance before it’s too late?
Parting Thoughts – Ignore the Joneses
As powerful as they are, other families’ summer decisions shouldn’t unduly influence yours. Like any activity, summer planning can become “keeping up with the Joneses.” When tempted to fall into this trap, remember: Your child is not every other child. Moreover, whatever you decide to do this summer will not be the difference between Harvard and a life on the streets. (Harvard likes to see unique experiences, anyway, so don’t be afraid to step out.)
Most of all, take advantage of what summer has to offer. Don’t let it pass by!