Year-round schooling? No thanks; Year-round learning? Bring it!

It’s mid-June and in North America a gazillion or so kids are counting down the minutes to the end of the school year. To some, summer holidays can’t come soon enough; their bodies and brains are yearning to experience life and learning beyond the school walls. Others are not relishing the break, they’re unsure about how they will spend their time and anticipate missing their school friends and routine.

For all, the summer break will bring a change in activities, whether that’s sleeping in, staying up later, spending more time with family, maybe experiencing a summer job or a camp. Playing more games or wasting time, getting outside or into trouble.

If you were a neuroscientist and you could scan kids’ brains during summer you would likely detect overall  differences in brain activity from what you’d generally see during the rest of the year when kids are focused on schoolwork. That stands to reason given that the activities listed above are markedly different than the activities of schooling.

But one thing remains consistent, year-round: kids learn. That is, whether it’s fall, winter, spring or summer, kids’ brains don’t switch on or switch off. They’re always ‘on’ and processing experiences. Clearly, differences exist between schooling and summer experiences, so brain scans at any given time will likely look different because doing math homework, for example, engages different brain regions than playing a pick-up game of basketball, building a fort or playing imaginatively for hours.


Left: this is your brain on school; Right: this is your brain on summer.

Upshot: Kids’ brains are learning year-round, and it’s time for educators and administrators to validate and support this. During summer months, we need to open schools and support ‘summer learning’.

Ask most children, youth and adults about the significance in meaning of these activities and you’ll surely hear that their learning in either school or during summer had different and profound effects on their lives. Mine certainly did.

But these domains of learning are very distinct in this regard – summer learning is almost totally ignored by school administrators and educators.  

This is so for at least a couple of reasons: first, it is a throwback to when school calendars were calibrated to an agrarian calendar. That is, during summer most kids were involved in farming activities and were released from school to help contribute to a vital economic activity (think taxation). Second, schooling has grown a swelled ego and thinks that it’s the only place real learning happens.

The latter point is unfortunate and untrue, but it lingers as a dominant mind-set.

It’s time to change this. If kids are learning year-round – and they are – then a question needs asking: Why aren’t schools remaining open during summer as a location to coordinate, stoke and validate summer learning?

On June 30th, schools could certainly be shuffling their cards and switching off one kind of learning for another. Math and social studies could be over for the year but July might be the time for learning through gaming and August could be a time for ‘DIY’ activities or various outdoor recreational activities like camping or sailing. The last time I checked tourism and recreational activities were booming. BOOMING. So why aren’t we supporting kids learning in and through these activities during summer months?

Summer is a very valid learning season. Let’s do the right thing and support this, starting this summer.

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