Summer Vacation: Too Long? Time for a change?

From Daniel Luzer:

Next week begins, in many cases, the three-month period that is summer vacation from school. For those of us long outside of education, and without children of our own, it may be a little hard to recall the sheer joy that is summer vacation. Three whole months outside of the classroom. Your mother surely got annoyed with your sunburns, the fact that you preferred to spend the day playing video games, and your demands to be taken over to your friends’ houses to play, but at least for a few days after school let out in June, did anything on Earth seem better?

But if for children those three months feel like a much-needed break from all that hard work, summer vacation really has nothing to do with children at all.

It exists, most Americans believe, only because in the early days of the United States free primary schools mostly educated the children of farmers. And they needed the kids at home because summer (or, well, roughly May to October) is the primary growing season.

As Harris Cooper, chairman of the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University, explained, “the present nine-month calendar emerged when 85 percent of Americans were involved in agriculture and when climate control in school buildings was limited.” But now that only three percent of Americans live on farms, shouldn’t we keep them in school for much of the summer?…

But it wasn’t a desire to keep everyone working on the farm during the summer that caused schools to adopt the three-month vacation; it was just an effort to standardize schooling across the country. Urbanization created the long summer vacation, not an agricultural economy. If all students had more or less the same schedule it was easier to administer testing and sell standardized education materials like textbooks.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Clay Knick

    I think the teachers need a break, too. I know my wife Lisa has found the time off to be an excellent way to get a graduate degree & to rest & relax & to catch up on projects around the house. So keep giving the breaks!

  • Steve_Winnipeg_Canada

    As a Canadian, I’ve always thought our friends down south got too long a break.

    3 months! I only ever got 2.

  • Phil Miller

    Judging from the recent Facebook updates from some of my friends who are teachers, I think the teachers look forward to the vacation just as much if not more than the students.

  • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

    Three months is not standard now. In our district (outside of atlanta) kids finish the Friday before memorial day. Teachers work the next week. Then teacher start July 31st and kids will start Aug 7. So that is just a bit over 2 months.

    In Chicago when I have also lived, June 19 is last day for kids, June 21 last day for teachers. School starts for students on Aug 26. So in both cases it is 9 weeks, not 3 months.

    There is a good movement of schools that are going to year round school (two weeks off between quarters and six weeks off in summer). But parents don’t like it because it is harder to find things for kids to do for 2 weeks than a longer summer program.

  • Tom Krajecki

    The kids need time to be kids. They need camp and vacations with the family. They need to take extra classes that interest them. People I’m the U.S. already overwork. Don’t make these kids start this pattern before they need too.

  • Ryan Murray

    What about everyone else outside of the school system? Should we give the whole country a summer vacation?

  • Ryan Murray

    I support the year round school system. The current model does little to no good whatsoever. In fact, the opposite is more likely, it places a strain on parents to now have to worry about what to do with their children for several months. And many students are actually doing nothing of any value for themselves. Again, the contrary is present, students face months of a sedentary life which just serves to help them forget what knowledge they gained during the previous year. Many recognize the need to overhaul the current education system, maybe it should start with a year round schedule with a few breaks placed certain times throughout the year.

  • Clay Knick

    Many of us could use some time off. We’d work better after breaks.

  • Tim M

    Ryan, I’m ok with your proposal, as long as kids and school staff still get 2-3 months off per year, with maybe one full month off each July/August.

  • bobsponge42

    There should be no summer break or a drastically shorter one. Most year round schools do 2 week breaks at regular intervals or something along those lines. The first month or two of school is mostly about review of the previous year with the long summer break. It’s a waste. On the other hand, going year round could be a burden for families that need to find care for their kids. It’s often easier to find care all summer than it is 2 weeks here and there throughout the year.

  • Holly

    Kids’ brains need breaks. I’ve homeschooled all of my kids (nine kids, two graduates/college kids or grads so far,) for 16 years (16 more years to go!) and we love LONG breaks. They come back in eager to do school, excited about their books and subjects. Often, they’ve made huge leaps in spelling and math simply because they’ve had time to learn outside of structure. They’ve had time to read recreationally, to jump and swing and play and get a little bit bored before they come up with something new to do. I feel so terribly sad for the children who have such short breaks. Most school systems here in Indiana have about 8 or 9 weeks off, but those weeks are filled with band camps and sports camps, etc. We can complete our curriculum in 6 months, with plenty of time to spare for extra read-alouds, science experiments, cooking, exercise, family trips, etc.

    Maybe, Americans should consider moving back to the family farm. Country life, filled with long lazy days and a mix of physical chores, animals to care for, a garden to tend, is just so healthy for kids. There’s plenty of room in rural America, loads of small towns wishing for young families with kids. I’d like to see the farm influence the school year again.

    My oldest (age 20, college grad) has a full-time, great paying job as a software developer with a global financial company. My next boy, age 18, college student and piano major, works 40-50 hours a week at the same job he’s had for the last three years. It’s the same thing for my 17 year old daughter. Point is: kids are young for such a short time, and childhood is the last time they are going to truly have their summers “off.” I think it would be a travesty to eliminate summer vacations for our nations’ kids. Even thought it might be more difficult for parents to find ways to entertain their kids for the summer, it also provides opportunity for more family times.

  • Boyd

    Traditional school has breaks. Year-round school has breaks, too. So the question isn’t about whether or not breaks are good for learning. They are. It’s just about when those breaks occur and for how long. Childcare during year-round school breaks is an issue because society has developed things for parents to utilized that fit into the traditional school year break system and has not yet had to adapt to shorter breaks that are more frequent. If the vast majority of schools operated on the year-round calendar, things would develop for children to do during the shorter breaks so that parents would have options.

  • Peter Stone

    In the Uk we have different systems depending on which country you live in. In Northern Ireland where I live we have 9 weeks due to political tension and marches during the Summer. In the other 3 countries they each have 6 weeks each and they get the other 3 weeks made up at other times.


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