A Summer To Forget

I have an unconventional view about kids and summer that I’ve been reluctant to share because I imagine most will disagree. Some might consider my point of view irresponsible. But since both of my teenage daughters have recently offered their unsolicited corroboration, I’m taking the plunge.  My kids have great instincts, and if they have conviction in something it must be worth sharing.

My 15-year-old middle daughter, a sage old soul, expressed this idea brilliantly during a recent exchange with her 10-year-old brother. He has a character trait that’s admirable but baffling to all of us. He’s intensely conscientious about his school work and completes assignments well in advance of their due date. Who does that? If he shares an urgent concern about finishing a school assignment, you can bet he doesn’t need to turn it in for several weeks.  Needless to say, he didn’t get this from me. This is DNA from an alien species.

Occasionally this summer, my boy’s been stressing about the optional math review packet due when school starts, especially because we’ve had some technical difficulties downloading it for him. When he recently shared his worries, his sister retorted, “You don’t need to do it. They’ll review all the material anyway.”

“But the teacher said I’ll forget everything!”

“It’s summer. You’re supposed to forget everything,” she commanded.

I couldn’t have said it better. I believe in letting our kids’ brains turn to mush over the summer. Kids need to relax their minds, forget there is such a thing as school work, vegetate and assimilate. They need these months to shuffle and reshuffle the deck, disassemble and reorganize, and access latent areas of their minds. They need to lose all track of time. Often. Children do this best when we respect their choices, especially when we honor their choice to do nothing at all.

(The obvious exception to this laissez-faire approach is passive entertainment and screen time. TV and video games might always be “first choice” and need our monitoring.)

“I don’t want to learn anything in the summer,” was my eldest daughter’s pronouncement at age 7, and she’s stuck to her definition of that. Now 19 and entering her sophomore year at a highly respected university, she’s managed throughout her life to avoid anything she perceived as academic summer enrichment.  She’s chosen Girl Scout camp, sports and ocean camps, and a Christian choral camp. She’s remodeled houses for low-income Native Americans, had a couple of internships, hung out with friends, and worked at the local juice bar, but noooo “learning” for her, or at least nothing that felt like learning. Just play and adventures.  

I see summer as one long extracurricular activity, and my belief about all extracurricular activities is that they belong solely to the person engaging in them.  Many have asked me how the RIE approach translates to parenting older children. My answer is to trust kids to choose. This is the way older children continue to benefit from self-directed play and is essential for encouraging and nurturing intrinsic motivation

Why wouldn’t we trust our children to know what they need to do to balance the brain work that is required of them during the school year? Only our children can know this. Just like when they were babies, our kids intuitively know what areas of “self” they need to develop. Our validation of these choices is immensely empowering.

One of my most memorable moments this summer was about forgetting. I was lying on the beach next to my 19-year-old daughter. My son was floating on his back in the tranquil sea.  After spending several minutes in that stillness, he stepped out of the water and made a little sand castle. I closed my eyes and forgot. I forgot I was a teacher and a blogger. I even forgot I was a mom and wife. I was just me.

(Photos were taken by my daughter during the many summers she learned nothing at all.)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. This is perfect! I am a teacher and a new mom and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I am a teacher that doesn’t give homework over winter breaks or long weekends. I believe it is a time for children to simply “play” and enjoy their time off. I agree that it should be screen free (or close to it), but I always told my students to have fun over vacation. My response to parents who complained of too little homework every night was “your child has been in school for almost 7 hours, they need time to play when they get home too. They are 7 years old!”

    I loved my summers of “not learning anything”. It was exactly what I needed; riding bikes, building forts, sitting in the dirt drawing pictures, climbing trees, swimming, etc. There is no price I could put on them 🙂

    1. You sound like an awesome teacher, Julie, and I love your last comment, especially. Yes, this isn’t just about “not doing anything”, it’s precious, priceless time.

    2. Eilen Radostits says:

      I couldn’t agree more Julie…I have such fond memories of my childhood summers of doing everything but “learning”….children so need the downtime to relax and recharge and just BE!!

    3. I wish we had more teachers like you!!!

  2. ahhhhhh! refreshing. and if we all shared these kinds of feelings, parents could let up on the competitiveness of their childs academic achievements. i never once had to do anything academic during the summer and i get hives at the very idea of that being required of me. we were on swim team and occasionally went to swim camps, but mostly we had fun. this was immensely important to me to decompress. i always pushed myself during the school year, but the summer was my break. once in college, i did end up pushing myself into summer courses, but at least at that point my life was very nearly totally my own. i paid rent, i had a car, i still gave myself a few weeks of total school break.

    i dont regard your view as irresponsible, i view it as essential. thank you for being brave enough to deliver it in a palatable way to more people than any one of us “regular” people can do.

    1. “Regular”? You express yourself beautifully. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have a hunch this is a summer you will all remember….forever.

