- Sara Janssen
Sara Jansson has 15 weeks of paid vacation every year, so she never works during her children's school breaks. Instead, she preps and cleans a lot of meals for her brood of five, and hangs out at the beach in their hometown of Stockholm. Jansson says Swedish parents don't tend to stress out about summer activities for their kids because they can always go to fritids, an afterschool program that costs about $80/month. "Here, we have a much bigger social net that will catch you if you're having a hard time," she explains. "Vacation and time to rest is for everyone, and it is very important to our health." Jansson and her partner, musician Eric Fallope, take turns making jaunts with one or two kids to the mountains in north Sweden, or to Copenhagen, Berlin, or Paris. In Sweden, employers in all industries have to provide at least five weeks paid leave. Jansson knows only one person who works more than 40 hours a week—a heart surgeon. "Swedes love vacation and summer," Jansson says. "That's what they live for the rest of the year." After midsummer on June 20, most people start their holiday, and go back to work in August. For a couple weeks every summer, the Jansson-Fallopes rent a house in Gotland, Sweden's biggest island, where they lounge beside the Baltic Sea together.
For many cultures, taking time off to rest and recharge is the counterpart to productivity. "In Finland, and in many other countries, children receive frequent recesses throughout the school day," writes Timothy Walker on his blog, Taught by Finland. Walker is an American who teaches fifth grade in Helsinki and a contributing writer for The Atlantic, who just published the book Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. "Students typically enjoy a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of classroom instruction. The younger pupils head outside for free play while older children get to decide where they spend their free time." Rather than being seen as a waste of time, breaks are considered an integral ingredient of productivity and focus. Outside, the kids process, through free play and chatting, the information and concepts they've been shown, and in the teachers' lounge, there's collaboration and discussion around teaching methodologies and shared administrative tasks. The need for downtime in order to integrate experience into a person's internal landscape is considered vital.
Yet in America, the message is decidedly different. With a focus on the summer slide—the idea that kids lose ground in reading and math skills without continuous formal practice—our productivity seems to center on constancy. Primarily a concern for low-income kids who often lack resources and adult supervision, the summer slide is frequently referenced to encourage middle class families to get a leg up on college resumes. Summer programs are offered for academic enrichment, as much as to solve the childcare needs of working parents, many of whom are lucky to get two weeks paid vacation.
- Sara Janssen
However, when one investigates the summer slide messaging, it seems most touted by tutoring franchises. They maintain that the current 180-day school calendar is an outdated model from pre-Industrial times when rural children were needed for family farms, and urban children needed to escape the heat of the city. "In terms of the brain, learning runs 24/7, all year round," the Oxford Learning website states. The result is a pressure to engage in summer enrichment programming.
In fact, it's been successful. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that teens who work a summer job are not only on the decline but have dropped drastically since 2005. In February 2017, they wrote, "The [teen labor] participation rate declined during [the] recession and immediately after, falling to 34.1 percent in 2011. It has changed little since 2011." Instead, kids opt for more school. "More teens attend school during the summer now than in previous years. The proportion of teenagers enrolled in July 2016 was more than 4 times higher than it was in July 1985."
"Unstructured down time is one of the greatest gifts (and challenges) we can offer our kids over the summer," writes Michele Kambolis, a child and family therapist and parent educator in Canada. "It's when they discover new passions, talents, and learn to structure and regulate themselves," Kambolis told the blog Spit Up is the New Black. "Their imagination flourishes and relaxation comes naturally as they find their authentic voice, unimposed by adult expectations and agendas. It's a time when children can be in control, relax, and maybe even uncover their dreams."