Friday, June 26, 2009

The Long Hot Summer

School finished for my children two weeks ago. Like millions of kids throughout the United States, my trio is now home from school, and will be for nearly three months. Three months!

My question for all of us (parents, employers, politicians, educators) is “Why?”

Few families need their kids home these days to plow and plant the fields for a fall harvest. And unlike in the past, parents can’t let their kids loose for the day to find and make their own fun until it’s time to come home for dinner. Although some families can still afford to ship mom and the kids off to the beach house while dad stays behind at the office, the vast majority can’t.

It seems that all summer vacation does these days is make kids lazy and dumb, give teachers time off (to regroup or take on a second job), put money into the pockets of the summer camp industry and add to the stress levels of already stressed-out parents.

I’m a stay-at-home/self-employed work-from-home mom, so my biggest summertime challenge is keeping my children occupied and my sanity intact. Parents with “real” jobs (the kind with an actual paycheck, schedule, workplace, boss) have the added burden of finding a person or place to keep their school-age kids (including teenagers) safe and cared for.

Both parenting scenarios are costly. I live in a Maryland suburb of D.C. Babysitters here earn at least $10 an hour (more if they drive). Full-day summer camps typically cost $250 per child per week. And although adults imagine camp as being all fun and games, not all kids like camp, especially when it involves being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people or spending the entire day outdoors regardless of the weather.

To save my children from dying of boredom, which my son claims can happen, I’ve signed each one up for a few weeks of day camp. (Fingers crossed that they go willingly and have fun.) I know I’ll have several days during which I’ll need child care in order to work, keep doctor appointments and free one or two kids from having to endure the schlepping I do for another. Starter price tag for my children’s daily summer activities and occasional child care: $2,500.

One friend who’s employed part-time (25 hours a week) spent nearly $10,000 last summer to keep her two preschoolers in camps or with sitters while she worked. Parents who work a regular 40+ hour week have the added costs of full-time care or sleepaway camp.

Other summer expenses: Gas, admission fees, snacks, lunches, and the trinkets gathered when out and about by day to keep the kids away from the TV and computer—and, if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford one, an actual summer vacation getaway.

I’m not against summer fun or giving kids time to just be kids. But I think many of us would be happier if summer vacation could be six or eight weeks of cherished fun and relaxation rather than 11 weeks of increasing irritability and weariness. Also, since the United States seems to be falling behind in all sorts of academics (science, math, languages …) it may be in our national interest to keep kids in school more, or at least more consistently. Make summer shorter, add a week or so break during other times of the year.

Do you love having the kids off from school for a long summer, or would a shorter summer be sweeter?


Kim said...

Today is the last day of school where I live. My kids and I are ready for the time off, but that'll get tiresome by August 1. Always does. School starts up again after Labor Day. I agree. A few less weeks in the summer, added elsewhere in the year or not, would be better.

Blahbitty Blahbitty Blahbitty Blah! said...

I completely agree. Here in Las Vegas, some schools are year-round. I am not so crazy about that idea either. I think some middle ground needs to be reached. I remember when I was in grade school (believe it or not), and after the long summer, I always had to take a few weeks to "catch up".
P.S. Thanks so much for the post about mothers not always loving being a SAHM. I tried to comment but couldn't. I couldn't have written my feelings more precisely than you have in that post.

Melissa said...

Year-round school in Vegas. That's interesting. Thanks for finding the post about not always loving SAHM. The allow comments function was turned off. I fixed it.
P.S. I finally got my blog reader figured out. You're on the list, so I'll pop in and visit you too.

Stephanie said...

I don't have kids in school yet so the summer days are much like every other. I only remember it is summer when I go outside and feel the heat. :-) Nevertheless, I must agree with you about having year-round school. As a former elementary school teacher, I can attest to the fact that many children lose skills and school behaviors over the summer. (In particular, children of impoverished parents lose the greatest ground over summer. Their summers are typically not spent traveling to museums, libraries, camps etc. While these activities are not "school," they do enhance neural connections and give kids more "velcro" on which to attach new learning.) September is spent catching up and re-teaching school routines. I think it would benefit children tremendously to have year-round school. It will be important to compensate teachers for their additional time spent in the classroom, however.

Contrary to popular belief, most teachers actually do work over the summer - taking classes, learning new teaching modalities, constructing thematic units, connecting with other educators through cohort learning groups and discussions (teaching can be quite isolating so it is essential to connect with other educators in the same way other professionals do) etc. etc. But this time is usually not compensated. If teachers are with students, however, they simply must be compensated.

I believe I remember hearing Obama advocating for extending the school year. Time will tell!

Melissa said...

Thanks, Stephanie. Yes, teachers would of course need to be paid more, and having kids in school more will come with a big pricetag overall, and that's probably what will prevent an extended school year from ever happening. That, and some wackadoos claiming that having kids in school more will undermine the family by preventing children from spending time with their parents, etc. (That argument doesn't hold water, since many if not most parents are working all summer and are having to farm out their kids to camps, sitters, etc.) I think if Obama didn't already have so many other problems on his plate to solve, the extended school year discussions would get more attention.


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