    1. Ronda, thank you, this has actually been one of my happiest summers ever!

  4. Amen!! I hate the Sylvan Learning Centers commercials: “Over the summer, children can suffer ‘SUMMER LEARNING LOSS’.” Like it’s a SERIOUS LIFE-THREATENING CONDITION!!! “Enroll your children now, to prevent summer learning loss.” REALLY??

    1. Do they really say that, Laura?! My gosh, that’s hilarious! Well, if you’re selling a product, you’ve got to create a problem, I guess. As a general rule, parents shouldn’t believe anything they hear from people who want their money.

      1. Can I quote this? Embroider it on a pillow, possibly? Pretty please? I get a ton of strange looks (and overt criticism) when I eschew so many “necessities” for my son.

        1. Yes! 🙂 I would love for this to give you all the confidence in the world to trust yourself and your son.

  5. I’m all for some mush time… But I wish summer break wasn’t quite so long. My ideal school year would take a month off each for summer and winter, and three weeks each for spring and fall. Plus a few extra long weekends thrown in for good measure. I think the school year wouldn’t feel quite so unbearably long if it were split into quarters.

    Of course if I had my way we’d also do away with homework, so kids could get a bit of a break even on a school day. Honestly, I think many high school students put in more hours than most adults.

    1. We have some “year round schools” down where I live that do just that!

  6. I love this. I needed this. I needed to know that someone else can trust teens. My husband, his mother and his sister have all been having these “meetings of the minds” to figure out where they should direct our 16 year old nephew to go to college, military or work. I know that futures are at stake at this point in his life, but I really believe that they need to trust him to make the right decision for him. And if it isn’t right, he’s still young enough to change it! They’re driving me mad that they can’t just let him pick his course…

    UGH! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Rose, I totally agree. There is only one mind that matters in that decision.

  7. Jayadeep Purushothaman says:

    Janet – you have found out! Schools are THE problem. Without schools there would be an unending learning cycle directed by the child everyday, the concept of vacation and to forget thing does not arise. We tend to equate school time as learning time and rest of the time as vacation – big mistake IMO. Then it continues in the corporate jobs – you slog it out and go on vacation to forget about. Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong here ?

    1. Jayadeep, I’m not ready to give up on schools. I know that homeschooling is the answer for many parents, but schools can work well, too. Neither approach to learning is perfect. I don’t see summer as a time to forget something horrible. It’s changing it up. Loosening up. Being open to a time that feels altogether different. After the long break, my children have always been very excited to start school again.

    2. School *should* meet children’s needs without the need for a season-long break. I long for a public system that actually does that! If children (and teenagers) could relax at need and get back to learning new skills and concepts when they’ve assimilated what they’ve already learned, then they wouldn’t *want* a long break from learning. Human beings naturally want to learn, all the time, and if they don’t, it’s because the system has burned that love out of them. That’s why I love Montessori!

    3. Not every parent is able to homeschool their children. I teach adults, and some are parents who are themselves illiterate, who may lack good parenting skills, and who may suffer from mental illness or substance abuse. I have had adult students who were “homeschooled” so that they could babysit or do other work for their parents and so they would be unable to report abuse or neglect. School is a refuge for some kids, the one place where they feel safe. We need to improve schools, not abandon them.

  8. Summers are the time to relax and be yourself and think about who you are. Time to renew, to imagine and to create.

  9. I love the piece janet. I’m just surprised that you’re not an unschooler. It’s interesting that we separate types of learning…academic and non-academic. Academic can mean” “scholarly to the point of being unaware of the outside world” or “conventional” so i can see why they’d want to pursue their own interests in the summer. all of it sounds educational to me. I’m not sure how I feel about the extremes. Talking to many parents of high school students at top la schools i hear there is an unscionable amount of homework. And i imagine that a kid may want to get as far away from that as possible. The film Race To Nowhere drove that point home in a seriously painful way. I wonder how to have a more balanced life for children where their learning is more child driven….like all of the activities your daughter has chosen to do with her summers. What if her whole life was like that? And of course for unschoolers it is. Personally, I’m fascinated by it. I know unschooling is a big deal to undertake…I just wish the constrast between conventional education and unschooling wasn’t so stark. Thanks for sharing. Provocative post as always. xo jennifer

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. Are you planning to unschool? I explored the possibility before entering my eldest in Kindergarten, but quite honestly, not going to school would have been like a punishment for her. She was very excited about school. In fact, she used to want to “play school” all the time. She and my youngest thrive in the school environment. They embrace summer wholeheartedly, but are eager to go back each fall. My middle daughter is a more solitary person, so she would have probably been fine with unschooling. Yes, there are complaints about homework sometimes, but all three are excellent students. I chalk it up to limiting screens and allowing them to “just play” during their first 5 years.

