Sleepy Summer

Here on the east coast, summer is still in swing. We’re at the point, where we can see and smell Labor Day — that end post for fun — but we’re trying to squeeze out a couple more weeks of relaxation and ignore the guilt about work.

Vespa in Washington Heights Mews

Summers used to stress me out enormously, when I tried to work while juggling an insane camp commute for Ian. There aren’t many camps for kids with high functioning autism, and when I found a good one, it was inevitably very far away. But now, I’ve rethought my summer work schedule. I’m working on personal essays, rather than reported articles. And Ian’s found his place at computer camp, so there’s less driving and less stress.

But I have tons of sympathy for parents who don’t have my flexible work life. Schools should be 12 months long.

Suprema Restaurant in West Village, NYC

Jonah just finished off his second summer class. (Taking summer classes is a growing trend among college students.) It was a super hard science class, so he studied about six days per week and commuted back and forth to his state college. He came home yesterday afternoon with a two-week beard. He’s going to sleep until noon.

I had Ian in some camp or another all summer — some boring (but free) stuff at the high school, 3 weeks of expensive (all day!) computer camp, and a half day class at the community college. The last two weeks of August are full day marching band camp. He likes being super busy, so I even squeezed in some tutoring hours around all that.

People watching the people watchers in Wash Square Park, NYC.

But this week is free. He played Minecraft, and we walked around the neighborhood capturing Pokemon. I took him and a couple of boys to the video game arcade. Then this afternoon, we’ll grab the bus into New York City to go to the museum and meet Steve for dinner. Hopefully, Jonah will wake up and join us.

At this point in the summer, we’re always like “holy crap, the summer is almost over, and we haven’t sucked out all the fun out of life yet. Better get to it!” So, we’re squeezing in a camping trip in upstate New York next weekend. We’ll have to build a fire in the backyard sometime. And get another day at the beach. And eat a hot dog in Central Park.

Beer and Deep Fried Oreos at Jenkinson’s Boardway, Point Pleasant, NJ.

I do have a couple of deadlines at the end of the month — easy ones, but still deadlines. And there’s the perennial guilt that I should be doing more. But I’m ignoring all that today. Off to appreciate life.

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21 thoughts on “Sleepy Summer

  1. I understand the pain for parents who work outside of the home year-round. I used to be one of those parents.

    But there would be fewer mothers in teaching and school administration if summers off with the kids wasn’t a main attractant. It’s the main reason most women educators I know went into that field.

    Kids truly don’t need expensive summer camps. Apple and Microsoft have free coding camps and workshops. There’s tons of free programs in the community, especially from libraries, and there’s VBS. I’ve done the last five summers with no sitter, no paid camps, no pool membership, working PT from home with 3 kids underfoot. We do a ton of field trips and outings that we can’t do during the busy school year. We catch up on sleep and doctor’s appointments. I tutor my extra needs child. We buy workbooks and watch documentaries and do Kahn Academy and almost daily messy art projects. We do science experiments. We take free tennis lessons and cheap swim lessons in the neighborhood. The kids raise tadpoles, learn to do yard work, and plow through piles of books. We go fishing and hiking and continue weekly 4-H. There’s lots of elaborate pretend play indoors and out, which develops executive function. We usually do a week at the beach, a week at Grandma’s, and a week of VBS. It’s lovely.

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  2. Wow you pack alot into your summer! You sound like one busy lady and a great mom. Hard to believe it goes by so fast and then it’s back to a different kind of schedule which some mother’s look forward to and others with dread. Making lunches, homework, and fewer family fun times just make looking forward to the next time off for Thanksgiving and end of the year holidays something to really look forward to!

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  3. There’s still too much anti-feminist backlash in the air for the US to adopt the sensible strategies of having school be year-round and have the school day match the workday. It won’t happen until we reach a tipping point of generational changing of the guard. (Thing improved for women in the trades when the Baby Boomers and older generations retired or died—when the overwhelming majority of the men who took their places had working mothers and grew up under Title IX (and/or served with women in the military), there was no one left to carry on the old oppositions and superstitions.

