Summering

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Montessori homeschoolers face the question: To break or not to break for the summer?
 
With spring bulbs peeking through the soil and the promise of sunny days ahead, in elementary classrooms around the country the countdown to summer vacation has already begun.  Following the most common academic schedule of September-June, most public and private school students have a summer break, making the spring a busy time of completing projects, reviewing lessons and establishing goals for the upcoming year.  For home schooling families, especially those that practice the Montessori method, the line between “in session” and summer is likely to be less severe and noted by subtle changes in routines and rhythms instead of an abrupt end date and packing away of educational materials.
 
In “following the child”, it is expected that interests and educational pursuits would not come to a dramatic close on a specific date, leading many Montessori home schooling families to wonder about the possible benefits and drawbacks of this traditional schedule with summer “off”.  The decision to school year round or take a summer break is purely a personal, family decision, based on a myriad of factors.  From an academic perspective, studies on the issue of school scheduling patterns have shown inconclusive results.
 
In most places around the country, school lets out for the summer. This often translates into June through August offering both a wider range of activities generally not available during the school year (such as park and sport programs, camps, days warm enough to swim) and a greater number of children around in neighborhoods during the day. There are socioeconomic variables related to the concept of the summer season. The economic realities, employment requirements, and differences in priorities and responsibilities each family faces contribute to determining if it is desirable, or possible, for one or both parents to take some time away from work to coincide with their child’s summer vacation.
 
Whether the shift into summer is subtle or dramatic, each Montessori family that educates at home will craft their own definition of what summer looks like; it could be packing away all the didactic materials, sleeping in late with a shorter work period, or delving into social and Practical Life lessons found in creating adventures with neighborhood friends. That is not to say that school calendars are not a contested issue in the educational field, as school schedules are a frequently, and fiercely, debated topic.
 
Regarding school scheduling policy, there are two main camps: one that favors the traditional school year and another that prefers a year round option. Both sides have advocating/lobbying organizations that present conflicting research findings. The traditional school year is, in part, historically based on our agrarian past when children’s labor was seasonally needed to help in fields and farms.  Those in favor of this scheduling system readily note that the majority of American families no longer live an agrarian, rural lifestyle and acknowledge that the traditional school year does not align with the work requirements of most parents. In the United States, few career paths and/or jobs offer eight to ten weeks of summer vacation.
 
Despite acknowledgements that childcare may pose challenges for families during the summer months, proponents of the traditional school year tout a myriad of benefits to having a break in the school year. Summer Matters, a traditional school year advocacy group, offers talking points on their website and asserts that summer break allows children a chance to process and apply the skills acquired in the classroom, spend time with family, take part in travel and seasonal activities, and enjoy the leisure of large chunks of unscheduled, free time.
 
And as hard as it may be for many parents to take a break from work over the summer when their children are out of school, the nostalgia for the long dog days of summer is strong. For some families, summer is not only a noun but also a verb, and an activity worth preserving through adherence to the traditional school calendar.  These families are likely to note that summering has proven to be a meaningful and successful method for passing on traditions and histories.  Others may say that summering is not the same as vacation or “off” times, but rather a period of intensive learning and bonding that offers real world experiences and educational value.
 
On the other side of the argument, the National Association for Year Round Education’s website explained that year round schooling (YRS) has been in practice in urban, non agrarian areas since the start of the 20th century and noted that more than 2.3 million students attended a year round public school program in 2002-2003. According to the National Association for Year Round Education, summer break no longer makes sense for modern families (either economically or logistically with childcare and work schedules) and suggests that the months spent away from the classroom decrease student’s retention of subject matter and skills. Advocates for year round schooling argue that students would be better served with a program of year round instruction and suggest that comparisons of test scores between American students and those of other industrialized nations indicate a need for increasing the amount of time American students spend in the classroom.
 
Families adopting the Montessori method into their educational plan are not faced with the same pressure to “finish” a year’s worth of lessons or materials as are educators of divided grades, since the Cosmic Curriculum of Montessori early elementary spans a three-year period and is self-directed by the student. Montessori home schooling families that do take a formal summer break from studies are apt to notice that the independent, autodidactic attitude their student has adopted from Montessori does not follow a calendar or a schedule and will likely observe that whether planned or not, summertime has lessons to reveal for every student.
 
References:
 
National Association for Year Round Education (2013). Retrieved from http://www.nayre.org/
 
Summer Matters (2013). Retrieved from http://www.summermatters.com/yrschools.htm
 
Written by Miriam Coates 
Miriam Coates holds a Masters of Arts in Education and Montessori from St. Catherine University, Advanced Montessori Studies Program, and she also holds an American Montessori Society Early Childhood credential, and an undergraduate degree in Humanities.   With over fifteen years experience in the educational field, Miriam has worked as an educational consultant, Montessori directress, curriculum designer, and youth advocate. With passions for Montessori, home-schooling, foodways and sustainability studies, she is a freelance writer and education consultant for a variety of clients, including Magellan Montessori LLC.
 
This article was first published April 24, 2013