May 25, 2013

Reasons to Consider Summer Schooling

We are year-round schoolers.  I've never once had a good experience with long breaks.  Not as a school teacher, a momma, or a homeschoooler.  Never.  A long break from school really wears me out and it appears to wear the kids out even if they won't admit it.  There are a few signs I can put my finger right on that tell me we should absolutely be summer schoolers.  Not the delinquent kind of summer schoolers - I spent a short stint teaching summer school of that sort, and I can tell you that it's NOT what we're aiming for here! - but the we love to learn so much that we might as well just keep on going  kind of summer schoolers.

Here are my top reasons to not take a long summer break.

1.  Summer Learning Loss

It's known far and wide that the summer break is responsible for something teachers not-so-lovingly refer to as "Summer Learning Loss."  This straightforward issue has a pretty obvious cause and effect.  It's use it or lose it, Baby!  Sure, we're always learning and summer is a great time to get out and experience those things not learned behind a desk.  But taking advantage of those fun, hands on learning filled experiences does not have to go hand in hand with a complete end of desk work as well.  Think of all of the learning hours spent reteaching lost knowledge every fall.

Having to relearn simple mathematical processes is embarrassing and frustrating, and that's not the way to kick off a new school year.  I remember hearing kids say, "I really did know how to do this.  I just can't quite remember.  This is stupid baby math and I can't do it."  Yup.  Thank you, summer break, for making all of the cute little students kick off a new year feeling like a moron.

We don't take a long summer break, but rather, we take lots (and I mean LOTS) of small breaks all year long.  Because of this, my kids are usually able to skip past the first quarter of each new math  book.  Why?  Because with summer learning loss, textbook companies see fit to start back at teaching basic addition all the way into 7th grade!  Maybe even later, I judt have haven't ordered anything higher than 7th in a while.  I just ordered 7th grade math for my daughter and there it was.  Addition.  Then subtraction.  I'm not sure that it's necessary to go that far, but they certainly do, and we certainly don't need them to when we only ever take a week or so off here and there.  If you're a homeschooler, you're allowed to break out of this ridiculous custom habituated by institutional schools.  I mean, I can't even imagine how much grant money goes into trying to figure out how to overcome summer learning loss, and you have the luxury to just opt out.  Take it!

2.  Little people really do love routine.  Really

When I think back on my summer breaks, what really pops to mind are things like being stuck at my mom's work place because I had nothing else to do.  I'd get a buck here and there to wander down to the snack bar, I'd loiter around and keep grown ups from doing their jobs, I'd nap under Mom's desk.  When she was a church janitor, I'd wash baseboards in exchange for a Yoo-Hoo from the soda machine.  But really, the word for summer was BORED.  And that's fine.  I survived.  But I was an only child and that's an altogether different kind of beast.  What I find as a mom of three is that when they get bored, they bicker.  During school hours, everyone pretty much gets along swimmingly.  But take a few days off of school work, give them time to wear out their craft projects and get tired of the trampoline and the Wii and I tell you what.  They are like different people.  Everything ends in tattling.  It's like turning a sunny day at home into a road trip day.  You know how road trips can really bring out the best in your child?  Yes.  That was sarcasm.  Well, long breaks from routine do that too.  In the summer we take more breaks, we consider it criminal to school past lunch, and if a neighbor rings the doorbell to play, we play!  But when the doorbell doesn't ring, the kids appear to value each other more when they are on a mission.

They won't admit it.  They will say they'd rather have a no-school day.  But when they say that, I know it's like when we let them stay up as late as they want and eat as much junk food as they want.  Come 10pm, they're rolling around in their beds holding their little distended bellies and crying, "But Mom!  Why on earth did you let me do that?  I feel so bad.  I'm so tired.  You know better!  Why didn't you stop me?"  Seriously. About twice a year we cave in the name of fun, and then we pay the price.  But it's a good reminder.  They see what they want in the moment and they count on us to see what they want in the long run.  In the summer moment, they want free time, but in the long run, they want stability and predictability.  It's an ugly fact of nature.  And I enjoy keeping my little animals domesticated.

In the dentist office waiting room last week, I was thumbing through a parenting magazine and there was a multi-page article on how traumatic and stressful summer break is on kids who are used to seeing their friends every day and having that social support network that they have become accustomed to.  In my head I stood up and yelled, "This is why summer break is stupid, outdated, and should be done away with!"  But I saved that little stand for blog land and let the other moms in the waiting room sit in peace.

3.  What kind of message do we really want to send?

Tell me, when else in life will we ever take 3 months off of being functioning members of society?  3 months to be totally lazy and self-indulgent and almost the epitome of our lower nature?  I mean, there's really nothing at all noble about slowly being absorbed by the couch and consuming your weight in pop-tarts, which if I recall correctly, many of my friends did with their summer breaks.  Maybe we did a "mission trip" which was rarely more than a feel good about being a good person sort of poverty tour that lasted a week and then it was back to the couch.  When we take 3 months off of school, I think we run the risk of sending a couple of negative messages.

~When you work hard for a given period of time, you can expect that you'll be rewarded with lots of time off to refresh and renew dusty.  You know.  Whatever.