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  4. This is hard because I am very critical of the fact that schools have not yet adapted to the fact that there isn’t a stay at home parent for the majority. My sister has had to deal with school that has a rotating teacher in service day. So one month it’s a half day on Friday and the next month it’s on Wednesday. I can only conclude they hate parents.

    But, I think kids need unstructured time to be bored. To learn what they actually like and what they are willing to pursue. So, I don’t want year round school, but I also object to bs like rotating service days.

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    1. Officially, they rotate the half days to prevent one class from always being shorted on class time, but it just seems like they picked the absolute least parent friendly way to do so.

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  5. Laura wrote, “Schools should be 12 months long.”

    The school year is not entirely a rose without thorns, either.

    We’re back to school now, and I’d say that summers has the following advantages: later wake-up, no homework, fewer school emails and school responsibilities.

    But on the other hand, there are a lot more responsibilities with regard to feeding, exercising and occupying, and just as much (if not more) driving than the school year.

    I took the summer off from my little editing gig this year, which was (in retrospect) a brilliant idea.

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  6. I’m always happy when school ends and I’m always happy when it starts again.

    We have a 12th grader, 9th grader and a 1st grader this year, so they’re each going to be experiencing a very demanding school year, full of new challenges. The 1st grader is nervous about it, but I’ve told her that if she can do 1st grade, she can do anything!

    My husband had the big kids start learning Python programming this summer and they got about half-way through a home-paced study program working by themselves. (The kids felt a bit put-upon.) Next summer is driving lessons for our oldest.

    “At this point in the summer, we’re always like “holy crap, the summer is almost over, and we haven’t sucked out all the fun out of life yet.”

    In our world, it’s more like, “We have two weeks left on our water park passes and we’ve only been three times!”

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  7. Lubiddu said,

    “There’s still too much anti-feminist backlash in the air for the US to adopt the sensible strategies of having school be year-round and have the school day match the workday.”

    How many developed countries (if any) do that?

    My 1st grader has a 7.5 hour school day (which is fairly long for the US), and she has been completely wiped out by the end of it. I’m not complaining exactly (after her watching her Energizer Bunny her way through the summer), but a lot of parents aren’t going to want to do that to their little kids year-round. Also, a fair number of immigrant families do extended overseas visits to the old country during the longer holidays. There would be even more issues with student absenteeism if school were year-round–people would feel even less compunction about pulling kids out of school for fun.

    I am somewhat friendly to the idea of a longer school year (because it’s easy for kids to lose academic ground during the summer), but on the other hand, summer break helps keep teachers sane and helps them reset and recharge.

    Another thing–a lot of us parents are happy to have a block of time during the year when we are no longer at school’s beck and call.

    Tulip said, “My sister has had to deal with school that has a rotating teacher in service day. So one month it’s a half day on Friday and the next month it’s on Wednesday. I can only conclude they hate parents.”

    OH MY GOODNESS! That is horrifying.

    Tulip said, “But, I think kids need unstructured time to be bored. To learn what they actually like and what they are willing to pursue. So, I don’t want year round school, but I also object to bs like rotating service days.”

    Here are the big things we did with our summer: sent big kids to England to do sight-seeing and museum-visiting for a week (daddy was working in England for a month), Python programming for the big kids, swim lessons for the youngest, miscellaneous camps (including 1/2 day gymnastic camps for the youngest), visit family in WA and do grandma duty for a couple of nights and hang out with Small Nephew, meet MIL and SIL in Seattle, husband and middle kid went to Canada to see family, library D&D (highly recommended for Ian if available), Junior Classical League national convention with oldest (gathering college admissions fodder), got oldest trained to work at no-kill rescue, 5k morning runs for middle kid, doctor and dental appointments, college admissions stuff, individual reading practice for youngest (which somehow didn’t happen much during the school year), and beginning of school prep.

