What summer does to brain cells

The research is there to prove it — it’s been studied by Harris Cooper, Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri,

summer loss in knowledge is approximately one month overall. So, taking three months off in the summer cuts the school year down to 8 months. In math, students lose 2.6 months.

But still … what about this study, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, that time spent playing outside, reduces and eliminates ADHD symptoms? And, what about the simple gift of giving kids the time and space to learn a new skill?

In the interest of “education” the summer vacation is shrinking. And, with today’s technological advances and instant access to information, parents are finding it difficult to take a simple week out of the office. The WSJ, August 15, 2007, Vacation Deflation: Breaks Get Shorter, cited Expedia.com’s annual Vacation Deprivation survey (not kidding — real name) that:

a full 35% of employed U.S. adults aren’t taking all the vacation days they get for the year, inching up from 33% last year. Only 14% plan to take off a full two-week vacation this year, down from 16% last year.

So if adults are finding it more difficult to get away from the office, what kind of model are we creating for our kids? And, what message do we send them to cut that vacation as short as it can be? How do families do it?

As if the school year has already impinged on our summer enough, they wanted us back last week, a full two weeks before school starts, just to pick up text books. (We figured, the books would still be there — and they were.) We passed on that one — but we did come back for middle school orientation — a full one week earlier than we need to be. And a little less than a week early, we will be in the elementary school turning in forms, buying school supplies and getting the class pictures taken.

When I talk to teachers about the shrinking summer break — their eyes beam — they are excited to get those minds back into the classrooms, catching those brain cells before they deteriorate. Which is good — I’m glad they’re concerned, and eager to help. But, unfortunately, it’s getting tougher for families who want to spend quality time together and just “unplug.” Of course, there is always that option of taking your kids with you on a business trip, but we all know where that leads ….

A rare picture — it may become extinct in a few years. Cousins, at the lake at exactly the same time — two families that made the schedule work out, so that the kids could play together:



For more, check out the article and discussion at Slate on the 3-month summer vacation topic.

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11 comments to “What summer does to brain cells”
  1. I can’t remember the last time we took a real vacation- most of the time when we do travel, it’s for work, and maybe we take a few days to do some sightseeing… not really a vacation. I don’t want to wait till we are too old to enjoy ourselves, either! We all need to have down time, kids included! More than ever, I think, now. There’s a lot of pressure out there now…
    Very interesting Susie- and thanks for the tips today…

  2. I am always on vacation – so maybe I should be the model employee then? 🙂
    As I continue to learn, I have realized that a lot of things are learned outside the confines of the classroom.
    And I love the picture of the cousins – how does the little girl catch up with all the activities of the boys? 🙂

  3. What a gorgeous and happy picture!

    This is a confusing issue. I think the summer as it is is maybe too long — it was originally set at 10 or so weeks because children were needed to work on their family’s farms.

    I think the European model has some merit — 4 or 5 two-week vacations spaced throughout the year…

  4. I think vacations are so healthy. We should all be like the French and take a month, visit with family and have real down time. You are lucky to give this sort of break to your family.

  5. Susie you are so therapeutic to me and you don’t even know it!
    My daughter is incredibly gifted-her writing amazes me, her drawing astounds me, her words…well, I don’t have words for them. But one teacher once gave her a negative complex about math and she’s struggled with it ever since. Even though when I work on it with her, she catches up easily. So when her teachers suggested summer school and it was going to involve lots of rushing around, and cut into kid play time…well, I said no way. I told them that I’d work with her this summer-and I have. Not nearly as much as I should have mind you, but we sure have been enjoying our summer vacation! I’ve felt a bit guilty that she may struggle and be even more behind in the fall-but you know what-we’ll work on that then. Our relationship and her childhood mean more to me-the Math facts will come. Thanks for this post.

  6. I’m with you on this! I have long been perturbed by the fact that adults get far less vacation time and work longer hours than adults in other industrialized countries. It just doesn’t seem right. Now they’re trying to scale back school vacations too! I totally agree with you that kids and families need a good break from school and work to be together. It’s more imporant than a few extra days in the office or the classroom.

  7. Maybe the teachers don’t know “everything.” I’m glad to hear so many of you think vacations are still a way to learn about life. And yes, maybe they fall behind in the classroom — but the classroom is not life.

    But that said, I do put a strong emphasis on education in our family — and we spend lots of time reading, and I through them math problems in terms of what we are spending, versus how much we have, etc. So, yes, you have to work on it.

    But, parents and children are seeing a huge shrink in vacation.

  8. Vacations are definitely necessary, but I can tell you, my husband and my mother are both in the percentage of employees who don’t take all the vacation they have. And when they do schedule some, the guilt they feel is horrendous. It is a good day or two into it before they actually feel “on vacation.” But, with the company issued laptops and cell phones…a vacation is never really a vacation. It really is a sad trend, especially for families.

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