This really is what we're telling our kids with these epic pauses in real life.  Real life is about always learning and always engaging in work of some sort.  That doesn't mean that it can't be rewarding work, but just because you work hard in life doesn't mean you get a quarter of the year off.  From preschool through college, kids learn that life is a 9 month on, 3 month off cycle of all work and then all play.  That's not really preparing them for what is around the bend.  Unless they become school teachers, I guess.

~Learning is this difficult and kind of awful thing that you can't possibly enjoy or be expected to engage in without large breaks for recovery.  

I take breaks during things that are really horrible.  Things that are almost unbearably hard.  Like when we moved our crazy heavy marble topped vanity into the house, up a flight of stairs.  My back was breaking and my arms were about to give out.  Thus, we took a break.  If we didn't, we wouldn't have been able to go on. When I am so frustrated that a volcanic eruption is building up in my gut, I take a break so that I don't explode.  That's always a good time for a break so that I don't do or say something I'll regret.  And honestly, other than those 2 situations, major heavy lifting and major social/emotional turmoil, I can't think of a single other thing that I legitimately take a break from.

So why on earth would we say we need a break from learning?  Learning is joyful and wondrous and a thing to be savored.  Oh wait...that's just when you're doing it right. Sure, some people have had the love of learning sucked right out of them.  And yes, you could say that those folks need a good long break.  But I'd say that those folks need a new approach to school work.  When you've found your groove, much of learning feels like play and no one really needs (or even wants) a break from it.

When we were in Seatlle a few weeks ago in this fabulous hotel with views forever and cable television and a pool and all sorts of fun sights to see and luxuries that we don't have at home, my 5 year old took me by the arm one afternoon and asked if I had brought his math because he really missed doing it.  Now, he's not really a nerdy math kids.  I promise.  He's a dude's dude who enjoys playing ball and shooting his friends in the butt with nerf darts (okay, maybe that was more than you needed to know), but he's got a really fun math program and he missed it.  That's how it should be.

After all of that, maybe you're wondering, what about the Momma?

You think we need a break?  I sure needed the break when I was facing 30 of someone else's kids for 7 hours a day.  I longed for the break.  A break from noise, from bad manners, from not being able to tell them the truth about their behavior, from planning and grading.  Ugh!  I'm exhausted just thinking about it.  Kudos to those who do it!  But homeschooling is different!

I actually kind of like my kids.  They're pretty cool (when they don't have too much free time on their hands) and I've helped them become mostly civilized little critters who generally help out around the house and make me smile.  I can tell them what manners are expected and then follow through to make sure the habit is formed.  When they act like animals, I can call it like I see it.  Politely if that works, but more to the point if that's in order.  I never felt like I could say, "That is the most sorry excuse I've ever heard," to a student, but I can to my kids.  I can be real with them.  When they are throwing a pity party, I can call it.  When they are deflecting responsibility  I can say so.  When they're yelling at everyone else, but it's because they're actually mad at themselves, I can pinpoint that and have the discussion that really needs to be had.  It's amazing how much nicer kids are when they can be told the truth about how their behavior is perceived.  So yeah.  I like hanging out with my kids.  I don't relate to that feeling of needed a lot more "me time."  When I get a solo trip to the grocery store with no one touching me or calling my name, I do savor it.  It's true.  But I don't need to carve out tons of time away from my kids.  They're fun.  And for now, they're still happy to hang out with me.

And as for the planning and grading, planning is fun because I get to learn so much right along with my kids and a well planned lesson is as fun for me as it is for them.  I love learning, and they can see it in action when I get all into a topic while I'm planning it.  And grading for three is really nothing.  Nothing at all.  And it's not like I sit down with a stack of papers and go to town.  I'm often looking right over their shoulder as they work and rather than swooping in with a red pen, I simply say, "Look at that again."  Grading done!

To Summarize...

Summer breaks are this weird, highly regrettable device that must have made sense to someone at the beginning of institutional schooling, but has long since worn out its welcome.  Somehow, even with as much complaining as public school teachers and administrators do about summer learning loss, very few schools have managed to wade through all of the red tape that holds them to it and get themselves a year round schedule.  But you're homeschoolers!  You don't have to put up with this arcane little policy.  You're probably making learning fun, so it's not like your kids need a huge break from school.  You'll be able to make faster progress over the years because you won't have to reteach nearly as much, and your kids won't be burdened in adulthood with this notion that if they've worked hard, they get to take month-long vacations and that books are the enemy and learning ends with a piece of paper.  Oh yeah, and you probably like your kids a lot because when are with them all day every day, you tend to take the time to make sure that they are the kind of people you want to be around all day.  So you might not really need the teacher break either.

Take time off for vacations!  Do it!  But don't take arbitrary time off just because every one else does.  Save those off days for a trip to Disney World while everyone else is in school and the lines are short!  Save it for the week grandma comes to visit.  Save it for days that actually have meaning so that when real life knocks at your door, you can answer the call and engage without feeling like you took all of your off days in the summer, when it was too hot to have much fun and nothing worth taking time off for was going on.


  1. Absolutely! I love this, Skyla. We are year-rounders,too, for all the reasons you talked about.

  2. Cheers to the year-rounders! Huzzah!


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