    I realize that that schedule represents a major expenditure of resources (we’ve literally never done as much travel before as a family), but this was all stuff that would have been hard or impossible during the normal school year, when we are scrupulous about not unnecessarily missing any school time. As a family, our philosophy is that the school year is primarily for school, so we aren’t racing around to this and that during the school year and staying up until all hours doing homework. We save non-school stuff for the summer.

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  8. The big kids also did elaborate personal cooking projects this summer.

    The middle kid turned out to really want to cook vegetables (?!) while the oldest taught herself how to make Japanese mochi.

    During the school year, that sort of thing would make me grumpy, but it’s fine during the summer.

    Next summer, our oldest will get driving lessons and take over her laundry.

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  9. I just queried my 17-year-old (who just finished her first week of school) what she thinks of the year-round school idea. She said, in inimitable teen style, “You know what I think.”

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  10. Apologies for being a thread hog, but one obstacle to year-round school (or even a longer school year) is that a lot of US schools do not have air conditioning.

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/08/15/heat-wave-students-need-air-conditioning-close-achievement-gap-column/1996394001/

    Hot classrooms hurt academic performance:

    “Using data from over 12,000 schools and 10 million middle- and high-school students across America, my colleagues and I found that students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on subsequent standardized exams. A 1 degree hotter-than-average academic year reduces learning by about 1%.”

    “School air conditioning is unequally distributed: Black and Latino students are significantly more likely to report inadequate air conditioning. For them, a 90 degree school day has a negative effect on learning that is nearly 2 1/2 times what it is for white students.”

    “Our data suggests that up to 7% of racial achievement gaps can be attributed to the combined influence of more hot days and hotter classrooms for African-American and Hispanic students.”

    “Based on the first nationwide school air conditioning survey, we estimate a school that has air-conditioned classrooms suffers less than a quarter of the learning losses that a school without air conditioning does.”

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  11. This post neatly illustrates how radically different the lives of the UMC are from those of ordinary Americans. The average kid does not get to partake in the cornucopia of educational and enrichment activities described here.

    The average kid has *diminished* opportunities over the summer. I’m an electrician—I know which schools have air conditioning and which don’t (hint: check the zip code). Tut-tutting about “but…air conditioning!” rings really hollow when you know damn well the kids in un-air-conditioned schools are spending all summer in un-air-conditioned homes, and a summer curriculum that looks absolutely nothing like the ones described here.

    Even the free community activities are largely inaccessible, because most take place in the daytime during the workweek, and both start and end during the workday.

    Yeah, I want year-round school and a school day that matches the workday so kids like my daughter get at least *some* of the same goodies that the rich kids get. Because while you think your kids would have diminished opportunities, *everybody else’s kids* would have increased ones.

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  12. When I ran that article about a 12-month school year at the Atlantic, I got a lot of pushback from people with second homes, people who have businesses that benefit from summer breaks, ie camps, one income families, home schoolers, old people, people who don’t want to pay more taxes for schools, and teachers. That’s a lot of people who were mad at me. There’s no chance of a 12 month school year happening here for a very, very long time.

    Ian isn’t typical. He’s 17. Most 17-year olds around here either have a job, in year long sports programs, or taking intensive SAT prep classes.

    Ian doesn’t have social skills for a job. He has low muscle tone/flat feet, so he can’t play a sport.

    The only hope that he has for employment in the future is to bring up his reading skills, so he can pass a basic exam, and to hone his strengths, so that employers won’t care that he’s weird. He learned four programming languages this summer. But unless we move things up a notch, he’s going to be stocking boxes at the Amazon warehouse like the other autistic kids in town. Which would be fine, too. As long as he has a job, an apartment, and a girlfriend.

    His strengths are very strong. He’s booking through Algebra 2 on his own this summer. But there’s an 80 percent unemployment rate for people with autism, so I’m trying to be realistic.

