We are one week into the NYC summer vacation. I began the break with the ACS Relay for Life of Middle Village. I was team captain, and we had a Star Trek theme for our team. I even made a fun hair bow to wear to match my captain’s shirt.
As it turned out, the weather wasn’t very cooperative this year, and the overnight event had to be cut short when the track began flooding and a thunderstorm was rolling in. We frantically disassembled our camp, and my daughter and her bestie instead camped out in our family room with popcorn and movies. The next morning, my daughter went to the Caribbean with my Mom, where she will be for the rest of the month.
Two days later, my son and I were off to the Midwest, so that he can experience a summer in a small town (15K!) instead of NYC. He is staying with my sister and her family, and is already having a blast. Both kids will be getting swimming lessons, learning to ride a bike, and experiencing life someplace different from where we live. They are with family, and they are safe. They are also having an opportunity to expand their knowledge of the world, and to gain some independence.
I have been noticing lately that the push to never let one’s children out of one’s sight is getting out of control. We live in a society that is stifling our kids, and never giving them a chance to test limits, explore their surroundings, or really form their own opinions. While parental involvement with kids is beneficial, it can also become too much. That is why we decided it would be a rewarding and enriching experience for our children to have a summer apart, experiencing a different way of life, and a different dynamic.
Our children attend NYC public schools. They both have good grades, and they both work hard. We also have activities for them outside of school, and we encourage reading and art. That said, the amount of anxiety they experience during the school year is far beyond anything any child should have to endure. This push for kids to work harder and harder academically is resulting in stressed kids. You know how you feel when it is crunch time at work, and you’re up for review? Or how you feel when you are between jobs and desperately searching for something that will sustain you? That’s how kids are made to feel in schools now – but they don’t get the breaks that you get, even if you’re working a crappy job.
At my daughter’s school, they get no recess-like breaks at all. They have precisely enough time to get from one classroom to the next between classes, they aren’t allowed to speak in the lunchroom, and they are allowed one bathroom break per day, which is timed (unless they have a doctor’s note). My son’s elementary school has an outdoor break after lunch, but not every day because there are too many students for everyone to get that chance. Not all students receive all cluster classes (art, music, technology, gym, library) – they get an either/or with library and music…two subjects that all children should have throughout their formative years. There isn’t enough budget/staff/time/space for everyone to get everything. This is an issue in many places throughout the country, but it is a sad thing.
As adults, we are afforded work breaks. We are given time to ourselves. Many of us do not have to bring our work home with us. Even college students are not given massive homework packets to do over major school breaks (though they may utilize that time to work on large projects like term papers that were already assigned). During the school year, my daughter has anywhere from 3-6 hours of homework per night. She is exhausted when she gets home, and has no time to really relax or have fun. The first year of middle school wrecked her confidence, and she had drilled into her head that “anything below a 90 is a failure! You can never get into college and get a good job if you get below a 90! You will end up working in a gas station!” Despite the fact that she made honor roll every single term, our daughter had at least one day a week where she was sobbing because she thought she would never amount to anything. She lived in terror of getting less than a 90% on anything. This kind of anxiety led to insomnia, panic attacks, and self-doubt. This was instilled by teachers whose job security is influenced by how well children perform on tests. I feel that homework is more harmful to kids and families than it is helpful, and should be done away with entirely for anything below the 8th grade. If you take a little time to look into it, you’ll find that many experts agree.
So, this is why we felt the kids deserved a break. The school system doesn’t allow them to be kids during the school year – even during breaks – so they need to be able to have a way to experience happiness and childhood during summer.
Both of our children are now away for the next month. I have never been apart from my children for so long, and I already miss them. We Skype with them, and we keep in touch with family to see how they’re doing. This is a chance for us to recharge, catch up on a massive amount of TV viewing, and paint the kitchen. I knew I would miss them, but i did not know how empty the house would seem with them gone. No practicing of instruments, no singing of songs, no arguing over which My Little Pony the other is most like. I am so grateful for the wonderful opportunities they are having over the summer, and that they will truly get to have some time to just be kids. I resent the fact that the drive for higher scores on standardized tests has pushed schools to rob children of childhood. I am a firm believer in the wonderful power of reading (though the school is always completely wrong in what books they recommend for our kids!) – but forcing kids to do so much homework that it hurts them is simply unacceptable. Kids deserve to be kids, and by being kids, they will be better equipped for entering the real world when they grow up.