      1. No actually I”m not considering unschooling….at this time anyway. it’s just that the spirit of your e-mail seemed to be very uschoolingish. i do think more progressive approaches to school are the way to go and i can see the damage of homework (before 10th or 11th grade) particularly when i can’t find studies that shows it helps. i mean the idea of working after working all day isn’t very appealing. and i do think there is much to be gained from family time, which often can’t happen due to the amount of homework assigned.

        i’m just wondering if children are soooo hungry for playing in the summer because school can be so rigourous. it just gets me thinking about the extremes of the two different times of year. certainly kids don’t stop learning just because it is summer time. how might the ways they learn during summer be helpful to work into the school year. these are just questions i’m asking as i get into elementary school. and having graduated from a top “liberal” la school, i can say it is not an education i’d like for my children to repeat. i feel like i could have learned in so many more valuable ways. i really mourn the experience now seeing it with new eyes. so much time wasted…just lots of questions so was struck by your post.

        also, is there a way for yo to add the feature “email me” when janet posts and replies to my reply? someone had asked me to do it and it was easy. sometimes i forget when i reply to people’s blogs so it’s a great reminder. xo

        1. The “reply” notification is a great idea (I’ll put it on my ever growing TO DO list!), especially since it sometimes takes me a long time to reply.

          Jennifer, I think it’s great that you are exploring these ideas and options (which are a luxury to have). Rick Ackerly (see his comment below) is the perfect person to ask about these kinds of things. You might also appreciate psychologist Wendy Mogel’s perspective, which is essentially that “ideal” isn’t necessarily ideal (my words, not hers). As Rick says, children are resilient, often more resilient than we give them credit for, and they can benefit from less than ideal educational situations.

        2. Jennifer YES! I was thinking all the same things while reading your responses! I wish more people asked these sort of questions! Janet, your childrens summer sounds wonderful, but I found myself asking “why can’t it be like this most of the time?” They are children for such a short time! My wish for schools is a later starting age, like maybe 7, and no homework after school. I totally get that some children thrive in the school environment and I respect that. I just want more time with my kid! 🙂

          1. “I just want more time with my kid” is a wonderful way to feel, Mel! Sounds like you might be a homeschooler or unschooler. My kids appreciate the exciting buzz of school and are eager to get back to it once summer’s over. They’re far more ready than I am!

        3. Have you seen the film The Race To Nowhere?
          The issue of what is happen in schools regarding homework and the take over of family time and play is intense. This is an insightful film.

          1. Rachel W. says:

            I think it needs to be said, yet again, that for many of us homeschooling and “unschooling” would be luxuries. In this economy, the vast majority of parents have no choice about working outside jobs if we want to keep our families fed and sheltered. We are not stupid or ignorant and as you can see, I am not illiterate. I have a college degree.

            We all do the best we can by our kids. If you have the wealth (or, at least, one spouse who is making the money and paying for health insurance) and time to homeschool/unschool, more power to you. We choose to live smaller and rent instead of owning a home so we can afford to live in a good school district. And many, many people do not even have that option. A little less condescension would be helpful.

  10. Oh Janet, you’ve made my day! I concur 100%. I have a cherished memory of the day I went back to my extremely academic school after our spring break – I was about 14- and was stood up and harangued by my French teacher for not doing the homework she’d set us all to do in the holidays. When she finished berating me and asked for an explanation, I said “I don’t believe in working in the holidays.” And sat down. She was gobsmacked.

    I was right then, and you are right now!

  11. Perfect Janet! It is an excellent point of view and I totally agree. My kids are all still very young but I will keep it in mind as they grow. Thank you.

  12. Couldn’t agree more! My daughter earns A’s at a rigorous, challenging school and the first week of summer she walked around saying “I have no responsibilities. I have nothing I have to do.” So many of her friends were booked solid with plans made by their parents to do service projects, music camps, etc. I remember reading about a book a day at her age during the summer. I love that my parents allowed that freedom.

  13. Janet – I think your article is true for many kids. However, I do think it is written through a class lens of wealth. Many, many studies show that for low-income kids, summertime is a window of critical academic loss – losses which these kids can ill afford if they are a transcend the low-expectation environment of many of their schools.

    I’ve worked on issues of the achievement gap for years now, and I know that because of my family’s income and privledge – while my daughter will be “fine” with mediocre teachers and summers spent pursuing (or not pursuing) whatever her interests dictate, I don’t think this is fair or realistic advice or expectation for low-income parents whose kids are facing a serious, generationally and systemically perpetuated achievement gap.

    Would love to see your writing reflect a more nuanced view of how the privledge of race and class play out in and through our kids education.


