06 July 2013

Vacation Differences?

Posted in Family

What Should Kids Do?

Repeated from the Brattleboro Reformer on July 6th, written by Jill Stahl Tyler 

Education Matters
“But it’s summer va-caaaa-tion!”

Somewhere around the crack of 11 AM, they pile out of their air-conditioned bedroom.  It might be just my two sons (12 and 14).  Or there may be a group of them.  Either way, they wander out, blurry-eyed and grunting when I talk to them.  They are barely one step above sleep walking, and relish their slow entry into the day.

After quick stops in the bathroom (where teeth brushing is clearly not a priority), they like to crawl back into their beds.  They bring out the electronic gadgets: I-pods, cell phones, DS Nintendo systems, computers...  They send some texts to friends, usually mumbling about how “no one is up yet, it’s so early”.  They post photos on Instagram.  They check their Facebook pages.  They go on-line.

If no one interferes with them, they will stay holed up for at least an hour or two.  The weather does not matter a lot, but if it is cloudy and rainy (like the summer of 2013?), their internal clocks seem to adjust overly well to lower light.

Eventually, their stomachs win out over their fingers tapping, and they descend to the kitchen--where they devour whatever they find.  They must eat about every two hours, with a strong preference to whatever is already setting on the counter.  Expedience rules... but if pressed, boiling water and eating pasta slathered in butter with Parmesan cheese counts as gourmet cooking.  Ice cream also counts as a meal, in their minds–but their servings don’t quite match the nutritional guidelines printed on the box.

If left to their own planning, the rest of their waking hours will be a combination of electronics with some time playing card games, reading books, and golf-cart driving.  By evening, a game of “ghost in the graveyard” nearly always breaks out, and soccer balls, lacrosse sticks and tennis balls also appear randomly throughout the day.  If I take them, most of them will happily frolic in water somewhere.

Now, when pressed, they will remember to do their minimal chores of feeding the dogs, rabbits, chickens... and loading and unloading the dishwasher.  If given specific lists of tasks, they will go through them rapidly and without a lot of hassling.  (It takes me about 40 minutes to “correctly” vacuum the mud room, moving all chairs, benches. They claim this chore is fully completed in ten minutes, and somehow, the tumbleweeds of black and yellow dog hair are still in the corners.)

Either way, if left to their wishes, their day will roll to a complete and happy close, somewhere around 1 or 2 AM–long after the adults and their younger sister have crawled into their beds. When I complain about their lack of productivity, I am met with strong resistance.

“Mom, this is our VACATION from school.  We are not supposed to do anything.”

After a few weeks of this, I–almost–start to agree with the educational professionals that say that the modern school year should no longer feature summer vacations.  Instead, they say, kids should go year-round, with four weeks off in December/January, a week or two scattered through the year, and another four weeks in July.  It helps with the infamous “brain drain”.  

Clearly, I can see where my sons would be learning more if that were the case.  

But I love summer. And I think the kids need some down time that is unscheduled and relaxed.  

I am one of those odd parents that longs for this season all year round.  For a few weeks, we are free from the demands on our time.  We can stay at the pond until dark, eat supper at 10 PM--and sleep late the next day.  I can say yes to everyone watching a movie at 8 PM, instead of being the good mother that shoves them off to get their required sleep hours in, before the dreaded yellow school bus arrives yet again, “so early”. Finally, the ebb and flow of the family’s desires is more important than the constant tick-tick-tick of the clock.

So we establish some limits.  Everyone gets out of bed by 10 AM.  More chores are added to the list.  Electronic time is set.  Attitudes are adjusted.  Camps are attended. Volunteering is required.  Jobs are searched for--and worked at whenever found. Family interaction is mandatory.

I don’t think we’ve found the perfect balance yet.  

Luckily, we have more summer to keep on trying.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools.  She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.