By Kerby Anderson
“What are your kids up to this summer?” KJ Dell-Antonia begins her New York Times column with that question. Although it sounds like a casual question, it strikes at the heart of the problem many parents face when summer vacation arrives.
If there is a Mom or Dad at home, the answer to the question isn’t as tough as when either both parents work or a single parent works. Then it becomes a financial and logistical nightmare. This is especially true if finances are tight and there is no money for day care or for a summer camp. Many of the parents she talked to were living paycheck to paycheck and could not afford additional summer expenses.
Children are often left with an older child or a neighbor. Sometimes they are merely plopped in front of the television set with full run of the house. That is hardly the vision we had in the past of kids playing baseball and romping through the lawn sprinklers.
There is also an educational cost that she describes in her column. Most children lose math skills over the summer. Even greater is the fact that low-income children lose (on average) more than two months of reading skills and don’t gain them back in the fall. That puts them three years behind their peers by the end of the fifth grade.
Some educators have suggested year-round schools with longer breaks throughout the year. That would be the death of summer camps and especially Christian camps. Longer breaks might prevent learning lost but it doesn’t really solve the problem for parents who work. Their kids would still be off about the same amount of time but just at different intervals. Even in countries that have year-round schools the breaks still last about six weeks.
Summer break is an American tradition that arose out of the need for farm children to help with the harvest and to do necessary chores. It is still a great idea but it hits working parents hardest because many of them simply cannot afford summer.