    From Alfie Kohn:
    First of all, whatever kind of loss does occur, at least in reading skills, is directly related to students’ socioeconomic status. Low-income children are affected disproportionately — to the point that a good part of what is classified as the achievement gap can be explained, statistically speaking, by class-based differences in what happens over the summer. The “summer shortfall…[of] low-SES youth…relative to better-off children contributes to the perpetuation of family advantage and disadvantage across generations.”[3]

    1. Dena, are you saying that only children of wealthy families deserve to choose recreational activities? I don’t see it that way. I agree that my children have benefited from opportunities other children don’t have. But they have benefited far more from an opportunity that every child can have…a parent’s trust. Intrinsic motivation should not be just for the wealthy! It’s interesting that you quoted Alfie Kohn, because, as you probably know, he is a champion for intrinsic motivation, and that is what my post is about. And the article you excerpted from, “Lowering the Temperature on Claims of ‘Summer Learning Loss'”, supports my point of view. Here’s the paragraph right after the one you shared:

      Second, to the extent that low-income kids are likely to lose ground in reading proficiency, Richard Allington, who specializes in this very issue, points out that summer school (and summer homework assignments) aren’t necessary or even sensible. Rather, he and his colleagues have shown that the key is to ensure “easy and continuing access to self-selected books for summer reading”[4] — a solution that’s not only a lot cheaper than summer school but a lot less likely to cause kids’ interest in learning to evaporate in a sweltering classroom. – Alfie Kohn from “Lowering the Temperature on Claims of ‘Summer Learning Loss'”

      I highly recommend the entire article for those interested:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alfie-kohn/lowering-the-temperature-_b_1688255.html

      Now, I realize that there are many parents who have to keep their children in programs all summer, because they must work. My wish would be for those programs to be as child-centered, slow paced and free play oriented as possible, so that children are able to choose activities and have the kind of self-directed experiences they need.

      1. This is such a hard one…Dena, I understand what you are saying and Janet, I see what you are, too. I am a primary teacher in a very large, urban district. I taught for 8 years in a neighborhood school in a very depressed section of the city. I now teach in a “selective enrollment” school about 3 miles north of my former school, but it’s honestly a different world.
        Dena, I agree that kiddos who have less do NEED more. I have a vision for “summer school” for children who don’t have access to “do nothing.” It is something like this: arrive at school around 8 AM for a nice big breakfast that some students help prepare. The rest of the “school” day is spent learning to swim (there is a really high number of children who never learned how to swim in these higher-needs communities) and playing tennis, ping pong, soccer, basketball, reading in a nice, cool library, art, music, riding bikes…all the things that I think it can be easy to take for granted when you have access to them. Many of these children live in spaces that aren’t even safe to ride a bike or build a fort. Basically, having access to what children with more advantages just get to DO, as part of a regular childhood.

  14. I love forgetting and just being… and there, we are all one. There are no teachers, there are no kids, there´s only life

  15. And it’s not like kids will not learn anything during the summer. I still get that intrinsic rush to learn something, just because I want to: read all books by a particular author, learn how to play volleyball, or how to cook an ethnic cuisine. Left to their own devices, I am sure they learn a lot, and most importantly, they learn to trust their instincts.

  16. I love this! I totally agree! You have said it so beautifully! I can’t wait to share!

  17. Jessica Isles says:

    So many parents feel the same but are afraid to say so and even more afraid to act on it. Thankfully I don’t feel the pressure the schools and companies heap on us parents trying to make us feel as though our children’s brains will wither if they don’t keep up a rigourous schedule of study during the summer time. In fact, like their bodies, their brains are actually growing whether they ‘study’ or not so they will return to school and find everything easier. Down time is crucial for letting children’s minds and spirits find new paths and find themselves.

  18. It’s not about whether a kid is rich or poor, its about how many opportunities a child has to “learn away from learning” as my mom called it which is basically what the author of this describes. Enriching a kid’s mind without them even realizing they’re learning. I came from a low income family and definately slacked off in summer and even in school but I came out with top test scores. While richer kids can get more opprotunities given to them, with the right support, any kid can do great without education being shoved down their throat at all times.

  19. This is another brilliant post, and so many important comments. Where to I start.
    Jayadeep’s “school is the problem” is as good a place as any. A theme running through the essay is that the brain naturally rebalances itself. If school were a place where the brain development that goes on in “extra-curricular” activities, goes on all day long, that school could go on all year long, the kids would love to go and they wouldnt want school to end. That has always been my vision for my schools when I was leading them.
    The brain balances itself. It can put up with a bunch of one-dimentional learning–like flash cards and doing worksheets, and it won’t kill them, but what might drive them crazy is a steady diet of that.
    I DO quibble with brain turning to mush–the brain is doing a lot of great work when the body is floating on it’s back or building a sand castle (one of my favorite activities), or sleeping, or daydreaming, or just reminding me that I am myself–and merely myself. These notions of grandure like going to a great college, or making a difference in the world, or being a great mom–they are all visions–and visions are good–I am the king of visionaries–but visions are illusions, and the brain brings itself down to earth–and we need to let it. It’s not mush it is very important brain development. Perhaps even some of that screentime distraction is important–I am agnostic on that. I know I need it sometimes.
    Anyway, the core of your work Janet (the Great) is to respect, trust, believe in, notice, follow, take notes on, write stories about your children and the particular brilliant peculiarities of their genius.
    You GO!!!
    If everyone followed you advice, they would all be maximizing their education, getting into Stanford, or whatever, being centered competent, loving humans in the world…and while we are at it–the world would be a better place.
    It’s OK to let your kids drop out of school or make them go to an achievement mill for school–they are resilient, but what they seem to want to do over the summer is probably good for them to do.
    SO, Janet, if your son wants to get his math done–early–that needs to be respected, too. Let his big sister give him advice, and then support him in his drive to achieve what he wants to achieve.
    …and there is NO time when anyone’s mind turns to mush. The mush you are talking about is the brain reorganizing itself–and the more it does that, the smarter and more effective in the world it will be.
    Brains that don’t re-organize on a regular basis are dangerous to self and others.–sometimes disasterously so.

