Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer Vacations.

Summer vacations, the time for kids to relax, unwind and do nothing. U think so? 

Growing up in the land that has cradled many a civilizations,  schooling in India was very different. At the end of final exams, we were promoted to the next grade and spent about a month in the new grade. This is sort of the prep time, where in the teachers warm up the students for the new challenges.  The fact that the 5th grade math teacher is the same as the 6th grade math teacher also helps. Unlike US,  the teachers are subject specific. The students don't rotate with their bag and baggage, they sit in one class, and the teachers move from one room to the other. Makes sense right, instead of moving the whole school every 30-40 minutes, move a few teachers. Less chaotic and less time lost. Coming back, after the prep time, we had about 6 weeks of summer vacation and then back to work. If we were lucky we would have no work, but in most cases, there was always a project or two to keep the grey cells alive.  

We all remember the "doing almost nothing" during summer vacations. Growing up, summer break was a time when it was okay to wake up late, take late showers and eat breakfast at lunch time.  Today while parents are scrambling to find a cost effective, safe, educationally stimulating and yet fun summer camp, kids on the other hand are hoping that they won't have to go anywhere and would have the freedom to chill (that's the word in my home.) 

There is no shortage today of media information constantly reminding parents how much learning is lost during the summer months and thus the need of summer camps that harp and advertise on how important it is to keep learning and not take a break.  Is that really vacation and has it always been like that in the U.S? 

Honestly, I don't know. I did Google around, didn't find anything very convincing, though there is enough argument that it could be because in the rural areas, families needed help with farming so the long break and in the urban America, the cities were hot and humid (remember there were no air-conditioned schools then) so it was more of a public health and safety concern that prompted the long breaks. And there is enough argument out there as to what is true and what is not. Regardless of the reasoning,  the fact remains, summer vacations are just way too long in the U.S. 

Most countries don't have such long vacations.  Which is better, long summer breaks or shorter ones? Its a topic worth debating and maybe its about time that the U.S education authorities pay attention to this too.  

The U.S education system is due for a major disruption.  The disruption has started at the higher education with universities such as UDEMY bringing a paradigm shift to gaining work specific knowledge.  With all states adopting the Common Core in the 2013-2014 school year, the process of change has started. I have researched this quite a bit, read quite a few blogposts on the subject and if implemented correctly, I do think it can bring positive results.  During this research, I got the feeling it's being modeled to give the U.S students more hands on skills and work related readiness so they can compete with the global world, which at this point is synonymous with the Asian continent. This is where I differ in opinion.  It's okay to model after a successful system, but then the teachers need to have the same freedom and resources, the school system needs to be very similar and so does the duration of the school. 

The question that baffles me when schools, teachers and all realize that kids forget quite a bit during summer, then why is it so long? In the U.S teachers spend the fall session recapping concepts studied in the previous grade and come December-January, its a ramp up and boom, the school is over in June.  A typical school year is only 180 days.  So next time, some thing is not working in school, remember its less than half the year, it will be over before you know it. 

The change is not coming anytime soon, so in all honesty, I am guilty of researching quite a bit on how will I keep the kids busy during summer. I have been told very strictly by an 11 year old, that no full day camps. Managed to convince him to go for an hour for 2 weeks to learn PPT, but beyond that what do I do? 

My older one starts 6th grade in the new school year and the younger one enters the world of schools, so the goal is to let them do what they choose to.  But the compulsive planner in me did come up with some plans, just to keep my sanity alive. Here is a list of some things I have in mind. Let's see if we do any of those or just end up with the Kindle in a corner :) 

  1. Found this Babbaco Box via another blog Another Jennifer, which by the way is a great blog to follow. 
  2. If you have a dinosaur lover at home, Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley  is a great place. The campus is beautiful too. Visit the Museum, explore the campus and don't forget to visit Viks for some great Indian food. Berkeley has some great parks too.  Make a day trip out of it. 
  3. If they have to go digital, give them something that is meaningful, Common Sense Media has a list of some great apps and reviews on what is appropriate and not. 
  4. Check your local movie theatre, they usually have summer movies for a fraction of the cost. Hey, ok I agree, they are not new movies, but some of those oldies and worth a second and third look too, and if you can do it for less money, why not? :) 
  5. Parent Further, this seems like an interesting website with some good tips on how to get the learning in summer going, without making it look like learning. In all honesty, I haven't browsed much on this site, but the little that I did, it seemed promising. 
  6. Let your child go to Pinterest, with one condition, the search words are "fun summer project" and let them choose what they want to make. As long as it is within reason, if they have to buy a thing or two, let them.  The joy of creating something just for fun can be experienced in summer only. 
  7. Its a great time to teach them help around the home. Sometimes an small incentive helps too. 
  8. Explore the neighborhood. the backyard Alphabet treasure hunt is a great game for little ones as you go on walks.  
  9. If there are no parks near by, don't forget your school. Public schools are open (at least ours is) to public during summer. The kids are always playing and kicking the ball around in our school. Personally, I like it better than the park, more contained, they usually end up meeting a friend, burn their energy and time flies by fast.
  10. Bay Area kid fun is a great website. It's listing is very comprehensive to search around.
And remember its okay if your child wants to lie down on the couch hanging upside down and stare at the ceiling.  If you don't understand the joy, try doing it yourself and if you choose not to, let him/her do it. You never know a brilliant idea might sprocket from the air. 

I'll let you know in September, how much of this we actually achieved. But I do know one thing, every morning is going to be a pancake morning or a french toast morning. Every lunch will be "Uhh... can we have something else," and every nite will be "so can I sleep at 12.00 today?" 

Have fun this summer everyone.  Who knows, with all the changes coming, soon this insanely long summer vacation might be replaced by globally popular six week break and then Yes, I know we will all miss this time.  

Every summer has a story, write yours this summer. 

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