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Shorter summer vacations for schools.

Updated on December 31, 2016

Starting early - preschoolers celebrating St. Patrick's Day

Coming up with other schedules.

Our schools have one long vacation over summer, with a shorter one in winter. Parents have generally accepted that their children will be home for two-and-a-half-months over summer—or have they? Keeping them engaged during that period can be quite challenging, particularly when both parents work full-time. Enrolling them in summer camps is one of the few options available—but that often comes at a price not all parents can afford. In fact, that might be the only good option available, since studies have confirmed that children who have attended summer camps fare better on their return to school than those that haven’t. Which might make some parents wonder whether schools could follow a different vacation schedule that might reduce the cost of keeping their children occupied during the holidays.

How does the following proposal come across?

Having lived in a few other countries, my conclusion is that the one being followed in East Africa (where I lived for twenty-two years and where both my children schooled and, even to-day, swear by their holiday schedule) has a lot going for it. The difference is that they have three semesters over the year instead of two, with each semester lasting about three months, followed by a three-to-four-week long vacation. The three-month semester is not too exhausting or strenuous for the kids, while each of the vacations is not too long for them to forget some of what they’ve learned the previous semester.

This is how it can work:

To elaborate, the school year is split into three semesters:

  • The school year begins the first week January and extends up to end March/early April in time for the Easter Holidays. The vacation that follows lasts three weeks. (A point of interest on the side: Kenya hosts an annual “Safari Rally”—a grueling cross-country motor car rally spread over four days from Good Friday to Easter Monday. The event attracts internationally renowned drivers and teams and virtually the entire country follows the event, with large crowds lining up along the route).
  • The second semester starts end April and extends three months until end July. This is followed by a three-to-four-week vacation during August—winter in Kenya that lies in the southern hemisphere.
  • The final semester commences early September, extending for three months until early December. Schools then close for nearly a month, over Christmas, and reopen just after New Year.

With this schedule, the children are likely to remain more energized and motivated throughout each of the semesters, while enjoying three vacations spread over the year. Families would have the option to plan their annual vacation during any one of three school holidays that last between three and four weeks, a typical duration of a family vacation. In Kenya, the hospitality industry is well developed, since the country’s renowned wildlife game parks and its beautiful beaches attract tourists, mainly from Europe. This schedule of holidays helps the industry remain busy all through the year since local tourists fill up the rooms during the lean periods. A similar schedule should work in this country as well, since the hospitality industry might find that there is an increase in the number of vacationing families during the lean periods, rather than having a heavy concentration only over summer. (For more details on Kenya, read Where is the best weather? and Which is the best African country? by the author).

Of academic interest to some may be a few points observed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Outliers”. He states that in the US, summer vacation is considered a permanent and inviolate feature of school life, like high school football or the senior prom. But he goes on to point out that studies show how a long summer vacation affects school children’s performances in the widely used math-and-reading skills exam called the California Achievement Test. He also goes on to state that long summer vacations in the US are a major cause why our schoolchildren lag behind several other nations in the TIMMS test (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). Students from countries that regularly perform better, mainly from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have put in between 220 and 243 school days in a year as against 180 days that a student puts in here.

So there you have it—are we ready to change our school schedule? There will always be resistance to change, but if parents are convinced that’s the proposed schedule is advantageous, they’ll need to push for a change.

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      slouis 5 years ago

      As a teacher in the public schools and a mother of two school age kids, I would have to agree that the current summer vacation is way too long a feeling that I know is shared not just by parents who have to come up with creative and mostly pricey ways to keep kids busy, but by kids too that get antsy by the end of July. They are tired of yet another day at the public pool. Not really in the mood for yet another week long camp, if there are any available that is. And more importantly,are looking forward to getting back to school and catching up with old friends as well as meeting their new teacher.

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      ndighe 5 years ago from Dallas

      There is no reason to continue with such long holidays. Let the kids get back to their classes and their friends after a few weeks - a break of between two and three months at one time is indeed too long. Let there me more breaks, each of shorter duration.

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