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Vacation All Year Long

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #71, 2006.

Summertime, the time for new ideas.
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Mary Pride

The grinches are at it again. A Washington Post article of July 12 asks the question, "Can our kids afford to take summer vacation?"

I don't know about you, but when I see an article that talks about "our kids" like this, the first thing I wonder is if the author has kids. No clues as to Frederick M. Hess's family status appear in his bio at the end of the article. It tells us he is "director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute," but not if he is married, if he has children, or how much time he spends with his children.

This would be valuable information to know, as it would be very helpful when evaluating suggestions such as:

  • "State officials should strike down laws... that restrict the permissible school year for most schools.:

  • "School boards and superintendents should encourage more of their schools to move in this direction [towards extended school years and a mandatory 3-4 week summer session]."

The article, entitled "Summer Vacation of Our Discontent," bemoans the "massive inconvenience" of summer vacation for families with two employed parents or a single working parent as well as the "achievement gap" that occurs when some kids get to attend summer camp and others don't.

Mr. Hess seems to realize that vacation time isn't all bad when he says, "Summer vacations are still a wonderful time for many families and communities." However, every point he makes in his article is about how summer vacations are obsolete, elitist, expensive, or detrimental. I read it three times and couldn't find a single positive thing said about summer vacation.

Here's what he missed: Not mentioned anywhere in the article was the possibility of kids spending time with their parents or with their siblings or even creatively alone during summertime.

Here's another point he missed: As a child, I remember thinking that summer vacation was my only real experience of freedom: unplanned, unstructured time that I could use for my preferred activities. In my case, that meant lots of reading, bicycling, swimming at the town pool, badminton in the backyard, swatting a tennis ball against the garage, board games with my family, and camping with my family. I'd spend hours lying on my stomach watching bugs in the grass, trying to make a kite or a bow and arrow, playing hopscotch or pickup baseball games with neighborhood children, and reading comic books. Summer was also when we visited my grandparents, who taught me how to catch and mount butterflies (my grandfather was an expert amateur lepidopterist, who left his butterfly collection to Cornell University), told me family stories, and showed me how to feed the birds.

Today many writers confuse the "American Dream" with money and worldly success. It's neither. The American Dream, which brought my grandparents and great-grandparents to this country, is the opportunity to do all the good things you want to do without being squelched, regulated, forbidden, or having to ask permission. The classic American summer school vacation (not the new version with constant planned activities) is a great, child-sized example of the American Dream.

One of the wonderful things about homeschooling is that we have the chance to give our children something very close to summer vacation, all year long. Yes, they have schoolwork that must be done. But, they also have lots of free time for creative play and projects.

Part of the joy of homeschooling is watching our children choose to use their freedom for good things. Of course, in order to do that, you have to have some freedom to begin with... which is why I mourn for those kids who never were trained and trusted enough to enjoy a really great summer vacation.

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