06/17/2014 02:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Summer Activities for Kids Are no Vacation for Their Parents

My deepest apologies for all of the years as a preschool director in which I wrote articles at the end of the school year extolling the virtues of summer. You know those articles...blow bubbles, smell the flowers, run through the sprinkler, draw with sidewalk chalk...what was I thinking?


Photo by Jay Ryness

Perhaps it was that phase of my life. I had repressed how it felt to have my own kids at home, either bored or being driven hither and yon to day camps and activities. And I did not yet have grandkids whose summer schedules are taxing my iPhone calendar.

I had forgotten what a nightmare "summer vacation" used to be. And I didn't yet understand that most mothers have to juggle summer plans with their work demands, and that neighborhood kids are no longer hanging around to ride bikes or splash in a pool together. Yep, like my grandkids, they are at summer activities and camps.

In 2014, a 3-month summer vacation makes no sense at all. Children still need to be scheduled into an array of activities to enable their parents to work. Some of these activities are simply time-killers -- glorified babysitting at best, unsupervised chaos at worst.

A word about those summer activities for kids - they are often not well run and sometimes not even safe. Here's what went down at a summer "enrichment" camp in my neck of the woods costing over $800 for 4 weeks. It was basically run by CITs (translation - middle school age "counselors in training" who have more in common with the campers than with high school/college aged counselors). The official counselors were only a tad better and the campers, some as young as 6 or 7, were basically unsupervised at parks, pools, beaches, and on field trips. There was no effort made to help the younger children negotiate things like choosing partners (a painful experience that left the littlest ones unselected until the end) or activity groups. Relational aggression was unaddressed. Aside from being responsible for their own safety and adopting middle school strategies to ensure they were included, often at the expense of another child, what did these children learn?

After less-than-idyllic experiences like the one described above, children need to spend the first two months of the school year relearning things they have forgotten. For a child with learning problems, this lag is disastrous.

What about summer school for kids who can't afford to lose skills? Well, in our community, summer school consists of 16 half-days. Parents who can afford it supplement with tutoring (more scheduling nightmares). Parents who cannot watch their children struggle mightily in the fall.

It is time we wake up to the realities of the 21st century and adopt a version of year-round schooling. Most children have parents who work. Most families cannot afford quality programs that enrich their children's lives and ensure their safety during summer break. Most teachers would prefer to teach all year to earn a better wage. The summer bubbles of years gone by have popped.