Summer was not always the lazy, vacation-filled season that we now see it as. When we think of summer today, we think of long hot days of laying by the pool with the kids while they splash away their summer break. The family road trips to expensive amusement parks or vacations to the beach are standard. Sending the kids off to summer camp for the week gets them out of mom’s hair for a while. Those are all modern ideas. Have you ever stopped to think that our iconic ideas of summer only exist because of the school calendar? It wasn’t always that way.
As a homeschooler, I march to the beat of my own drum. One of the major perks is that I get to decide my own schedule. Like most other things in my life, I don’t stick with the norm. I choose to do school year round with significant breaks in the spring and fall. It’s a little weird, especially when most other homeschool families I know generally stick with the public school calendar. So, it got me thinking. Am I really that weird or just behind the times?
Today, kids are out of school by the end of May and back at it by the middle of August. Around here, that means that they are in school during planting time as well as the majority of harvest time! I’m knee deep in canning tomatoes well into September. The school year certainly doesn’t coincide with my homestead life. I always thought that the summer break got started because of the agrarian lifestyles of our country’s founders, but that’s just not the case.
Here’s what happened. A little homeschool lesson for the kiddos! (Hint…it has a lot more to do with the whims of politicians than it does with planting and harvesting.)
Public education got its start in the early 1800’s. At that time, there was not a standard calendar. School days were set differently in various parts of the country and even changed from town to town. As you would expect, the urban school year differed greatly from the rural one. In the cities, kids attended school year round with days off here and there. In some cities, school was in session as many as 240 days a year! That schedule basically included the weekends and a few holidays.
Kids in the country had a completely different experience. Their parents wanted them home for planting during the spring, as well as harvesting during the fall. The majority of their school days fell in the cold winter months and the hot summer months when their time was not in such high demand on the farm.
As more and more people moved into the cities, summer temperatures got hotter there. The stone, brick, and later concrete felt like an oven and heated up the cities more and more. Frequently, rich families began to pull their kids out of school during the hottest months in order to feel relief from the cooler country or seaside breezes. More and more students were missing and some classrooms sat vacant.
Legislators stepped in to solve the problem. They rationalized that it was actually more healthy for kids to take the summers off. They needed leisure time to relax their brains! By 1900, urban kids were free for as much as 60 days in the summer. Not wanting to be behind the times, school districts in the country adopted the new summer schedule.
The rest is history, so they say. Today we have a booming billion-dollar vacation industry that capitalizes on the summer schedule set by politicians more 100 years ago. But I would submit that our kids are not better for it. We’re teaching them that they deserve an entire season free of work. That’s not the reality of life. Not to mention that by the time school starts again, a significant amount of time has to be devoted to review because students have forgotten most of what they learned at the end of the previous year.
It turns out that I’m in pretty good company with rural homestead families of the past. Summer break is actually a modern phenomenon. Schooling year round really works for my family. A little bit every day, combined with homestead activities and chores keeps learning fresh for us and teaches my kids that learning never stops. I’ve come to realize that living an off grid agrarian lifestyle has naturally caused my family to live in many ways just as farmers and homesteaders did centuries ago.