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July 13, 2015

Summer Vacation, Part 1: To Veg or Not to Veg

darondickens-300Awwww…summer. It’s my favorite season. It’s been that way my entire life. There’s so much to do! As a kid, just the simple act of going outside to play can be a complete game-changer. Add in a significant amount of uninterrupted free time in which to do said playing, and you have yourself a whole new world!

The nemesis to this idyllic life is, of course, school. That pesky place would eat up my entire day for…oh I don’t know…my entire childhood.

To combat the considerable bitterness I (and I think many kids) built up over having to go to school, I worked out a way to think about it in my head. School was my job. I got up, got dressed, and went to my job just like my mom and dad did. It was the thing I had to do so that I could have the opportunity to go play outside for long stretches of time.

My guess is that you can relate. Although getting older and more specialized in our skill set gives us more opportunity to find a job we love, most of us can remember when this was not the case. We got up, got dressed, and did what we had to do so we could (later) do what we wanted to do. Even if you have the most marvelous job in the world, there is probably a part of that job that you do not look forward to (mind is paperwork). In turn, as a child, I had classes I really liked (Art, English, and Recess) and classes that I really dreaded (Math — oh, the humanity!).

Summer vacation was supposed to be just that…a vacation. I was given all my days off and all my vacation time all at once. I know, I know, what job in the world would give you three months of vacation time? Well…in my defense:

  1. I was a young child and did not really understand the way of things;
  2. The answer to the question above is TEACHER — which both of my parents were.

Yes, the fact that both of my parents were teachers for a good part of my childhood helped me think of school as a job. I witnessed firsthand how being a teacher is a grueling vocation that doesn’t stop when you leave the office. There are papers to grade just like there was homework for me to do. There were school activities and projects to attend for them, just like there were for me. The difference for a teacher is that they have to go to all of them regardless of whether or not they have a child performing in them. My parents worked and worked and worked and expected us to do the same.

So, when summer came, we all exhaled.

Which brings us to our question: Should there be more structure in the summer? Should we focus on the summer reading lists, chores, and maybe get a job?

You might guess from my analogy above that my answer would be, “No way! We worked all day and all night all year learning the three Rs; it’s time for some good, old-fashioned R-n-R.”

However, I grew up in a household of teachers. I heard horror stories about my mom and dad trying to motivate a classroom full of kids who had been hibernating for three months. I was fully aware of the statistics that show a drop in academic achievement when no intentional learning occurs over the summer break. This may have a less noticeable impact on kids who are quick learners or who love school, but, for those of us who struggled, it could mean starting in a hole. It could very easily mean an entire letter grade of difference.

On top of all that, we did not have a lot of money. (Did I mention that both of my parents were teachers?) So, with a family of five to feed, there were often times when one or both of my parents would get summer jobs themselves. They knew that there were times when we needed to rest, and there were times when we needed to work. During these summer months, there were times to sit on the couch and veg, and there were times when we were expected to get up, get dressed, and go to work. We adopted a both/and mentality rather than an either/or.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about what this looks like in a very practical way, providing suggestions and strategies to help you think through an approach that would allow you to value your child’s need to rest and restore while also taking into account the need to stay somewhat consistent with growth. We’ll explore an approach that intentionally incorporates down time and work in a way that can help your child stay on track for the upcoming school year while still allowing them to feel the sweet relief of summer vacation.

For now, take a moment and relax. Take a deep breath, and slow down for just a bit. If you listen closely, I bet there’s an Ice Cream Man somewhere nearby….

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