For parents of school-age children, the last two weeks of summer are a time of mixed emotions.
If your kids went to camp, took a family holiday, stayed with grandparents and just lazed about, they are now likely reacting to the extended lack of structure with a burst of energy and creativity that, frankly, is exhausting to channel. I am sneaking anxious glances at the calendar, hurrying the day when the school doors open again.
At the same time, no matter how much of the summer you’ve managed to share with them at a cottage, at home or on a trip to some new culture, the end of another summer is, well, the end of summer. Whether in a decade or a few years, the kids will be teenagers and refuse to go on family holidays; you’ll miss the little person who loved spending time with you.
At the top of parents’ feelings is also concern about how well-prepared a child is for the next grade. Did they read enough and did they forget too much? For advocates of year-round learning, the summer holiday is a holdover from agrarian society, especially harmful to kids from poorer families who don’t have the benefit of travel, second-language, sports and computer science camps. Summer can in fact compound the inequalities of the year as kids who’ve been intellectually challenged over the eight-week holiday return primed to learn and those who’ve played video-games have to re-learn the material of the last year. (A high family income is no insurance against excessive ‘screen time,’ of course.)
So should we throw out the traditional break and replace it with something less onerous for full-time working parents? In the U.K., for example, the government is proposing shortening the six-week break in summer (already two weeks less than in much of Canada). In Brampton, Ont., several schools started up again at the end of July and students will have a week off in October and February in addition to the Christmas and March breaks. And British Columbia now allows schools to set their own calendars as long as they don’t alter the number of instruction days.
The benefits of preventing “summer slide” don’t accrue only to families with children. Communities and workplaces would benefit as well. Here are three reasons why:
- Until very recently, I lived in a neighbourhood that would empty out the Canada Day weekend and magically fill up again on Labour Day. A high proportion of stay-at-home parents meant that kids and moms (and yes, it was mostly moms) spent summers at a cottage. Local businesses like butchers, bakers and cheese-mongers struggled through July and August and restaurants closed for extended periods. One had the sense that their income for the rest of the year had to make up for the two-month lull.
- The exuberance of the “School’s Out!” cry at the end of June reveals a bit too much about how kids long to escape the classroom. Later, the feeling is translated to the workplace. Changing to a year-round schedule should be accompanied by helping schools and teachers to design new ways of teaching that combine experiential learning with outdoor settings, field trips and student-led projects. If less time is wasted re-teaching material that students have forgotten, that time can be devoted to letting kids play a part in what and how they want to learn.
- Skeptics of year-round learning argue that a shorter summer break can make it harder for employees to find two or three weeks in which to take a family holiday and can contribute to job burnout as parents no longer reduce their hours over the summer. Yet taking more breaks allows for more frequent family check-ins. Nothing beats extended adventures, but shorter holidays can make it easier to fully unplug from the office. Never mind reducing the burden on the employees left behind.
So far, some teachers’ unions have been resistant to year-round learning even as many teachers are happy to work in schools where kids’ learning is progressive, not remedial. For parents, the experiments with a new school calendar could not happen quickly enough.
Simona Chiose is The Globe’s Education Editor. You can follow her on Twitter.