School’s Out for Summer—but Why?

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Why do schools have summer break? Winter break? Spring break?

In an agricultural age, kids had break during planting (spring) and harvest (fall). Summer break came from the urban trend to escape the sweltering city during midyear. Over time, the calendar generated other gaps to incorporate national holidays and school-system programming.

Fair enough for a technical answer. And hey, I advocate for breaks. Changes of routine and scenery help us all function better physically and mentally.

Yet the mandated academic summer break?

It doesn’t make sense.

Partly, the pull of the status quo sustains the summer-break tradition. Partly, industry advocates for the current school schedule, given that a great deal of commerce—camps, travel, child care—has developed around it. Partly, cost concerns play a factor, though I doubt two months of student, teacher, and administrative off time saves terribly much moolah when educational institutions still have real estate to maintain and manage.

Why not align school with the real world?

Coordinating student and adult schedules would certainly lighten parents’ load. Moms and dads scramble to schedule vacations during the most expensive times of the year to accommodate the academic calendar and fork over considerable sums to pay for camps and activities during the summer months so they can continue in their careers—which even still the midyear break compromises, given the need to allow for erratic kid schedules and shuttling children to, from, and between activities.

Further, aligning students with the real world may make working less of a shock when children grow into adults. Corporations operate year-round, after all.

And third, why not let students take vacation when it makes sense for them and their families and when exceptional travel opportunities present and allow them to return to their efforts when they return—just as we do in our careers?

Before you argue that students need to stay in their cohort and learn alongside their age group, stop and think:


As with most of corporate America, why not let students advance when they hit their objectives? Some will move forward faster than others in certain subjects, which seems normal and acceptable to me. I see no value in forcing someone to stick with a group due to their age or “just because.” The nonacademic world doesn’t work that way, after all. Further, if a kid could have a life-changing experience over two weeks in Africa in February, even though it would slow her down in algebra, why would we want her to do anything else? Can’t she catch up upon return?

We romanticize the summer break—just as we romanticize childhood. Don’t forget: We invented childhood not that long ago. And perhaps we’ve taken it too far. But even if we haven’t gone off the deep end with childhood, I see no reason that children can’t have as much time off as they do now to play and explore—just on a schedule that works for them, their growth and enrichment, their families, and their parents’ careers and goals.

Should we keep the summer break?