Summer Vacation vs Year-Round School: Is Play The Answer?

As I see it, the debate between summer vacation vs year-round school glosses over the most important questions. Namely, how can we bring play back to our nation’s schools?

Darell Hammond,

Summer Vacation vs Year-Round School Debate

Could adding more play to the school day dismiss the need for year-round school?

I saw this wonderful quote today. It was simple, yet a great way to reflect on an ongoing debate. The answer may be more complicated than just adding play to the school day. However, it may be a great start to a valuable conversation. As a teacher, when we had more time, there were more opportunities for “play.”

When I talk about play, I mean education games, education explorations, and education recognition that kids should be treated like kids. The increase in the curriculum has changed what teachers can do in their day. The day has not increased, but the amount of curriculum has increased.

Play has always been a tool for learning. We expect play activities to be in the curriculum for preschool and kindergarten children. Current education theorists appear to dismiss play for older kids. That goes against the early education theorists which were a huge part of our teacher education courses. 

So the idea of adding more opportunities for play is a valuable argument. At the heart of this argument, is the issue of time. When people talk about eliminating summer vacation and adding year-round school, the main argument is time. There is more to this argument.

kids playing

When Teachers Had Time…

My fondest  memories were of playing dodgeball with my students in gym. It was an opportunity to bond as a class, release the stress of regular classwork, and test our accuracy at throwing rubber balls at each other. That was true play. We accomplished a tremendous amount of classwork and needed a release.

Today, dodgeball is a distant memory because of parent litigation (they must have hated dodgeball as a kid) and lack of time. Teachers, including me, are more stressed. Instead of dodgeball, that 30 minutes has been replaced with copying, bathroom, parent emails, parent calls, and bathroom. 

Review games are not a new concept. Teachers have designed and used games to review content for a long time. The only difference is that we can now add technology. Now with the increased content in our day, teachers have to send the review home. 

children playing

So Is Play the Answer?

Summer vacation has also become an important part of the yearly review. In affluent districts, parents have the resources to hire personal tutors to review and maintain skills. In districts with fewer resources, the hope is that there is a summer program in place for the students. 

So if we add more play, will that get rid of the need for year-round school? Will it get rid of the need for tutoring and remedial programs during summer vacation? The question is more complicated. I believe we should give teachers more time to reintroduce their play strategies into the daily curriculum. We need to allow teachers to use the techniques that have made them successful. 

We need to respect teachers as professionals. Policymakers need to seek and embrace feedback from teachers. Teachers have always done what is best for students and embraced the best practices for the classroom. Teachers are child development specialists. We know how kids learn at different ages. This does not mean we diminish parents’ knowledge of their children. We understand the science about how children learn without the parental emotion. 

If we add play back to the classroom, we also need to give teachers the empowerment to define their school day. We are professionals who trained to follow curriculum guides. We should be allowed to choose the techniques for delivering the curriculum content. We already know the benefits of play in the classroom. Let us use what we know to successful.

Summer Vacation Verdict…

Summer vacation is not the enemy. There are many adults have succeeded and prospered with the current school calendar. They may be the driving force for increased curriculum and year-round schooling. The fact remains that teachers have always included opportunities for play and managed curriculum based on students’ needs.

Maybe it is time for us to trust the people who are trained as teachers in the classroom. Maybe the true question is how to bring the gift of time back into education. How can we give kids the gift of time to learn at their own pace? If we give students the gift of time, can we bring play back into our curriculum? If you do not address the issue of time, then all other curriculum questions do not matter.