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  13. Laura said, “When I ran that article about a 12-month school year at the Atlantic, I got a lot of pushback from people with second homes, people who have businesses that benefit from summer breaks, ie camps, one income families, home schoolers, old people, people who don’t want to pay more taxes for schools, and teachers. That’s a lot of people who were mad at me. There’s no chance of a 12 month school year happening here for a very, very long time.”

    Yeah, different people want different things from their public school experience.

    There are also some kids that need a break from their peers for the sake of their sanity. One of our kids has been pretty happy at school, but needs a break from at least 2 peers who work our kid’s last nerve. Being around other people all day 5-days a week is a lot for some kids, even just 36 weeks a year. and that goes double for a longer school day. Plus, by the end of the year, kids (and teachers) are going stir crazy.

    I actually wonder if year-round school wouldn’t boost the drop-out rate.

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  14. Lubiddu said, “The average kid does not get to partake in the cornucopia of educational and enrichment activities described here.”

    Median family income in the US for households with children is about $70k (i.e. half of those households make more than that), so there is room for a couple of nice things, especially in a lower cost of living area and with a two-parent family where somebody is available to shuttle kids to free or low-cost activities.

    Interestingly, the median married family with children makes about $100k these days.

    “Tut-tutting about “but…air conditioning!” rings really hollow when you know damn well the kids in un-air-conditioned schools are spending all summer in un-air-conditioned homes, and a summer curriculum that looks absolutely nothing like the ones described here.”

    So how about putting in air conditioning before attempting to lengthen the school year?

    It’s quite different to be home in an air-conditioned home (maybe with a fan going, ice tea with lots of ice, and a kiddie pool or a sprinkler in the back yard) versus in a hot room with 20-30 other kids trying to do school work–especially when the kids are used to getting their summers “off”. The latter is a recipe for mass truancy.

    I’m not against a longer school year in principle but a) not everybody wants it b) the people who want it shouldn’t impose it on people who don’t want it and c) for heaven’s sake, put in AC first and figure out the necessary curriculum changes so it’s not hell on earth for the kids to be in school year round.

    “Yeah, I want year-round school and a school day that matches the workday so kids like my daughter get at least *some* of the same goodies that the rich kids get.”

    And yet, there are kids at those library programs, including from moderate income families…

    “Because while you think your kids would have diminished opportunities, *everybody else’s kids* would have increased ones.”

    If “everybody else” was excited about year-round school, we’d already have year round school.

    The reason we don’t have a lot of year-round or extended school years it is that only a minority of parents want it.

    OK, this is interesting:

    https://districtadministration.com/year-round-schooling-gains-popularity/

    “The number of public, year-round schoolsÑalso called “balanced-calendar” schoolsÑincreased by 26 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. More than 3,700 schools operate year-round nationwide, accounting for about 4 percent of all public schools. About 11 percent of them are charters.”

    (Apologies for weird characters.)

    I didn’t realize this, but apparently “year-round” doesn’t necessarily refer to a longer school year–it just refers to spreading the same number of instructional days over the whole calendar year with shorter breaks.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year-round_school_in_the_United_States

    I don’t know what percentage of schools or what percentage of students have a longer instructional year.

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    1. Teachers do not want year-round school. Yes, teachers know it could be good for some students, but the teachers just cannot teach for 52 weeks with only week-long breaks. We would have to radically rethink the school day and the work day and the school year.

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    2. Our extended summer breaks are different from the standard in most other countries, so there must e a way of staffing schools without extended summers. But, I think one part of the solution is that other countries treat their teachers better than we do, in status, respect and income.

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  15. If a universal extended school year and longer school day is so popular, where are the gubernatorial candidates riding to victory on that platform?

    Maybe they’re out there–but who are they?