    1. Rick, thanks so much for the vote of confidence, your eloquence and always enlightening perspective. I’m sure you know that I was being facetious about the mush and the lack of learning, but I love your clarification: “…the brain is doing a lot of great work when the body is floating on it’s back or building a sand castle (one of my favorite activities), or sleeping, or daydreaming, or just reminding me that I am myself–and merely myself. These notions of grandure like going to a great college, or making a difference in the world, or being a great mom–they are all visions–and visions are good–I am the king of visionaries–but visions are illusions, and the brain brings itself down to earth–and we need to let it. It’s not mush it is very important brain development. Perhaps even some of that screentime distraction is important–I am agnostic on that. I know I need it sometimes…” And I especially agree about the importance of “brain re-organization”. Perhaps we could be mailed reminders like they do from the dentist’s office: YOU ARE DUE FOR BRAIN RE-ORGANIZATION

        I love this!!!. I am in brain re-organization mode right now.
        Next time I say something stupid on this or my website please just post this:

        1. Will do, Rick. I was just thinking I’m overdue!

  20. At the risk of being booed off this listserve for good… let me try again. When you spend time in low-income communities across this country – in the South Bronx, in Brownsville Texas, in Compton, in Vine City in Atlanta, on reservations in North Dakota… and you see hundreds and hundreds of kids who are disastrously behind their higher income peers in reading, in math, and in other learning that will be the key to them pursuing their visions and their best selves… it is very hard to stomach an article which champions “forgetting” and brains “turning to mush.” Janet – when you are a 10th grader, reading at a 7th grade level, and only 15% of your class actually graduates high school, and far fewer have the opportunity to attend post-secondary education… you simply cannot afford to “forget” over the summer. Rather, you must spend your summer catching up. I sadly do think it’s that simple. I wish it weren’t. Of course the best teachers – IN and OUT of school – formal teachers and nonformal teachers all know they must tap into intrinsic motivation – invest students deeply in their own learning. But they must tackle rigorous academic content if they have any hope of being able to avail themselves of the same opportunities as your children. I’d welcome you to join me in these communities to see how some incredible schools are focused deeply on rigorous learning over the summer – helping kids put themselves on a different trajectory than their background would sadly dictate in our country. They do so with deep respect for kids. With equal respect for your work (which I really do read enthusiastically!) – Dena

    1. Dena, I would never boo you! (I might only boo quotations taken out of context). I really appreciate your perspective — your points are well taken — and this sounds like wonderful work you are doing! How do I find out more about these incredible schools? It sounds like these educators are onto something.

    2. Dena, I definitely see where you are coming from and I’m sure that’s a whole other sad story 🙁

      I’m sure it stings a bit to hear about certain kids being able to enjoy a carefree summer. Why is it that lower income /inner city kids are so far behind?
      Is it the home they’re coming from? Bad parental influences? Bad environment? Bad luck of being in the wrong school district?

    3. I hear you, Dena. And in addition to not catching up, I am pretty sure that many kids do not get to spend their summers floating in the pool, because even the public pool in the park costs money their parents don’t have. They are not building forts or enjoying sports or otherwise following their own instincts because they have no access to nature. Enrichment programs of any kind (nature, sports, academic) usually cost money they don’t have and their parents may are concerned that the streets are unsafe. So they spend the summer watching tv and playing video games.

  21. Dena,
    Your reminder is important. I am familiar with a number of great summer programs that address summer slide for inner city kids–and am currently working for Horizons Naitonal (horizonsnational.org)
    Disagreements come from the word “School.” There are so many different kinds. there are the schools are actually partly to blame for the fact that children without homes where education goes on all the time. More of that over the summer would simply be more of a bad thing. There are schools where kids of all SES backgrounds are getting a great education–these schools should be year-round–kids would feel they are going to camp only better all year long.
    If you and Janet are disagreeing, I would suggest that perhaps this is the source of the disagreement.
    At great schools kids do a variety of things, the whole brain is being utilized, there is good “reorganization” time for the brain–built into activities all day long, recess is not an escape from the abuse that takes place in the classroom, etc.

  22. ” I closed my eyes and forgot. I forgot I was a teacher and a blogger. I even forgot I was a mom and wife. I was just me.”

    I LOVE this!!!

