Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Should Children Be Part of “School All Summer”?

Good afternoon, Glen.

I was just reading through your blog and really liked how diverse it is, you seem to be a man of many hats. As a result, I thought I’d reach out to you and ask for a bit of advice regarding a children’s summer education project we’re working on.
We’re requesting input from a select group of people and I was hoping you could help by writing a short blog post on your teacher, poet and musician blog that offers advice to parents who want to keep their children engaged over summer vacation with educational projects, brain teasers, books, etc. At the end of June we will be taking a look through everything and featuring some of the posts on a special “School All Summer” board on Pinterest.
Let me know if you’d be interested in helping to keep our readers’ children mentally active during their summer vacation. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Lily Cohen

Dear Lily Cohen,
Let children be children again.

As a child, I was not "engaged over summer vacation with educational projects, brain teasers, and books…” If I read any books—before going to sleep—they were books I chose to read (and usually written by Claire Bee). 

I was lucky. I was able to burn off thoughts of school each summer. I played baseball on the streets and fast-pitch against a factory wall; ran relay races; played ring-a-levio, tag, and checkers; roller skated and pitched pennies on sidewalks; rode my bike everywhere; and cooled off under a canopy of water bursting from a Chicago fire hydrant saddled with old tires and two-by-fours on hot summer nights throughout the summer and without a care in the world.

For many children during the 1950's, most everything they did was spontaneous and without parental involvement! And though that was a long time ago, I believe today’s children also need a break from those things commonly associated with school, such as “projects, brain teasers and books…”

So what advice would I give to parents? Tell them to turn off their televisions, curtail their children’s (and their own) use of iPhones, computers and computer video games and allow kids to explore and discover perspicacity, imagination, responsibility, self-reliance, cooperation and competition on their own (and not in a desk chair). Tell them they don't have to plan their children's days. Tell them to let their children rest when they're tired, and that it is okay for them to be bored and do nothing. 

For parents who desire “educational engagements” with their children, take them to libraries, museums, zoos, parks, beaches, concerts and plays. Share these experiences and reflections with them, but don't overdo it. Let them play on their own. Accordingly, it’s quite possible their children just might grow up to become life-long learners and self-sufficient. 

Thanks, Lily.

Glen Brown


  1. From David Ferlic:

    Just some thoughts. I thought both posts were very interesting and most importantly thought provoking. My first reaction was "I couldn't agree more, although that may make us both a bit craggy". After giving both posts some thought though, I think most of the Summer and after school programs developed over the years are not only well intentioned but successful. Yes a so called hard scrabbled life may engender imagination and perspicacity, but it may just as often engender poverty, desperation, and prison.

    The world has become a better place, if only marginally so. This is due in no small part to parents taking the time to help their children get involved in FUN activities. The key word here is fun. Fundamentally we are not alone in the world, despite what an Existentialist might believe. We are all a part of one. Programs where parents help children, and children help other children are at their basis good things.

    We must caution against sacrificing too much freedom, independence, creativity, and spontaneity for the sake of engagement, but we are in fact beings-in-the-world.

    Have a good day,
    David Ferlic Ed.D.

  2. From Patricia Herrmann

    I found out what I was about as an individual during summers off from school and usually unsupervised. I found out I could never be happy unless I lived with animals. And I found I loved to draw. I wasn't allowed to paint but I found artists in my community and watched them and talked with them. I was happy sitting under a tree on a quilt with my cat, dog, and pet chickens reading and crying over "Little Women." I spent the rest of my life living with animals, reading, and I became an art teacher. Summer can be a time for the discovery of self.

    Pat Herrmann

  3. From Sig Lisowski:

    Glen all the activities we shared and enjoyed during our summers as kids were great and did contribute to our learning, creativity and personal growth. Unfortunately that is not possible now because the community and environments that we grew up in no longer exist. Even if we did as you suggest “…turn off their televisions, curtail their children’s (and their own) use of iPhones, computers and computer video games and allow kids to explore…” we live in a world where those do exist resulting in a far different and more limited world, in which to use one’s imagination. Even though libraries, museums, zoos, parks, beaches, concerts and plays are excellent for what they offer “…perspicacity, imagination, responsibility, self-reliance, cooperation and competition...” were better experienced and learned in our time the way we did.

    1. You’re right about non-existing communities, but I’m not sure that is why we live in a world where too many parents do too much for their children. In the suburbs, parents enroll their children in park district programs supervised by even more adults. When children have everything planned and organized for them, they will not learn how to become self-sufficient and responsible at an early age.

      A case in point: by July when adult-sponsored little league games are officially over in suburbia, you will find abandoned baseball diamonds. Perhaps these children do not know how to arrange a “neighborhood pick-up game” on their own, even with their iPhones. It's quite sad, Sig. What you and I would have given for an opportunity to play on a "real" baseball field as children!

  4. Saw this in The Atlantic this morning and thought it was a good support for your argument here...happy unstructured summer..

    1. Thank you, Tim Spitsberg, for the validation. I will post her article too. I'm glad we're not the only ones who believe in "unstructured" summers!

      “Parents, if you really want to give your kid a head start on coming school year, relinquish some of that time you have earmarked for lessons or sports camp and let your children play. That’s it. Just play. Grant them time free from your ulterior motives and carefully planned educational outcomes. Let them have dominion over their imaginary kingdoms while their evil dragons, white wizards, marauding armies, and grand battles for supremacy unfurl according to their whims and wills” --Jessica Lahey

  5. from Richard Palzer:

    Great response, couldn't agree more--your reply reminds me of my own similarly carefree, unsupervised summer days, playing pickup baseball games, more often than not, gone most of the day, home for lunch and dinner (supper then), then probably back outside for whatever games. True, the '50's times were so comparatively safe, unfortunately not these days; looking back, the unregimented time was filled with adventure--and I spent time at the local library, unbidden, which I'm sure was part of the motivation. I wish, absent those idyllic times, parents would read your response--and appreciate the credentials as the reason you were contacted. Hardly Ivy Tower or educated nerds, our offering such practical advice hopefully won't be ignored or dismissed.


  6. If you're wondering, I am the little boy in the first row, third seat.