Friday, July 8, 2011

Hooray for Summer Break!

Dog, cat and bird masks made from boxes and construction paper.

I listened to a very interesting program on the radio yesterday. Local teachers were discussing year-round schooling versus the traditional school calendar. The guests seemed to agree that students learn more and forget less when they attend year-round. One guest also suggested an increase in the usual 180 days spent in school each academic year.

Reading, reading, reading!

These teachers weren't unreasonable: they had observed how much kids forget during the summer and how much time is wasted reviewing skills that had already been mastered the previous year. Since teacher's livelihoods and reputations are judged on test scores these days, of course they would want to spend their time moving forward instead of reviewing last year's material.

The message seemed to be this: teachers enjoy the long summer break as much as anyone, and they know that kids look forward to their summers. BUT, the majority of kids don't do anything worthwhile over the summer. They just watch TV and play video games.

Tank battles on the street.

According to the teachers on the show, most kids don't travel, don't visit museums or libraries, and don't even read during summer break. And since their families are either unable or unwilling to make summer break into something beneficial for their kids, it's time to take a critical look at long summer breaks.

This made me so sad. Could I really be hearing this correctly? It seemed to me that the gist of the teachers' argument was that American families are so overwhelmed or so complacent that kids are actually better off spending most of their time at school.

German vocabulary labels.

Clearly, there are children out there who live in crisis situations and who might actually be better off at school. But these teachers weren't necessarily referring to the families who live on the brink of homelessness (or who may even be homeless) or the families who live in dangerous neighborhoods and who struggle to provide even the basics. No, they were talking about American families in general, from every rung of the socio-economic ladder. And they still felt that kids were better off at school.

Old MacDonald had a farm...

Ironically, I was listening to this radio show while cleaning and organizing our homeschool classroom. I looked around at all the books, art supplies, math manipulatives and science materials and I felt so grateful that we are able to provide these things to our kids. But of course, we haven't touched any of these supplies since the end of May. We haven't spent one minute doing "formal" schooling this summer.

Play? Did someone say play?

But we've still managed to learn every single day! Just off the top of my head, here are some activities we've enjoyed. I would count every one of these as a learning experience. As you can see, some were expensive and/or time-consuming. But many of them were free and easy!

Traditional German rhabarberkuchen.

1. Two road trips to visit relatives.

2. Practicing our German while entertaining our German friends. This has to be my favorite German word so far! (A friend said it sounds like what happens when you lose part of your swimsuit! Hee! Hee!)

3. Preparing and sampling traditional German food. You would not believe how good this pastry dough smelled...vanilla and sugar...mmm...

4. Picking up our CSA shares and learning about the farm that grew our vegetables. I made this quiche from CSA spinach, onions, and eggs!

5. Having a picnic in the mountains. I can't believe we had this spot all to ourselves on such a gorgeous day.

6. Taking care of our many pets. Here is Pumpkin, the newest member of the family. (And no, we didn't let him have the whole apple!)

7. Going to a Vietnamese restaurant and then exploring the nearby Asian supermarket. These coffee candies come from Thailand and they are sooooooo wonderful!

8. Messing around on the piano, letting the kids play whatever they want. Which is usually Axel F.

9. Taking our sick pug to the vet and looking at his chest x-ray. The FANTASTIC doctor could see that Super was interested, so he offered very detailed explanations and walked her through the entire x-ray.

11. Going to a cool museum exhibit and an IMAX movie.

12. Watching our garden grow and looking forward to our first harvest.

13. Making beautiful chalk art on the driveway.

14. Having a water pistol fight with friends: Dads against kids!

15. Making homemade lemonade. Experimenting with the recipe and trying to figure out which version would sell best at a future lemonade stand.

16. Karate lessons and practice.

17. Household chores like putting away laundry and doing dishes.

18. Sitting in the back yard watching the fluffy clouds turn into a storm front (and then getting the heck inside when the lightning started!)

19. Listening to rain, birds, and music.

20. Reading, reading, reading!

My kids are having very valuable experiences this summer. They would have to be doing some pretty amazing things at school to be better off spending their days in a classroom instead of at home.

I'm not sure what my point is here, except that it saddens me to think that so many kids don't get to experience the learning lifestyle, and instead see learning as a chore they have to do from September to May. Then they have earned the right to shut down their brains for three months!

And I feel bad for teachers, too. The teachers on the radio show were truly invested in helping their students learn better and retain more. I'm just not sure that more days in a classroom is really what kids need.


Maria said...

Sounds like you all are having a wonderful Summer!!!

The Adventurer said...

We took off 8 weeks from May to June for traveling and family visits, but we are now back to light school work for the rest of the summer. We tend to do year round schooling but summer is lighter. Traveling is high on our list of things to do:)

Sparklee said...

Ann-Marie, your family is getting an amazing experience living in another country! I'm envious!

Maria, thanks for stopping by! I visited your blog and really enjoyed it!

Michelle said...

Ok, now I want a guinea pig! So cute! My girls have been asking for one for a couple of years, and I'm having trouble denying the request now. :)

I completely agree. My oldest just up and decides she wants to learn about teeth, so she checked books out on teeth this week. When every day is filled with assignments (which may or may not be productive, interesting, or relevant) and homework, there is no room left for following one's curiosity.

Sparklee said...

You know, it took me forever to write this post. And even after I posted it, I went back and changed it again. Because I'm worried that I sound preachy or judgmental and I don't mean to. It just bothers me that so many kids are missing out on the joy of learning. And the answer to LESS learning seems to be MORE school. Can that be right?

Our guinea pig is so much fun. We got him at an animal shelter and he is so sweet. He's very helpful, too: he's taking care of all our slightly wilted lettuce, dried out carrots, etc. He LOVES strawberries, too!

(The downside: his cage is smelly after less than a week. He's much smellier than our rats, for some reason. But that's OK, it's a good experience for the kids to take the smelly with the fun!)