  23. Lynne Merrill says:

    As a grandmother, I feel sorry that the world has changed and that my grandchildren do not have the same opportunities that I had as a child. The world is too dangerous for them to jump on their bicycles on a summer morning and spend the day playing with neighborhood kids–always returning when the street lights came on. All of the moms in the neighborhood were home to watch out for each of us, to give us a drink of water, to serve a quick lunch, or to provide a bandaid when needed. But, this summer (which my grandchildren said was the favorite) involved creative play in the backyard with a slip and side, sidewalk chalk, and a playhouse that they painted over many times. Frequent camping adventures brought them together with their friends to roast marshmallows over a campfire or to build a sandcastle on the dry sand just above the wave’s touch. There is no way to recreate my childhood for my dear babies
    –but with a lot of imagination, I believe that parents will see that their kids don’t need an expensive trip to an amusement park.What they do need is the chance to be themselves–to turn a table into a fort, to sit in the library with stacks of books to glance through–to be a child. They may be today’s children–but in the most important ways, children have never changed.

    1. Beautifully expressed, Lynne, and I couldn’t agree more. Sounds like a wonderful summer!

  24. Our ‘summer’ holidays are only 5 weeks long down here in Australia (our kids also get 2 weeks holidays between each of the 4 terms of our school year) so we don’t know what ‘summer slide’ is… but the more I have read about it this year the more I wondered if that wasn’t the whole point of holidays… not to forget everything, but to put what you’ve learned into practice in real life ways… you know, by playing and living and working and enjoying different things?

    So yep… I’m with you… holidays are not for book learning, they are for real life learning!

  25. Agree! I have been letting my 7 year old daughter run wild and free this summer. She has never had a better summer! I haven’t heard the dreaded “I’m bored” at all. We had made an “I’m bored” jar with ideas on slips of paper, and she has used it twice.and loved the options she chose 🙂

  26. Lovely read. A question. My friend paid to have her daughter go to camp for a couple of weeks. She runs her own business and have a tremendous amount of work to do. Her daughter refuses to go. She also demands an extraordinary amount of attention. My response was, “she can’t choose. You are the mother, she is the child.” This is a ‘fun’ camp, not a homework booth camp. What would you suggest? Thx

    1. Hi Cecille! This sounds like a child care situation and if that is what the parent needs, then the parent might need to insist. But would day camp rather than a sleep-away be a possiblity? Also, how old is this child?

  27. I totally agree with your outlook on summer and the necessity of kids relaxing, playing, and filling time as they choose.

    I don’t, however, agree with the underlying premise. The idea that “learning” is an end product of adult-run, adult-directed structure like classes, homework, enrichment programs, educational games,reading lists, etc.

    I’m sure you meant it facetiously when you wrote, “I believe in letting our kids’ brains turn to mush over the summer.” I’d just like to emphasize that learning that’s absorbed and remembered looks quite a bit more like the physics and hands-on science and creative design shown by your son making a sand castle of his own volition.

    Here’s a little more about self-directed learning. http://lauragraceweldon.com/2013/03/04/respecting-a-childs-urge-to-discover/

    1. My point exactly, Laura: True learning isn’t “an end product of adult-run, adult-directed structure like classes, homework, enrichment programs, educational games,reading lists, etc.”

      Sorry that didn’t come through!

  28. Katharine says:

    Beautiful pictures on Flickr, Charlotte. I enjoyed looking though them!

  29. In a Montessori classroom, when children have concentrated on a chosen activity, we often see them in a state of “repose.” Dr. Montessori called it “a line of quiescence.” They take a mini-vacation to assimilate, rest, and enjoy the fruits of their labors in a kind of meditation. This is one of the secrets of childhood Montessori discovered. Whether the activity is outside in nature or inside with a prepared activity, children need the freedom to explore, to discover, to learn and to rest and just think. The pressure-cooker curricula that are often imposed on children, at a younger and younger age, does childhood a real disservice…and ultimately a disservice to our society as well.

    1. Yes! And learning “academic” subjects really isn’t taxing when it’s done through the child’s interest and self-chosen work. There doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between fun and learning!

    1. Hi Maureen! Yes, I used to follow the blog regularly and Lenore has shared my posts on Twitter. I appreciate her perspective.

  30. Just re-read it again. You know, you ought to post this in May next year.
    and I forgot that I was going to send out monthly notices to close friends and relatives: “YOU ARE DUE FOR YOUR MONTHLY BRAIN REORGANIZATION.”
    I would have sent one to you, but I have seen no evidence of it.

  31. Thank you! My daughter’s school gave her math papers (anbd books to read) to do over the summer every day and turn in on the first day of school. I was to sign off each night and then sign off at the end of the summer.

    Seriously, she is 6. 6! She just ended kindergarten. And I would imagine that other mothers like me have younger children and can’t keep track of doing something over the summer every single day to turn in at the beginning of the year.

    Needless to say it was not done. I honestly don’t even know where it is. I refused to do it. It is summer. She can learn math from other sources on her own, not from an activity sheet I have to do every night. And she finished the summer reading program at the library in 2 weeks, so I am not worried about her reading skills.

