Skip To Main Content

Kindling a Fire: What Summer Break

Kindling a Fire: What Summer Break

As summer settles in at Cincinnati Country Day School, it brings with it a new pace and rhythm. But this shift doesn’t mean empty hallways and deserted playing fields. Far from it. In fact, summer at CCDS sometimes finds more students on campus than during the school year. Between thriving summer camps, athletic practices, and Breakthrough Cincinnati, our campus is a hub of activity all summer long.

Given this tremendous demand for summer programming, parents sometimes wonder why schools take such a long break in the first place. One common misconception is that the traditional summer break dates back to more agrarian times, when children were needed to tend the farm more than attend school. But history does not bear out this theory.

In the mid-1800s, schools in major Eastern cities were regularly in session for 250 days or more (most schools today hold classes for approximately 180 days). Rural schools often followed a different schedule, with extended breaks in the spring and fall (but not summer) to allow for children to help with planting and harvesting seasons. In both cases, classes generally continued throughout the summer.

However, by the early 1900s, urban schools were changing their approach. Amidst the rampant disease and sweltering heat in the city, many families began taking extended summer vacations to more salubrious climes. Cities emptied out for weeks at a time and school attendance (which was not yet mandatory) plummeted.

Educators eventually accepted the reality that a break in the schedule was necessary. Rural schools, in an attempt to standardize national school calendars, soon followed suit. Before long, the modern family vacation became an American institution.

Given that the original rationale for summer break appears to be obsolete, is there any chance we could go back to the days before an extended hiatus? Could we have school all year round, with more regular two- or three-week breaks?

Research suggests this might benefit student learning. The “summer slide” is a notorious feature of modern education, where students return to school in August having failed to retain key learnings from the prior year. While studies disagree on how serious the issue is (and whether it affects all students equally), most teachers will tell you it’s a real phenomenon. And a year-round schedule would provide more regular breaks to students and faculty alike.

On the other hand, as both an educator and a parent, I see plenty of positive outcomes from our current summer approach. Family vacations, summer camps, outdoor play, and summer freedom all serve important educational roles in the lives of students. It is often hard to immerse a child in a wilderness adventure or expose them to international culture without a substantial seasonal break. And these experiences aren’t just fun – they often deliver real learning and significant personal growth.

Finally, while some schools have experimented with year-round schooling, the results do not suggest a clear benefit to academic achievement. For now, Country Day’s busy summer operation seems to be the best of both worlds. Parents retain the flexibility to take family trips or send kids to sleepaway camp. But if more regular daily programming is needed, we’re here all summer to keep students active and engaged.

Whatever your family’s summer looks like, I hope it’s a memorable one.

"Kindling a Fire" is a column submitted regularly to Indian Hill Living by Head of School Rob Zimmerman '98. This ran in the June 2024 edition of the publication.