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I'm Just Sayin': Endless summer

August 12, 2010

The Aug. 2 edition of Time magazine's cover article was titled "The Case Against Summer Vacation." The author notes that test scores show that the learning skills of kids from lower-income backgrounds either plateau or deteriorate during the summer break. However, higher-income kids continue to improve at about the same rate as during the school year.

The difference seems to be the availability of quality experiences, such as family vacations, outings to museums and libraries and access to enrichment programs, which exercise children's minds and bodies.

He goes on to say that even though students in the U.S. spend more hours in the classroom, we have longer summer breaks and our math scores lag far below that of many other industrialized countries, such as Brazil, Germany and even Mexico.

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While I think our kids need some down time away from the routine and demands of school, this 10-week summer break is much too long. I've already seen the telltale signs of boredom and a sense of "been there, done that" when I try to interest my kids in activities they've clearly had enough of. As a result, the sibling bickering and fighting has really ramped up in the last couple of weeks.

Because our kids are fairly young, we haven't let their bedtime get pushed back too far, and it should be fairly easy to get them back on a school schedule. The hard part for them will be relearning how to sit still and listen, especially for my son. He's had a very long period of few rules and much less structure. There will be quite an adjustment period once school starts.

I remember when I was a kid, as much as I loved summer vacation, by early August I was too often complaining to my mom that there was nothing to do. Of course she'd reply that she could find lots of things for me to do, but cleaning my room wasn't exactly the answer I was hoping for. By that time, school was looking pretty good.

After 2 1/2 months off, it's not surprising that kids forget quite a bit of what they learned the previous school year and much of the first several weeks in the fall are spent reviewing past lessons. This seems like such a waste of valuable time.

A friend of mine taught for many years at an elementary school that was on a year-round schedule. They would have a shortened summer break, usually six weeks, another four weeks in December, and then four more weeks in the spring. They found that the kids didn't lose anything during those shortened breaks and were ready to move on to new material when they returned.

Long summer breaks made sense when we were a more agriculturally based society. My mom grew up on a farm in the Midwest, and she and her brothers and sisters were needed to help out with planting and harvesting, so school calendars were arranged to allow for the time off.

I hope that before too long, parents and educators come to the conclusion that a lengthy summer vacation just doesn't make sense anymore.

SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. and a member of the Family Advisory Council for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. She may be reached at sharonchary@gmail.com.

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