Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Me Versus the Summer Packet

While the last days of summer are upon us and schools open their doors, mothers across the nation this week with elementary school-age children are greeting each other warmly and mumbling under their breath about the merits of the "summer packet." The "summer packet" is that ever growing list of summer school work assignments now being given to children to complete over an increasingly short summer break to make sure that their brains don't go soft. The tome of work now being given by schools to students (and let's be honest requires help from parents) to complete during their eight weeks off has gone from suggested reading lists just a few years ago to several full fledge reports, projects and worksheets galore.
I'm sure there are reams of data somewhere that back up how and why it is important for your child to keep working all summer but I'm not going to address these so called academic merits. I'm going to address it in MOM terms, in "can we just let a kid be a kid for five seconds" terms, in "what does it really take to raise a human being" terms.
All year round, our over-scheduled, over-sported, over-stimulated, helicoptered children are told time and again how they need to cram in more if they are going to be good enough for the Ivy League, better than their peers on the lacrosse field and/or as if that isn't enough, they better do more if they think they are ever going to compete globally.
Well, guess what? I'm not buying any of it. Forget about the researcher holed away somewhere telling all of us why this is good for children, I'd like someone to interview Steve Jobs mom. What do you think? Do you think it was a summer packet that catapulted him to the top? How many presidents do you think had a summer packet? How about Tina Fey? Warren Buffett? Quincy Jones? Mike Bloomberg? Steven Spielberg? Anna Wintour? Desmond Tutu? Mother Theresa?
Look I'm just guessing but I don't think they did summer packets. Summer jobs, summer chores, time to climb trees, ride bikes, jump in a lake, have a lemonade stand or host the neighborhood talent show is more likely the common denominator. How about working the counter at their parent's store, learning to fish, walking with their grandparents, making cookies, keeping a journal, mowing the lawn, going to visit a national park or playing baseball. Whoa, I need to calm down.
Children need time off from the academic rat race and so do their parents. If you can't relax a little when you are 9 when can you? In the Northeast, and in much of the country, we don't have the luxury of year round sunshine so our children need to get outside and stay there. How about children living in an urban environment, can real physical activity not have more benefits than doing more math problems? No wonder American kids are addicted to sugar, they need to be alert at all times.
We need summer vacations for the time it allows us to reconnect to our friends and family. Kids everywhere need it so they can get re-energized for their next school year. I can just hear all the Tiger Moms licking their chops out there thinking their kid is going to top mine but there is more to success than a piece of paper. That's right I said it. There is paper success and a successful life. Just look at some of these 'successful' teen stars right now being pushed way past their capacity.
Young children need time to play, to foster friendships, visit relatives, go the movies and yes, read a book. Why is this no longer an important part of social development? Why is cultivating curiosity no longer important? As they grow older, It doesn't stop at elementary school all of this overdoing it in the summer. Remember the part time summer job where fresh faced kids had to earn money for college fees, their dates and spending money? You're so 1975.
We have kids that are finishing college now that have never had a paying job! I'm not kidding! Why? Because they don't even have time to work part time with all the academic and sports pressure today. They are not learning how to collaborate or work in a team because they are being programmed just to complete tasks. Some of these things just can't be learned by assignment, they are organic.
As a business owner, I have worked with many of these robots over my career. Unfortunately, interns are too often more interested in adding a job to their resumes than actually learning something or finding a career that is fulfilling. Over the summer, I was greeted warmly by the mother of one of our best former interns who was working by her side at a booth for her parents BBQ business at a town party. She had never mentioned her parents business to me. Just a few short weeks later this same intern landed a job at an esteemed Ivy League university. I was honored to be one of her references for the job. She knows the value of hard work, family and community. She learned it from her parents.
I'm happy to set expectations for my children that include reading books over the summer, bring them to the library and let them pick books they want to read. I'm also equally interested in them having real time with their cousins, riding a bike, doing summer chores and chilling out with their friends. And when they get old enough, working a part time job in town will do very nicely, thank you.

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