    I would homeschool her (I would love to actually), but we both have very strong personalities, and she has said that she doesn’t want to do it.

    I am very thankful someone else agrees with me : )

    1. I absolutely love this! There is so much wisdom here for children and adults! To respect just being is brilliant, and wonderfully refreshing in our society. Truthfully, though, it is an essential foundation for a whole life. If we don’t respect who we are, and try to make up for that lack through what we do, our actions will always miss the mark. This post shows the perfect extension and continuation of what you teach.

  32. I love the post and the sentiment–it totally aligns with what I plan to do with my kidlet(s) as we get to that age and stage of life…he’s currently 2, so it doesn’t count quite as much =).

    However, I’m also going to strongly support Dena in terms of this being a stance that truly does reflect a great deal upon the status (socio/economic/”intellectual”) of the family. As a high school teacher at a school with a very wide range of family situations, it isn’t appropriate to issue a blanket statement encouraging “brain mush”. Sadly, summers without any type of mental stimulation do hurt the kids that are behind the most, from elementary onwards.
    Probably, this doesn’t apply to anyone who is reading this post (and the responses), but I think that it is worth being aware of the (potentially) greater impact one’s belief in this attitude for all students would have.

    1. I had the same reaction. Summer brain drain is legit, but maybe not problematic for a lot of kids. But for some kids, it is. Studies have reflected this as well. The author’s children have the luxury of not just parking themselves in front of a TV. Many families have no choice in the summer without adequate child care or resources.

  33. April Westberry says:

    Your daughter probably learned more during those summers of “nothing” then she did over the school year! Im a big fan of Waldorf schooling its all about learning through doing and not making it feel like learning!

  34. Teizeen Mohamedali says:

    I absolutely agree. Unfortunately, however, the liberty of a loose open-ended summer of exploration and true child-directed adventures is a challenge when both parents are working outside the home – especially when kids are younger and cannot practically be left alone for 8+ hours a day. I wish I could have a open-ended summer of play and unstructured spontaneity for my daughter as she grows up (she is now 17 months old), but am hoping to find some good nature-focused outdoor camps that allow for as much play and unstructured activities as possible in our absence during the summer months.

    If you have any advice for parents who work year-round on how to cultivate this idea of an open summer while school is out, I would love to hear it!

  35. Elyse Adlen says:

    I am an ECE director at a school that works with teen mothers. I am also a mother of a ten year old and four year old.

    I had a month off with my kids and planned a long road trip to see family along the way. My daughter looked at me after I shared the plans and said, “I think I would rather just hang out at home.” I listened and we had a relaxing and fun month together. We never accomplished half of our plans, but we went to parks, painted and she even enjoyed cleaning out her closet! Thank you for your fantastic blog! I love your book and have ordered it for my whole staff. We will use it throughout the year to enhance out practice. I look forward to sharing it and your blog with them. If you are ever in Denver, we’d love to hear you speak!

  36. Amy Swint says:

    I just enjoyed reading one of my favorite ever threads of comments on your post (which was a fantastic post!). I am ALWAYS thinking about how the philosophies and practices you describe translate to schooling and older kids.

    I have so many visions of this carefree, self-directed summer. I limit the screen to one moderately short period per day, offer some field trips here or there, but leave a lot of time open for yard, freeze pops, sibling harmony and dissonance, and wandering around the house and its contents. A few field trips, and vacations with cousins. Unfortunately I find myself way more than seems healthy with whiny, bored, irritable kids begging for something to do and laying on the ground refusing any idea I eventually offer. 😛 I’m the first to admit I screwed up the free play notion when they were much younger (7, 5 and 2 now)…I did much of the same and left them free to play years ago, but didn’t sit down with them to observe/support that play, and so usually just ended up with screaming toddlers clinging to my legs while I did dishes, cleaned house and read email. They do sort of the same now. So you see that I’m an RIE remedial student, but I’m sure there are many more like me with kids struggling as I’ve described. Any quick tips for my tribe? Like, do I need to take away the screen altogether if they are just waiting all day for that 30-40 minutes of Minecraft?? It seems to be all they love even though they don’t get a lot of it. There are plenty of gorgeous moments too, though, don’t get me wrong…I can just tell the grumpy boredom is occupying too big a chunk of our summer.

    1. Wow, I feel like so could have written this comment. Did you find any answers/way forward?

  37. Beautiful! Thank you. Reading this was letting go of all that is slowly creeping up on us in just a few weeks. I hope these next few weeks go by slowly. I always dread when the kids go back 🙁 Keep up the wonderful posts when time allows!