    Interestingly, KIPP (the charter school chain primarily serving lower income children) advertises a longer school day and a longer school year:

    “To gain this extra time, KIPP schools feature a longer school day (typically from 7:30am until 4:00pm), as well as summer school. This extra time allows KIPP schools to offer a strong academic program along with art, music and other extracurriculars as part of the school day.”

    https://www.kipp.org/faq/

    Lubiddu, second look at charter schools?

    If I understand my previous stats correctly, charter schools are especially likely to offer a longer school year (and presumably an extended day).

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  16. I don’t want extended school if it means expanding school as it is for UMC children to 12 months. Frankly, that’s horrifying. Also, I think unnecessary for typically developing high school students, who should be taught to manage their time after school and summers (and to take care of themselves, so parents schedules shouldn’t matter).

    I think wrap around care for younger children, in summers & after school is the solution for the problems described here, rather than extending school, though.

    Caitlin Flanagan rewtweeted this article by Rob Henderson: “https://nypost.com/2019/08/17/luxury-beliefs-are-the-latest-status-symbol-for-rich-americans/”. I see holes (I don’t agree that one believes, for example, in inquiry based education as a status symbol, but i do think that sometimes the solutions that are right for us aren’t right for others). So I do think that we should query ourselves on whether our preferences are appropriate guides for policy decisions for society.

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  17. Wendy said,

    “Teachers do not want year-round school. Yes, teachers know it could be good for some students, but the teachers just cannot teach for 52 weeks with only week-long breaks. We would have to radically rethink the school day and the work day and the school year.”

    Yeah. It would have to have a completely different pacing.

    bj said,

    “I don’t want extended school if it means expanding school as it is for UMC children to 12 months. Frankly, that’s horrifying.”

    Yeah, we can just barely deal with the school we’ve got. (I’m counting down to the day when I only have two kids’ school to manage.)

    “Also, I think unnecessary for typically developing high school students, who should be taught to manage their time after school and summers (and to take care of themselves, so parents schedules shouldn’t matter).”

    Right. Our teens now spend substantial time independently, which is nice so that we don’t all have to go everywhere like a chain gang anytime one of the kids has an activity or event if my husband is unavailable to stay home with the kids that aren’t involved. My oldest (now 17) has been logging a lot of childcare hours for her baby sister the last 2.5 years. (We pay her for some of it.)

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  18. Although they did do a lot of travel this summer, we spent nothing on camps or local organized activities for our two teenagers this summer, while throwing buckets of money at keeping their 6-year-old sister busy, happy, and out of everybody’s hair.

    When they were home, we had the following expectations for our teenagers Monday-Friday, with the idea that the kids were largely left to their own devices once they did this stuff:

    1. 1 hour a day of unpaid household help (help with little sister, dish help, cook, put away clothes, etc.)
    2. 1 hour a day of educational activity (read or watch something educational, do music practice, art project, work on Python programming course, work on college admissions stuff)
    3. 1 hour a day of reading (may omit if #2 was educational reading)
    4. 1 hour a day of exercise (although we graciously deemed the 14-year-old’s 5k runs to cover the requirement)

    For much of the summer, the teens were working on this programming course, which cost about $200 for the two of them for the whole summer (we bought a 6-month subscription for one kid and a 12-month subscription for the other):

    https://www.zybooks.com/catalog/programming-in-python-3/

    They worked mostly at the same time on different laptops, often doing 2 hours a day, and we suspended a lot of other requirements as long as they were working on the programming course. The kids got about 7 chapters out of 17 done this summer. My husband needed to help them when they hit a rough spot in the course, so it wasn’t 100% self-guided, but they did a lot of independent work. They were also able to help each other. We will probably have them do a bit more during Christmas break. We have a programming and an AP computer science course available at school, but our 17-year-old hasn’t wanted to lose precious elective time to doing those courses.

    It turns out that neither kid is going into computer science (which was worth finding out!) but either of them can probably do a little bit of programming as part of another job.

    Driver’s ed is next summer.

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