It's that time year again - the countdown for summer break is a universal experience shared by both students and staff in schools across America. Summer break is a time to recharge and relax before preparing to start a new school year. But have you ever wondered why we have summer break? And a question that's gaining more momentum these days, is summer break the smartest approach from an educational standpoint? Let's dive in.
De-Bunking the Farm Myth
There's an old myth out there that says summer break was started because kids were needed on the farms in the summer. And that a lot of the school calendar is based on farm cycles and harvest times. However, this is not the case. In fact, according to a PBS news article, in rural communities, school was in session in the winter and summer - a time when farming needs are less. It was the spring and fall when families needed all-hands on deck to plant crops and harvest them. It was during those times that school was on pause. In general, rural areas had less school days a year than urban areas because of their farming needs and the summer was actually a prime season for school to take place.
It's Just too Hot!
Instead of farms, cities were the locale where summer break began to take shape. While rural communities took time off in the spring and fall, urban communities ran school almost all year round, especially before the Civil War. According to a MentalFloss article, in 1842, Detroit's school year lasted 260 days! A normal school year now is around 180 days. As cities grew and got denser, they also got hotter in the summer. Middle and upper class families would take to the country in the summer months to escape the heat and that left a lot of empty desks at schools. Because school was not mandatory in those days, the lack of attendance in schools in the summer started to become a problem. That's when legislators started codifying summer break during the hottest months of the year and by the early 1900's it became a normal thing in urban and rural settings. So to answer the question posed in the title of this post- Who invented summer break? - it wasn't really one person, but instead city dwellers across the country that said no thanks to hot classrooms in the summer.
Is Summer Break Going Away?
This question has been more prevalent the last few years during COVID, especially in the early days of quarantine. The concept of "brain drain" in kids is one of the leading factors that is driving this movement. That and the modern comfort of air conditioning, which would have been a godsend to those city folk back then :) Many schools are experimenting with year-round schedules. According to the Public School Review, schools in 46 states that account for nearly 3 million K12 students now attend a year-round school. To put it in perspective, that's about 4% of all students nationwide. The most common schedule is the 45-15 plan - which is 45 days of school then 3 weeks off. There are also 60-20 and 90-30 schedules in place.
The jury is out on whether or not the traditional summer break will stand test of time, but for the 96% of students and faculty that have summer break at their schools - we wish you a very relaxing and enjoyable time off!