  38. I, too, love the sentiment behind this post, but would like to add to what Dena and ElleB are saying. My first thought when reading this was that not all kiddos have the luxury of down-time, and not just because of academic need. Many kiddos in low SES situations are in constant stress in their own home environments. Often, school is the safe, downtime they need. When you are homeless, dealing with drug abuse, caring for younger siblings, or whatever, homework during the summer is sort of beside the point. Unfortunately, at least at my school, these situations are not the exception. I wish with my whole heart that all kiddos could have carefree, do-nothing summers. There is a class lens. We may want this ideal for all kids, but some kiddos are just worrying about their basic needs.

  39. Love this post and I hope to remember it once the kiddos are in school. I always hated the summer reading list we were supposed to tackle. A list of books I had no interest in reading. No wonder I disliked reading for a long time even though I had learned to do it pretty early on.
    Summer is the re-set button.

    BTW, Your daughter’s images are great! What talent! I enjoyed scrolling through.

  40. Darnel Jones says:

    Besides anecdotes, what’s the biological basis for this? Why do adults function just fine without a 3 month break from their jobs? Isn’t the summer break just a leftover from when we were an agricultural society? What about students on trimesters throughout the year?

    1. “Why do adults function just fine without a 3 month break from their jobs?”

      Most people don’t. There’s a reason why depression, eating disorders etc. are so rampant, and it’s not because we were made for working our asses off all day.

      All work and no play, and all that.

  41. I was honestly expecting something drastic. I’ve never forced any kind of learning on my children through the summer holidays. It’s their down time and something children need.

    My kids are now 19, 14 & 2 and all look forward to being together in the summer.

  42. I agree 100% with this. However, I have to confess, that although I am in my late 30’s, I still wish we could have these long summer breaks as adults, too. I miss them!

  43. My children feels o much pressure during the school year to “succeed”, to get good grades, etc. from the teachers…they have no desire to do any kind of reading or schoolwork during summer vacation – and I as a mom, have believed the notion that I need to do all I can to push my kids to success, to be at the top 🙁 Thank you for the reminder to play more! I look forward to reading Simplicity Parenting and Einstein Never Used Flashcards 🙂

  44. Chandra Paton says:

    My mother, who didn’t know anything about REI while raising my sister and I, was so intuitive. She said to me once “no matter how angry I was at you at times, I always tried to smile at you first and then discipline you, so you knew it was OK to make mistakes. I tried to greet you with acceptance no matter what”. Summers are just another example of how she respected our independence during each developmental phase. We never were involved with anything organized over the summer, but looking back we were always submerged in nature; the beach, camping, hiking, picnics in random meadows. I remember getting lost in my imagination at the beach hunting for shells and building cities and left undisturbed for the whole day. Now raising my own two daughters, I am finding what a symbiotic relationship this is. It is an amazing break for mom, and a necessity for the children. I can sit and read my book, while my daughters are off building and creating a universe that is far more powerful than anything that can be taught. Summer is for unplugging, inoculating our children with nature and the infinite play possibilities she has to offer, and freedom. Thank you Janet for confirming these intuitions. So important to hear in the wake of the pressure to “structure” our children.

  45. Vicki Burgess says:

    Janet, what a pleasure to read this! I am so relaxed too! Agree wholeheartedly! Let the summer be fun! Kid’s choice too! Thanks!

  46. Janet, maybe this is a stupid question, but what are your thoughts on year-round school? Where children typically attend for 9 weeks and then are off for 3. Does this not give them enough time to change gears or is it better to have more frequent opportunities to relax?

    1. Hi Pj! I think that’s a good question and I don’t have the answer. I would think more frequent, though shorter, free time periods would be very positive.

  47. Eilen Radostits says:

    Dear Janet,

    I loved your article and couldn’t agree more! My children are in a very challenging academic school in Switzerland ( public) and so need the breaks they are given during the year to relax and “do nothing”. I am a teacher and always felt like the outsider when I didn’t give lots of homework over the weekends…I wanted the children to be able to choose what they wanted to do and to be able to play. I also observed that those children who didn’t have a lot of other extra things going on after school and at weekends, usually orchestrated by their parents, were the ones who were more intrinsically motivated and open thinkers in general.

    I have such fond memories of my wonderful, long and uninterrupted summers of just being, playing, reading books all day if I chose to and letting the days unfold as they did! It never affected my studies when I went back to school and as you mentioned, I was excited to return!

    I would like to point out that as adults, we also need time to get away from a routine ( our jobs) to reassess if it something we want to continue doing. The last year I have felt an enormous pull to move away from my teaching job altogether and to reevaluate what it is I would like to do. As my contract was limited, I have taken this as an opportunity to do just that, take a break and rethink. As a single mother with two children in high school, it is a huge gamble and is taking all of my courage, but it felt so right to do this. I feel as if a stone has lifted from my shoulders and I am free to choose again.
    Life with teenagers is not an easy task and probably more challenging when you are on your own, but I am going to try and take your advice to trust that they can choose what works for them. It is so hard to take a step back from your role as mother and primary care-giver and slowly let things fall into their hands..it’s the toughest part of parenthood so far for me! Thanks so much for your insights and posts..they mean so much to so many!


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